This month the Wellcome Library will begin digitising its entire collection of pre-1500 Western European manuscripts. The digitised manuscripts, about 300 items in total, will be freely accessible through the Library catalogue and will become available steadily through the course of the project.
Our Western manuscripts are known to medievalists across the world, and cover a wide range of subjects, from learned medicine and surgery to magic, alchemy, botany, astrology and more. They also reflect a range of manuscript formats, from conventional bound codices to folding almanacs and scrolls. Texts are written in Latin, Greek, English, German, French, Dutch and several other languages, and many manuscripts are illustrated with drawings, diagrams, illuminated initials or even marginal grotesques.
The manuscripts will be photographed in batches of 20 items, with each batch taken out of circulation for 8 weeks, during which time items will be unavailable for consultation in the Rare Materials Room. Full information about batches and timings can be found on the Library website. Photography will be completed at the end of October 2015.
We hope that this project will both facilitate further research on well-known manuscripts, like the ‘Wellcome Apocalypse’ (ms. 49) and the ‘Physician’s Handbook’ (ms. 8004), and encourage discovery of lesser-known items. We are very keen for the digitised content to be viewed not just by medievalists, but also by non-specialists who are interested in these fascinating objects. We wish to attract audiences in many different parts of the world, and to enable study of our manuscripts alongside items in other library collections.
Many of the Library’s medieval manuscripts were purchased during Sir Henry Wellcome’s lifetime, and we are delighted to be producing a digital collection that represents some of the formative holdings of the Library alongside subsequent acquisitions. We have a world-class collection of manuscripts relating to medicine, science and many other aspects of medieval culture, and we intend through digitisation to share it as widely as possible.
Author: Dr Elma Brenner is Specialist, Medieval and Early Modern Medicine at the Wellcome Library.