A digital library, literally

26 01 2012

I bow to no-one in my veneration of the neo-Gothic architecture of the Rylands, but sometimes you just need something a little more … pixellated. Which is where the National Library of Belarus comes in.

According to the MIMOA architecture site, the 23-storey glazed building has a custom LED lighting display which can be programmed to produce different light shows. I suppose the Rylands has the Armani shop next door for a little bit of lightshow spectacularism, but I wouldn’t mind one of these as well.

This is number 1 in the ‘8 Over-The-Top Libraries‘ on the Nile Guide travel blog, so do check them out. (With thanks to my book-fiend friend who forwarded the link).

Dante’s Inferno, now off the page

18 01 2012

The dedication of the Rylands staff to the collections is legendary, but this really goes some way above and beyond the call of duty. One of the team (not me, I should add) has recently acquired this frankly spectacular example of literal knowledge transfer:

The expert readers of this blog will of course be able to identify this as the frontispiece plate of the 1481 Florence ‘Landino’ edition, the behemoth book of the Dante collections.

You can see a larger version of the print here in Luna.

The engraving is by Baccio Baldini, the probable engraver of the illustrations in this edition. It shows the fresco of the Inferno in the Campo Santo of Pisa cathedral, which was destroyed in the Second World War, identified in the title in the top left corner of the image ‘QVESTO+ELINFERNO+DEL+CHA[M]POSAN TO+DIPISA+’, below:

I wonder if the addition of this frontispiece plate was a common feature of the illustrated editions of the 1481 Dante, as the copy held in the Beinecke Library at Yale also has the same plate pasted-in?

Anyway, apparently the body art Inferno isn’t finished yet, so what you see here is just the outline, with a few bits that still need touching up. We will, of course, keep you posted on progress. Meanwhile, the ambulant inscription may, perhaps, be viewable by application at the John Rylands Library on Deansgate, if you ask very nicely.

Ecco la fiera con la coda aguzza

6 12 2011

I was working on some content for the Manchester Digital Dante project website this morning, and came across this wonderful illustration (in the 1481 Florence edition) of the demon Geryon. Geryon is the ‘beast with the pointed tail’ who flies Dante and Virgil down into the Inferno, between the seventh and eighth circles (Inf. 17):

And that foul effigy of fraud came forward,
beached its head and chest
but did not draw its tail up on the bank.
It had the features of a righteous man,
benevolent in countenance,
but all the rest of it was serpent.
It had forepaws, hairy to the armpits,
and back and chest and both its flanks
were painted and inscribed with rings and curlicues.

(tr. by Robert Hollander)

Reproduced by courtesy of the University Librarian and Director, The John Rylands University Library, The University of Manchester

In the image you can also see the hand-painted initial capitals which are a feature of the Rylands copy of this edition.

Although Geryon is supposed to be a fearsome beast, in this rendering he reminds me of those oddly domesticated and cuddly early-Cinquecento monsters, like the demon in Raphael’s St Michael (1503-05) in the Louvre.

© Musée du Louvre/ Martine Beck-Coppola

The Louvre notes at the link above tell us there are actually Dantean scenes in the background of this painting, so Raphael obviously knew from contemporary illustrations of the Commedia

Digitized Dantes now in LUNA

2 12 2011

The digitized images of the three Dante incunable editions are now available in the Library’s image viewer, LUNA. They’re housed in the Rylands Medieval Collection section, and you can find instructions about how to use the software and access them here:

Once you’re on the Rylands Medieval Collection page, to find the three Dante editions, type ‘Dante’ in the search box at top right (circled on image below):

You’ll see a page of thumbnails and the three editions listed by place of publication in the left margin (highlighted below with the red rectangle). Just click on the edition you want to view and LUNA will load the thumbnails. Sometimes the thumbnails don’t load in page order, in which case you will have to order them using the ‘Sort’ tool (circled in yellow on the image below, just under the search box at top right).

Make sure the sort options are in the following order:

Once you have your thumbnails in order, you can click on them to open them and zoom in on the detail. Enjoy!

The order of things

2 12 2011

We were talking about Michael Hart and Project Gutenberg yesterday in class. Quite apart from being an open-access hero and textual visionary, Michael Hart will always also be a hero to me for his physical organizing systems, as evidenced in this photo from his Guardian obituary:

Photo: Brewster Kahle, via Guardian Online

I was so impressed by this picture that I ripped it out of the newspaper and kept it (take that, digital media!). There are obviously two kinds of scholars in the world: the hamsters, and the other ones. I know which side I’m on.

Beyond the tidy desk

2 12 2011

The Beyond the Text students have been going above and beyond the course of duty with their case-studies. This year, each of the students researched a single edition of the Commedia printed between 1478 and 1555 from the University’s collections, looking at different aspects of the books, from their original production context and producers, their bindings and physical features, and their later readers and owners. This kind of object-oriented study can give us vivid insights into the lives of these objects, from the fake binding on the 1502 Aldine, evidence of sixteenth-century French bibliomania, to the localized cult of Dante in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century Manchester, as seen in the remarkable collection of Dante material donated to the library in 1920 by a Manchester obstetrician, Dr David Lloyd Roberts.

Marking the essays is always a fairly time- (and space-) consuming business, when there’s so much to follow up and evaluate. I took these pictures a couple of weeks ago in the Reading Room when I was marking, as it was such an extravagant set-up.

L-R: two supports for the books, w/ a couple of priceless Dante incunables, the fibre-optic light sheet for watermarks behind them, beloved laptop, and a whole trolley-full of reference material.

There is always space for another picture of a load of books on a trolley in this blog.

A less generous interpretation of this housekeeping post might be my world-class ability to make the most austere space into a right mess within a few minutes…

The class of 2012

2 12 2011

There’s been a bit of a dearth of blog action here over the past few weeks, so I’m clearing my backlog with a spurt of activity today. Here are a couple of pictures from our sessions in Deansgate earlier this term. In the first one, John Hodgson is showing the class one of the Dante manuscripts.

The second one is a bit out of focus, but I’m posting it because I like the way the students look highly hostile and ready to leap over the table and attack us. Or maybe break into a musical number. Or maybe both.

You can also read John’s perspective on the close-up seminars on the SCARLET blog.

Red, not dead

8 11 2011

No need to mourn: despite the prolonged lack of activity on this blog, it’s not dead, but has gone red instead. Since July I’ve been working on a new JISC-funded learning and teaching initiative, the SCARLET project (Special Collections using Augmented Reality to Enhance Learning and Teaching). The project is a collaboration between academics in Italian, English, and Ancient History at the University of Manchester, the John Rylands Library, Deansgate, and MIMAS, the University’s research computing unit.

We’re drawing on the astounding Special Collections at Deansgate to create an augmented reality app which will support new learning and teaching activities. The idea is to surround the physical object (such as an incunable Dante edition, seventeenth-century editions of Paradise Lost, ancient Greek papyri) with a range of digital assets, and then pilot and evaluate the app’s use in teaching during the academic year 2011/12.

The project is being documented as we go along: for the original project spec, see our JISC page; and for more details, the recent MIMAS news item. All of the project participants are also blogging on the Team Scarlet project blog, and you can also follow us on Twitter as @team_scarlet.

Gendering the Dinosaur

7 05 2011

We interrupt this transmission of the American tour to bring you a picture of my second year group for Italian 20612, ‘Gendering the Canon: The Problem of Women in Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio’. Thursday was our last lesson, so after a final stirring consciousness-raising discussion, we went to the University Museum to look at the dinosaur.

His name is Stan, apparently.

I had such a good time teaching this group this year: they’re all really bright, funny, committed, and worked so hard on some really challenging medieval texts. We were extra lucky having three Italian Erasmus students in the class as well, which really enriched everyone’s perspective. See you all after the Year Abroad, I hope! (And Italians, come back and do your Masters with us!)

The Folger Corbaccios

27 04 2011

Or, what a privilege it is to be insulted by Boccaccio.

I made the most of the Folger collections and checked out their Boccaccios. First up was their copy of the 1587 English Amorous Fiammetta, one of only seven extant copies in public libraries. I’ve seen the British Library and the Bodleian copies, so only four to go.

So then I decided to concentrate on their different editions of the Corbaccio, Boccaccio’s misogynist dream-vision, which does exercise the sensitivities of his readerships. I was really excited to find one with copious annotations, giving me some grist for my feminist mill.

The underlined phrase in the dedication reads: ‘è piu d’honore alle femine esser vituperate dalla penna del Boccaccio, che lodate dall’inchiostro di molti scrittori plebei’ (roughly, ‘it does more honour to women to be vituperated by Boccaccio, than praised in the ink of many plebeian writers’).

Where to begin? Sexism is OK from the patrician class? Didn’t we see that on the news today? I suppose I’d better calm down, it’s only a joke, after all. *sighs*

(Grateful thanks to the Folger, for allowing me to take the photo, none the less.)

UPDATE: For international viewers who have no idea what I’m on about, the story is here.