Hebrew Manuscripts Digitisation Project Long Introduction

Watch this introduction to the Hebrew Manuscripts Digitisation Project, funded by The Polonsky Foundation, to digitise over 1,250 manuscripts from the British Library magnificent collection of Hebrew manuscripts.

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The British Library is one of the most important research libraries in the world.

It contains a vast number of manuscripts and printed material, as well as philatelic, maps and other formats.

We also have one of the most important Hebrew collections of manuscripts among the world libraries.

The collection was amassed over several centuries and it currently includes over 3,000 manuscripts.

The manuscripts represent all the areas of Jewish knowledge, and are divided into religious texts and secular texts.

And here I have to stop and say, that not only do we have manuscripts in book format, codices, but we also have over 80 scrolls, charters as well, and single sheets.

I have many favourites. This manuscript is from Italy, it was in the Harley collection.

At some point, it was ordered to be censored and to be checked by the church authorities, hence the signatures of the expurgators.

We do have some manuscripts that haven’t been at all corrected or deleted in any way or form. They may have been signed by the censors, but they are complete and integral, the text has not been tampered with.

Among these favourites that are of great interest, not only to me but to scholars in general, are the Jewish charters.

These are legal documents showing transactions between Jews and gentiles in the period preceding the expulsion of the Jews from this country in 1290.

Our mission is to promote knowledge and attract as many users and as many researchers to the British Library.

So, one way of actually making accessible our material, including the Hebrew manuscripts, is to digitise the material that we have here.

As part of our digitisation project, we have various stages of, what we call, work packages.

Firstly, the manuscripts had to be selected.

The second stage was the pre-assessment done by the conservation studio.

All the manuscripts were checked by the conservators before they were actually sent for imaging.

I think that, generally speaking, the manuscripts selected for this phase of the manuscripts digitisation project were in fair condition – they didn’t have a lot of issues.

However, we had issues with some of the scrolls, and also with the mantles that were covering some of the scrolls – they needed a lot more attention.

Likewise, we had some issues with manuscripts that had text in the gutter, and they became problematic when imaging had to film them.
So, these were some of the challenges our conservation studio had to face.

The third phase of the project was the imaging of the manuscripts.
Now, when we came to the scrolls, that particular section of the collection presented a challenge for us, and they had to be handled very carefully.

It required two photographers.

They had to make sure that the images had enough overlap so that they can be digitally stitched for online presentation.
After digitisation, the manuscripts and the scrolls are taken back and re-assessed by the conservator.

Following that, all the images are checked by the support officer – quality assessment of all the images, before they are uploaded on the Digitised Manuscripts site.

Of course, they have to be catalogued, so that is yet another stage in the whole process, and the cataloguer provides records in Text Encoding Initiative format.

The Library is engaged in many different projects of digitisation, but the Hebrew project is exceptionally important, because so far, people had to come to the Library is order to consult and research the manuscripts. So, nowadays, by digitising them, we’ll make them available not only to scholars, users, academics, but to a very wide audience.

So you don’t have to come to the Library anymore. You can sit in Australia, New York, or Johannesburg, and look at the Hebrew manuscripts, and enjoy them.