Vatican Library to be digitized ... again

These stories about the Vatican Library - the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana or BAV - digitizing its manuscript collection are starting to get repetitive.

Repetitive: because we have been here before, and most Rome correspondents never dig into what must be some rather messy background. Readers of this blog will recall a post four years ago about an impending digitization. At that time, a British company named Autonomy Systems was named as contractor. Is this the company which Hewlett Packard took over in 2011 and got into a fight with?

I don't know. I do know I still don't see the promised manuscript library. And I don't see any explanation by the BAV, though Cesare Pasini's rather silly encomium of that project is still online.

Chief prefect Pasini is still at it. He was referring grandiloquently in December to the "vast project" funded by Leonard Polonsky to digitize Greek and Hebrew items, but this too has moved at a snail's pace. The website under the auspices of Oxford University shows only a handful of Greek manuscripts  have actually been digitized so far.

At the Vatican, the digital library as of now is still a very meagre affair: if it were not for the Palatini latini files donated by the German University of Heidelberg, there would only be 24 codices available on the site. A sobering account in the National Catholic Reporter says the BAV is in fact 23 million dollars short of funding, adding that outside groups have helped the BAV digitize 6,800 codices, but it seems fewer than 5 per cent are on its website.

Yesterday, March 20, there seems to have been a news conference at the Vatican to announce a new contractor, NTT Data of Tokyo. The press release is short on specifics. Pasini says the Japanese company will "support the further improvement of the project". Not a word about the four lost years, or why the projects have stumbled.

Most of the news reports I am seeing miss all these subtleties. And trust a Daily Telegraph sub to make the shoddy reporting even worse: the headline "Vatican library plans to digitise 82,000 of its most valuable manuscripts" is plain misleading. The press release clearly says NTT Data will only be working on 3,000 items over the next four years.

Of one thing we can be sure. If the day ever comes when the Vatican has digitized all 82,000 of its codices, the Daily Telegraph will have long ceased to exist.


British Library Mappaemundi

More digital mappaemundi are due soon, from the British Library website. I haven't posted about digital maps since 2010 but have been doing some work on map vectorizing in the background.

Here is a plot of the Dura-Europos map - a completely vectorized trace - which is an example of what could be done to make a whole range of first-millennium maps readable to modern human eyes (and machine-readable too):
The idea is to trace the actual lines on the map and digitize these with drawing software, as I have done for various diagrams, such as Lambert's stemma on Piggin.net.

As far as I can see, Virtual Mappaemundi (VM) will only digitize the script of the maps, but will not vectorize the lines. Maybe this is an opportunity to extend the process by crowd-sourcing?

The March 14 post on the BL blog by Cat Crossley about the digitizations of the nine mappaemundi doesn't tell us a whole lot about the technology, but Cat has just tweeted back:
I could only track down low-res pics before getting the blog out, rest assured all VM project images are hi-res + magnificent!


A Short Chronographic Work

We are about three months away from seeing the first-ever critical edition of the Ordo Annorum Mundi, a minor chronographic work that has not won adequate scholarly attention in the past. This is very welcome news.

I have just registered this from looking at the website of Brepols, the Belgian publisher of the Corpus Christianorum series. Its Series Latina comprises critical editions of Latin texts from the first eight centuries of the Christian era and is one of the great contemporary monuments of scholarship.

The Ordo will appear in volume II of the works of Julian of Toledo and is being edited by the eminent Spanish scholar José Carlos Martín-Iglesias of the University of Salamanca, one of the foremost living experts on Julian. He has already established that the Ordo's author is not Julian, but has decided this volume is the best place to publish it (since no one can say who the author is).

The publisher's page states about this part of the project:
On a voulu attribuer a Julien de Tolède une petite chronologie qui fait le calcul des années du monde depuis la création jusqu'à la naissance du Christ dans sa première rédaction, du Ve siècle environ. Cet opuscule est bientôt arrivé en Espagne wisigothique et a connu des nouvelles rédactions du temps des rois Chintila (636-640) et Wamba (672-680). On peut reconstruire jusqu'à cinq versions différentes de cet oeuvre entre le Ve et le VIIIe siècle.
The Ordo may not be of any great intrinsic value, but its importance comes from its usefulness as a tracer of intellectual history and other literary works. It is intimately related to the Great Stemma and was consulted and extensively quoted by Beatus of Lièbana in his Apocalypse Commentary (which means that it is not unlikely that Beatus saw and adopted the Great Stemma itself for his own purposes).

This important volume is scheduled for publication this June. In anticipation of its publication, I have left my own text and page of notes on the Ordo Annorum Mundi largely unchanged, since it will soon be superseded by Professor Martín's expert analysis.


Florence Online Again Soon?

Last year I described the wreck of the Laurenziana Digital Library in Italy. This was to libraries what the Costa Concordia sinking was to shipping, except that there was no craven captain involved.

There seem to be some faint stirrings of life in the wreck of one of the world's great medieval manuscript collections. There is no announcement on the portal of the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana about any fix, but on Wednesday at breakfast time, I briefly managed to access a manuscript in the Biblioteca Digitale. They are no longer using the ill-conceived Java set-up, but serving pages with their own URLs, just as Archive.org does.

This must have been a test only by the engineers, because for the rest of the day and today I have obtained a 503 error only.

There is a touching honesty about the site: the site map asks us to report 404 errors if we see them:
Questo sito è continuamente aggiornato e verificato in modo da evitare link scorretti e fastidiosi Error 404.Vi saremo molto grati se vorrete segnalarci errori.
But a 503 is not a 404. Can we hope that the digital library will be online again soon? Is anyone able to obtain access? Or has anyone seen a blog post about this?