Saturday, September 22, 2012

Newberry library project makes historical documents and images accessible for the classroom

I squinted at the calligraphic handwriting. (I don't read much Latin or Middle French, and in this script, it's challenging just to make out the letters.) And I marveled at the content: God stands next to Adam in the Garden of Eden in all the regalia of a 15th-century monarch. The serpent assumes the head and torso of a woman when it tempts Eve to eat the apple. Queen Tomyris wears a placid expression as, with one hand, she points a bloody knife toward King Cyrus' decapitated corpse and, with the other, she holds his severed head over a vat filled with the blood of his soldiers. Medieval theologians are astonishing.

 Then, I stepped back and asked, how might this manuscript help a teacher bring medieval Europe to life for his or her students? What does a manuscript provide that a textbook does not? What would be gained and what would be lost if we had this page digitally reproduced, that is, professionally photographed and displayed on a website? The texture, the smell would be gone. But those colors and the startling scenes would still be stunning on screen. Does the Internet's much-touted ability to overcome spatial barriers effectively dissolve the walls of a rare-books reading room?

Click here to read this article from the Chicago Tribune

Click here to visit the Digital Collections from the Classroom website