Illuminated page from the Paris Bible. At the beginning of the book of Genesis seven separate scenes are presented, the seven days of creation.
The University Library in Frankfurt am Main holds an important manuscript collection, containing specimens that are unique in the world. Up until now, scientists had to take long journeys across continents to be able to see the unique items. In February 2011 the University Library started a project to digitise their collection of over 2.800 manuscripts, making it possible for anyone to scroll through these manuscripts online from anywhere in the world – without touching the fragile originals.
For the volumes, which can be up to 1200 years old, gentle handling is necessary during the scanning process. That is why a special scanner was purchased, in which the books are opened only up to an angle of 110°, and both sides are scanned simultaneously in a high resolution and true color with gentle light. The special difficulty of the project lies in the fact that on the one hand the careful handling has priority, but on the other hand we want to make the collection available online within a few years. At the moment, 350.000 pages have been scanned, with amounts to a total of 17 terabytes that will be permanently archived.
The origins of the Frankfurt manuscript collection date back to 1484, when the library was founded. In time, valuable additions were made through donations, bequests and purchases. The largest increase, however, took place at the beginning of the 19th Century, when the Frankfurt monastic libraries released their books to the University Library in a period of growing secularization.
Page from the Divine Comedy. In the initial and on the lower border Dante is depicted. Below he looks at his early love Beatrice.
The 1000th manuscript that was scanned is “The Divine Comedy”, by the Italian poet Dante Alighieri, written in Northern Italy in the 14th century. It is one of about 600 manuscripts that deliver this famous work to posterity. “The Frankfurt manuscript was donated in 1834 by Milan-based trading merchant Heinrich Mylius, a native of Frankfurt, to the public library of his home town,” explains Dr. Bernhard Tönnies, head of the manuscript collection. Now it can be admired online as well as used scientifically.
Production of nitric, representation from the book of weapons and fireworks of the city of Frankfurt.
Other pieces that have already been scanned include a 13th century Parisian Bible from the Cistercian Abbey of Eberbach and the “Rüst- und Feuerwerksbuch” (“Book of weapons and fireworks”) of the city of Frankfurt, which was purchased in 1500 for the library.
The detailed descriptions of the manuscripts (previously only available in the printed catalogues) have also been scanned and linked with the objects. I am happy to remark that the manuscripts and their metadata are all presented as public domain. The complete digital collection is accessible at the URL: http://sammlungen.ub.uni-frankfurt.de/msinc
The University Library of Frankfurt am Main is one of the Associated Partners in the DM2E project consortium.