Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Aberdeen Bestiary Project - University of Aberdeen

The Aberdeen Bestiary Project - University of Aberdeen

Once again, I have chosen to write about a specific digital initiative within a series of collections done by an institution; however the Aberdeen Bestiary merits a having a whole initiative devoted to scanning every single page, complete with translation and commentary because the book is just so rich and compelling!

The Aberdeen Bestiary Project was carried out by the University of Aberdeen; they've been very successful in finding funding for creating digital projects, furthermore their approach is to pick a very valuable and visually rich book or manuscript from their collection and devote the whole project to scanning and translating the entire book from the text to its bibliography with the motive of giving online users a chance to examine it as closely as they can without actually perusing it in the physical form.

The University of Aberdeen chose to digitize their copy of the Bestiary because it is widely considered to be one of the best examples of its type, was written and illuminated in England and had been kept in a "royal" library or monastic library in one fashion or another since the 1600s and has belonged to the University of Aberdeen since 1820s. It's well preserved and has light indication of usage which gives evidence of how the Bestiary may have been used.

As for metadata, since the collection focuses only on one book, there is a introduction, history, and codicology which records and explains the metadata in very detailed fashion. As for metadata associated with each image, there is a notable lack of any kind of machine readable format, rather it's in a traslation/transcribing format with links to particular details of an image and curator's commentary on context, illustrations, particular markings or wear that might convey interesting information on the Bestiary's history. The book itself is not that searchable, with only an index and keyword search, but if the user starts at the beginning of the book, one can move through the entire book as if you were flipping through it in the physical level.

The images themselves are visually arresting. For a book that was printed and illuminated in the 1200's, it's in remarkably good condition. The traslations prove to be valuable; one thing that I really liked about the way they displayed the translation was to put it side by side with the transcribed Latin passage, so scholars can see for themselves the process of translation and perhaps come up with their own translations. Also, many pages have the option to zoom in on portions of the pages in order to see/read the original text . Each illumination and illustration have their own commentary and zoom in option.

Another useful aspect about this collection is the codicology section of this digital project. This sections is a detailed bibliography of the physical form of the book. Each aspect of the publication is examined in detailed which helps the user gain a more comprehensive picture of book itself.

The intended audience for this particular digital project would definitely be medieval scholars, english majors, students that are interested in rare books (thanks to the detailed codicology section).

Here's a bit of text from the description of the hedgehogs from the Aberdeen Bestiary:

Of hedgehogs

The hedgehog is covered in prickles. From this it gets its name, because it bristles, when it is enclosed in its prickles and is protected by them on all sides against attack. For as soon as it senses anything, it first bristles then, rolling itself into a ball, regains its courage behind its armour. The hedgehog has a certain kind of foresight: as it tears off a grape, it rolls backwards on it and so delivers it to its young.

(Here's the picture of the hedgehogs, rolling around, impaling grapes on their spines, and trotting home to deliver to their young!)

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