Past the 2,000 mark

This week, Digita Vaticana, the project to bring the 83,000 manuscripts at the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (BAV) in Rome to the internet as digital facsimiles, passed the 2,000 mark, an important milestone in democratizing a key collection that is part of the collective memory of western culture.

The digitizing project posted 22 more codices, maps and drawings on May 21, 2015 to bring the posted total on its index page to 2,008.

In reality, the effective total of BAV digitizations to date is much higher, because the Bibliotheca Palatina Digital, a German scholarly project in Heidelberg, has digitized and issued online at least 1,770 additional manuscripts from Rome which are not counted in the BAV's tally.

The Palatine Library of Heidelberg was taken to Rome from Germany as war booty in 1623 and while the German-language and most of the Greek manuscripts were ultimately returned, the Pal. Lat. series remains in Rome. The German project aims to rebuild the pre-1623 Heidelberg Library virtually, that is as a web portal which contains complete digital images of every book that was once in the German university library and is still in existence.

It would appear that 247 of the codices in the Pal. Lat. collection are simultaneously visible on both Digita Vaticana and in Heidelberg. For the rest, the German site offers the sole access.

A third organization, the Polonsky Foundation, is actively working alongside Digita Vaticana and Heidelberg, digitizing Greek and Hebrew material from the BAV. 

All the partnership projects currently running are listed on the BAV page here. Establishing a more accurate total of BAV digitizations to date is not entirely easy because the different lists do not match up.

Estimates can however be proposed, based on the three main projects.

Polonsky's published list of nearly 250 Greek digitizations conducted so far is less complete than the tally published by the BAV. For example, on May 9, Polonsky's Oxford office failed to list Barb. gr. 6 as digitized. I have not checked how current its list of the 35 Hebrew digitizations is, but we will assume the Polonsky Foundation has about 285 works to its credit.

Heidelberg's Pal. lat. numbers top out at 2,026. One can never be quite sure that one has not overseen possible gaps in its series, though a browse suggests that this is a complete sequence. So we will use that number for Heidelberg.

We must subtract from the Digita Vaticana subtotal those items that overlap with Heidelberg's collection. We will also break out those items which are the work of the Polonsky team. We thus arrive at the following sum: 

Heidelberg (estimate)2,026
Polonsky (estimate)   285
Digita Vaticana own efforts (calculated)      1,476
Total BAV items online        3,787

This raises a curious aspect to which I adverted in a earlier post (in which I was harshly critical of the BAV, and am now pleased to say that I was proved wrong.) From the very beginning, Heidelberg has been far ahead in the race to digitize the BAV's stocks. Close scrutiny shows that Rome's home-grown project with NTT Data as its main sponsor still lags behind the Heidelberg achievement. Digita Vaticana is somewhat less glorious than might appear at first glance.

Reader Jens Finke has suggested I list some of the Heidelberg manuscripts on my blog, and I will consider doing this in future as time allows.

This is, by the way, my 19th post dealing with Digita Vaticana. To see the previous posts, tap the DigitaVaticana label in the concept cloud at right. Follow me on Twitter (@JBPiggin) for more news.

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