Iconic books are texts revered as objects of power rather than just as words of instruction, information, or insight. In religious and secular rituals around the globe, people carry, show, wave, touch and kiss books and other texts, as well as read them. This blog chronicles such events and activities. (For more about iconic books, see the links to the Iconic Books Project at left.)

Monday, May 11, 2009

Digitizing the Past in the WSJ

"Next Age of Discovery," a recent Wall Street Journal article, provides a wonderful synopsis of the work going on to digitize ancient manuscripts. Prominent projects are mentioned (including many that have been chronicled here in the Iconic Books blog), and some of the techniques used to save these treasures to digital formats are described.

One of the things that stands out to me in this article is that the endeavor to preserve the past is not just the work of a few librarians or historians. It is a massive, uncoordinated effort being carried out by academic researchers, faith groups, and corporations. Important contributors range from archaeologists finding lost pieces of antiquity in an Egyptian garbage dump to NASA scientists developing multi-spectral photographic techniques that make visible things that were once invisible. Motives range from creating a marketable product to saving the textual artifacts of religious faith.

Slide 10 of the slideshow is particularly interesting. It shows the fruit of the labor of bringing space-age photography to medieval (and older) manuscripts. Studying a document through different spectra often reveals that a piece of writing material has been used and erased or scrubbed clean multiple times, but that all of those texts may still be read.

(Thanks go to Victoria Maloy of Mt. Mercy College for bringing this article to my attention.)

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