September 20, 2012
The Hill Museum & Manuscript Library (HMML) at Saint John's University has been awarded a grant of $350,930 from The Institute for Museum & Library Services for the development of vHMML ("virtual" HMML) - an online environment for manuscript studies.
Manuscripts are handwritten texts-generally codices (books), but also documentary material such as charters, letters and legal records - that provide the primary and often sole access to the historic cultures that have shaped the modern world. HMML's photographic archive of more than 125,000 complete manuscripts, with 40,000,000+ pages, is by far the world's largest collection of material for the study of manuscripts. vHMML will help open that archive to undergraduates, graduate students, scholars, library professionals and anyone interested in manuscript studies. vHMML's coverage of manuscript cultures will be inclusive of both western and non-western manuscripts, reflecting more accurately the complex historical realities that shaped the modern world and that are becoming more normative in current scholarship with its emphasis on comparative studies. The project will be developed over the next two years.
vHMML will feature a School with online tutorials in paleography and manuscript studies to train a new generation of researchers for manuscripts in a variety of languages. Its most innovative feature will be the Scriptorium, an online collaborative workspace allowing scholars in different locations to study, edit and publish texts found only in manuscripts. In addition it will feature a Lexicon of manuscript-related terminology in several languages, a Library of key reference works and a Folio Collection annotated album of illustrative manuscript images.
"The concept of vHMML is frankly brilliant," wrote Valerie Hotchkiss, director of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, in her letter of support. "Instead of creating yet another erudite and exclusive project for a particular manuscript collection or within a geographically or chronologically limited scope, the vHMML initiative will support a range of users and foster the creation not only of new scholarship, but also new scholars. From beginning paleography students to seasoned scholars, vHMML addresses pertinent needs in new and useful ways."
The vHMML team have identified critical issues facing manuscript studies today and designed vHMML in response. First, new users of manuscripts need to be educated on how to read and interpret this form of text. HMML executive director, the Rev. Columba Stewart, OSB, explains, "Recent years have seen a large, and rapidly expanding, quantity of digitized handwritten materials becoming available online or on-demand. This abundance of material has not been met with a corresponding understanding of how best to initiate new scholars into the skills needed for such study."
Scott Johnson, professor in Byzantine Philology at Georgetown University explains, "HMML's deep background in the digitization, preservation and presentation of ancient, medieval and modern manuscripts makes it the ideal institution to provide a fundamental resource for the scholarly and teaching community." HMML plans to continue building vHMML and utilizing its features for teaching at the Saint John's University campus. "HMML sees vHMML as the centerpiece of its continuing mission as a research library focused on manuscripts," said Stewart.
The vHMML Council met in August 2012 to discuss and refine the project specifications. Implementation of the full project will proceed in phases over two years, with all major project development completed by September 2014.