There has been increasing interest in recent years in identifying, classifying and cataloguing medieval manuscripts in North American collections. My friend and colleague Melissa Conway and I have been traveling and corresponding with curators and librarians all around the country since 1996, collecting data on the numbers and cataloguing status of pre-1600 manuscripts. In this blog, I’ll be taking readers on a (virtual) state-by-state tour of manuscripts in the lower 48 (I’ll get to Canada eventually, I promise!), focusing on less-well-known collections, some in very surprising locations.
Why a “virtual” road trip, instead of an “actual” road trip? As lovely and important as it is to study manuscripts in situ, the virtuality of this experience serves a useful purpose, enabling a survey of the state of digital humanities as it applies to medieval and Renaissance manuscripts in American collections. As we travel the nation, we will see manuscripts catalogued in lengthy narratives, others in MARC format, and still others in Digital Scriptorium’s Access-based system. We will find many that have been catalogued but not imaged, and others that are imaged but have no metadata attached to them. The digitization and cataloguing of pre-1600 manuscript material has been going on in the United States for nearly twenty years, but still we find various standards struggling for supremacy. I hope to use this blog to introduce some of those formats and standards; I will leave it to my readers to judge their efficacy.