Welcome to Babel

Today sees the moment when the project the Centre’s been developing goes live. In reality, it has been there for a few weeks but we have not advertised it to the world yet, to allow for responses to early feedback. As that suggests, this is a site which is ‘live’ in both senses – available and growing. The intention is that it should develop in response to your suggestions, do contact us.

The site is called Lost Manuscripts. It has big ambitions – to build up, over time, a union catalogue of manuscript fragments in the British Isles – but starts small. The pilot project has been to identify and digitise the binding fragments in the Harsnett collection held in the Sloman Library of the Centre’s host institution the University of Essex. What is now available is a small proportion of those descriptions – more will follow. What is in place is the main elements of the architecture of the site which make clear the rationale followed in the catalogue. It involves what we call double-cataloguing: recognising that each fragment is worthy of description in its own right but is also precious evidence of what we have lost, allowing us some insight into a manuscript that once existed.

Where might those manuscripts which are lost but can, to some extent, be reconstructed live. We need a conceptual home for them and, as the website explains, we have imagined that as Babel: come and visit.

Lost Manuscripts, being an ongoing project, should be considered a beta site. The project has been generously funded by the University of Essex and its ongoing maintenance is being supported by its History Department, but, as with any project, there have been constraints of time and finance. So, it comes with some caveats. You might want to read these before using it:

  • only the first batch of fragments is presently uploaded. More will follow in the coming months, with further entries on the highlights page
  • the functionality of the search page is still being built but, at the moment, you should be able to find what is in the catalogue by searching for author, subject or title. Some search tips are available
  • not all fragments are provided with images – some are simply impossible to photograph because of their location in bindings – and some of the images are not to the standard we would like. Those will be replaced as funding allows
  • we are human! There may be mistakes and there may be oversights – and we welcome all comments and feedback

We will be posting updates on this site as we build up the catalogue. In the meantime, we hope you enjoy using this new resource.

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