19 December 2017—The oldest surviving illustrated Latin Gospel book, known as the Gospels of St. Augustine (MS 286) can soon be seen by anyone with an internet connection. On the 10th of January, 2018, this codex, along with a further 555 medieval and Renaissance manuscripts from the Parker Library will no longer require an institutional site license to access Parker on the Web.
Digital surrogates of this exquisite collection, housed at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, have been online since 2009 as the result of a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Until now only member organizations, and their associated students and scholars, have had access to the full content. Corpus Christi College, Cambridge University Library, and Stanford University Libraries have continued to work together since the grant to improve the site’s technical infrastructure and migrate it to a more cost-effective platform.
Cambridge University Library (CUL) were delighted to be a partner in the Parker on the Web project. “We learned a great deal about managing a large-scale digitisation project, not least the benefits of close collaboration with partners across the river and across the world.” said Dr Suzanne Paul, Keeper of Rare Books and Early Manuscripts at CUL. “The project has really been a game-changer in opening up the whole of a historic library to scholars and interested readers across the world.”
In addition to serving as Master of Corpus Christi College, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, and Archbishop of Canterbury (1559-75), Parker was an avid book collector. He salvaged medieval manuscripts scattered by the dissolution of the monasteries and was particularly keen to seek out materials relating to Anglo-Saxon England, motivated in part by his search for evidence of an ancient English-speaking Church independent of Rome to support the Protestant Reformation.
The collection of documents that resulted from his efforts consists of items spanning from the sixth-century Gospels of St. Augustine to sixteenth-century records relating to the English Reformation.
Dr Anne McLaughlin, Sub-Librarian at the Parker Library, sees the release of the new site as a continuation of Matthew Parker’s legacy, stating “When Matthew Parker bequeathed his collection of books to the library, he intended that they be used by scholars of Corpus Christi College in perpetuity. Now, with the launching of the new site, we’re opening the collection to the world at large, removing barriers to access and hoping to inspire the next generation of scholars – an aspiration that we as a college share with our library’s greatest benefactor”.
In addition to one of the most significant collections of Anglo-Saxon manuscripts anywhere in the world, including the earliest copy of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (c. 890),
the library also contains key Anglo-Norman and Middle English texts including the Ancrene Wisse and the Brut Chronicle and one of the finest copies of Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde. Other subjects represented in the collection are music, including the earliest known example of polyphonic music produced in England, medieval travelogues and maps, apocalypses, bestiaries, and historical chronicles. The illuminated manuscripts held within the collection, notably an illustrated copy of Prudentius’s Psychomachia (c. 1000), two giant twelfth-century Bibles from the abbey of Bury St Edmunds and Dover priory (each more than 50cm/20inches tall), as well as the two volumes of the Chronica Maiora written and illustrated by Matthew Paris, are also of unparalleled importance to the study of medieval art.
Stanford Libraries has partnered with Corpus Christi College, Cambridge since the inception of Parker on the Web, contributing technical expertise from its digital library team. “The Parker Library is an extraordinary collection; supporting Corpus Christi College in their efforts to make its contents more discoverable aligns with our information technology development efforts and philosophy,” said Michael Keller, university librarian for Stanford Libraries.
The most visible changes, according to Keller, will involve an entirely restyled website, optimized for mobile devices as well as fixed-location computing, and full compatibility with the International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF), which will make the rare and vulnerable material in the Parker Library more broadly available for deeper investigation, image analysis and comparison, and annotation
“The application program interfaces (APIs) of IIIF will make the content of Parker on the Web compatible with content from partner institutions, such as e-codices, the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, the national libraries of France, Norway and the United Kingdom, and a growing number of universities, which vastly increases the opportunities for new discoveries,” confirmed Keller.
Both senior and early career researchers have utilised the Parker on the Web content since the inception of the site in 2009 and it has proven its value in both international collaborative projects and individual research. The NEH-funded Stanford Global Currents project — working in allegiance with McGill University, l’École de technologie supérieure in Montreal, and the University of Groningen in the Netherlands — focuses on British manuscripts from the twelfth century in the Parker on the Web repository, “to determine how manuscript producers assisted audiences in finding their way around the folio.”
Elaine Treharne, Roberta Bowman Denning Professor of Humanities at Stanford University and one of the Principal Investigators on the Global Currents Project, emphasizes “To have the corpus now freely available to every student of manuscript studies is an exceptional gift: anyone in any place and at any time can now access one of the best collections of primary sources, but with the benefit, too, of innovative tools and functionalities that will potentially change the future of scholarship in the field. Parker on the Web will help create new knowledge from ancient manuscripts, bridging humanities and technology to enhance how we understand our cultural record.”
Dr Benjamin Pohl, Lecturer in Medieval History at the University of Bristol, who has published widely on the production and use of monastic manuscripts across Europe, has drawn regularly on Parker on the Web for his research – particularly his work on autograph manuscripts and working copies of medieval chroniclers.
Dr Pohl believes that making the Parker Library’s unrivalled holdings available more widely through the open-access platform Parker 2.0 will be “transformative for both scholars and students working in the field of medieval palaeography and codicology. The website’s new intuitive interface, which features rich metadata and the open-source IIIF viewer Mirador, will allow colleagues around the world to access these resources freely and work collaboratively in real time. It will also facilitate work across different institutional collections by allowing a direct virtual comparison of manuscripts kept in the Parker Library with those in other libraries around the world”. Dr Pohl is currently preparing a new study on the autograph manuscripts of Eadmer of Canterbury, biographer of St Anselm, which will see him return frequently to the Parker Library and, of course, Parker 2.0.