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The Hebrew Manuscripts Digitisation Project has been digitising items from the British Library's significant collection of Hebrew hand-written books, charters and scrolls, in order to make them available online.
Aim of the project
The core aim of the Hebrew Manuscripts Digitisation Project (HMDP Phase 1 and 2) is to provide free online access to Hebrew manuscripts from the Library’s collection, through manuscript conservation and imaging, catalogue creation and online presentation. The outputs are detailed and searchable catalogue records and fully digitised manuscripts. Phase 1 of the project also included a digital scholarship component, aiming to encourage and facilitate research using the new digital collection.
The British Library’s collection of Hebrew manuscripts includes items manifesting Jewish cultural, religious and social lives between the 10th century and the beginning of the 20th century, covering a vast geographical space from Europe and North Africa in the west, through the Middle East to China in the east.
What we have achieved so far
For Phase 1 of the project, the Library received a major grant from The Polonsky Foundation. By the end of this phase (2013 - 2016), we have finalised the digitisation of 1,300 manuscripts, capturing approximately 435,000 digitised images. These were mainly manuscripts catalogued by George Margoliouth at the end of the 19th century. In addition, four of our Torah scrolls had textile covers (mantles), made of silk brocade and linen. These have undergone conservation treatment by a textile conservator and have been digitised as well.
Our digitised manuscripts have been uploaded and can be viewed on the Library’s Digitised Manuscripts site. Images and metadata of the manuscripts can also be downloaded as datasets as part of BL Labs. We encourage people to access, research and enjoy the digital collection.
Phase 1 of the project included the creation of The Polonsky Foundation Catalogue of Digitised Manuscripts web-space. It explores some of our digitised collection items in depth, with articles by different experts. It also includes videos from our 2016 Hebrew manuscript digitisation conference. This space is available translated into Hebrew.
Some of the highlights of digitised manuscripts include:
- Anglo-Jewish charters, England, 13th century (e.g. Harley Charter 43 A 68)
- the Duke of Sussex’s German Pentateuch, Germany, 14th century (Add.MS.15282)
- the Golden Haggadah, Catalonia, 14th century (Add.MS.27210)
- the London Codex, Egypt, c. 10th century (Or.4445)
- the North French Miscellany, France, 13th century (Add.MS.11639)
What happens next
A second digitisation phase has started in April 2016. This new project, aimed at digitising at least 1,250 Hebrew manuscripts, is an international collaboration with the National Library of Israel (NLI) and the Friedburg Jewish Manuscript Society. This new phase of digitisation will focus mainly on our significant Gaster and Samaritan collections. The NLI plans on creating a new ‘hub’ for Hebrew manuscripts, to consolidate and facilitate their viewing (Ktiv: The International Collection of Digitised Hebrew Manuscripts). Our digitised images from both phase 1 and phase 2 will be included in this new resource.
Through both The Polonsky Foundation sponsored HMDP (phase 1) and the new NLI collaborative project (phase 2), most of the Library’s 3,000 Hebrew manuscripts will be fully digitised and available online by 2019, and all of them will be fully catalogued.
Phase 1 of the project is supported by
- Maurice Wohl Charitable Trust
- American Trust for the British Library
- Lara Atkin Charitable Trust
- Harold Hyam Wingate Foundation
- Shoresh Charitable Trust
- Ruth and Jack Lunzer Charitable Trust
- Edith and Ferdinand Porjes Charitable Trust
- Rothschild Foundation Hanadiv Europe
- One anonymous sponsor
Phase 2 of the project is supported by
Find out more
- about our collection items through a range of articles on the Hebrew Manuscripts website
- about our Hebrew collections
- on recent discoveries and developments in the Asian and African studies blog
- on updates and highlights on Twitter at @BL_HebrewMSS #HebrewProject.
Contact and feedback
Please feel free to contact email@example.com if you would like further information, or to give feedback on using our digital collection.