Sunday, 08 February 2009

Medievalists can now be as lazy as Americanists. Via Jeremy, I learn that the UCLA-based Catalog of Digitized Medieval Manuscripts went live recently. “Searching for medieval manuscripts gets you millions of hits, most of which have nothing to do with manuscripts, and when they do, they usually feature only images of a single page rather than the entire book,” said Matthew Fisher, an assistant professor of English at UCLA. Fisher set out two years ago to remedy the situation. With the assistance of two graduate students in English, a computer developer from UCLA’s Center for Digital Humanities and Christopher Baswell, a former UCLA professor of English, Fisher decided to collect links to every manuscript from the eighth to the 15th century that had been fully digitized by any library, archive, institute or private owner anywhere in the world. Medievalists with a paleological or codicological approach now have their own Google Book Search. (And Carl Pyrdum now has more grist for his award-winning mill.) When I started the dissertation, Google Book Search was in its infancy and practically useless; by the time I filed, I could check variant editions of the novels I discussed in my first two chapters. But even before the final rewrites, I’d found myself forever indebted to some anonymous lackey at the University of Michigan: my third chapter turned on the sudden availability of every word Silas Weir Mitchell via Google instead of ILL, and my fifth wouldn’t have been completed had I not been able to skip from one edition of Pudd’nhead Wilson to the next. (The differences aren’t significant. I’m simply paranoid.) I’d say more, but I’m off to hunt monkeys. (Full disclosure: I’m married to someone who works with someone involved in this.) (x-posted.)

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