From Fragmentation to Reaggregation: Revealing a “Virtual” Medieval Library with Manuscriptlink

Eric J. Johnson
Assistant Professor & Curator of Early Books and Manuscripts, Rare Books & Manuscripts Library
The Ohio State University

Since the emergence of the codex in the fourth century CE as the dominant format for book production in the West, manuscripts have been subject to fragmentation due to a variety of factors. They have fallen apart as a result of being “read to death”; their contents have become obsolete or gone out of style, leading later readers to recycle them for use as structural supports in early book bindings; and, perhaps most commonly over the past 200 years, they have been deliberately broken and cut apart to be repackaged as individual units for sale to an international community of art connoisseurs. Whether accidental or deliberate, these acts of fragmentation have destroyed the original textual, codicological, historical, and material contexts of medieval books, and the dispersal of these individual fragments to collectors (both private and institutional) around the world has made it almost impossible to reconstruct these original contexts in any meaningful way. Until now, that is.

In November 2013 the University of South Carolina and The Ohio State University announced the launch of Manuscriptlink, an ambitious new digital humanities initiative that aims to reconstruct a “virtual” medieval library by collaborating with collections around the world to re-aggregate hundreds, if not thousands, of previously lost medieval volumes. This effort will cross a variety of boundaries, fostering active interdisciplinary cooperation across the humanities as well as collaboration between a multitude of international institutions, from major national collections to small local repositories. This breakout session will discuss Manuscriptlink’s goals and technical features, progress in developing the public site as the “go live” date approaches, projected for late-Spring 2014, and expectations for what Manuscriptlink might offer to the broader fields of Medieval Studies, Book History, and the Digital Humanities.

Coalition for Networked Information (CNI)
Spring 2014 Membership Meeting
March 31 - April 1, 2014
St. Louis, Missouri

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