Manuscripts from German-Speaking Lands: a digital collaboration

22 Mar 2019

On Monday at 2pm, an excited group of twelve German visitors – directors, researchers, cataloguers, conservators, advisory board members, technicians and IT-specialists from the Herzog August Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel, one of the leading research libraries in Germany – gathered at the St Edmund Hall Lodge to get keys to their College rooms. The purpose of their visit was to celebrate the launch of a major collaboration with the Bodleian, ‘Manuscripts from German-Speaking Lands – A Polonsky Foundation Digitization Project’, which is making manuscripts from German-speaking lands available as open access. This digitization project has been made possible by a generous donation from the Polonsky Foundation who have already funded a similar enterprise between the Vatican and the Bodleian.

Attendees of the launch on the roof of the Weston Library
Guests at the launch taking in views of Oxford from the roof of the Weston Library

“For many of the German visitors, it was their first visit to Oxford and they soaked up all of it,” explained Henrike Lähnemann (Professor of German Medieval and Linguistic Studies and Fellow of St Edmund Hall). “I had real difficulty getting them out of St Peter-in-the-East (our College library) since they were equally fascinated by the architecture, the library loan system, the contents of the bookshelves and the contents of ‘found in the library overnight’ box (which on Tuesday strangely enough featured a pair of fluffy slippers!). Similar grasps of delight were provoked by the Old Library, the coffee in the SCR and the magnolia tree (much further on than in Lower Saxony!).”

Fred Biggs, an American medievalist in the audience, summed up the excitement when he wrote in an email about the “the extraordinary events that surrounded the launch”. The launch symposium itself took place in the Weston Library lecture theatre on Tuesday 19 March. “The public display began with a warm welcome from Bodley’s Librarian, Richard Ovenden, and the revelation by his counterpart at the Herzog August Bibliothek, Peter Burschel, of the mystical whispering between books that happens when all the readers have left for the day,” added Fred. “We were then privileged to hear about the transition from traditional scholarship to the awareness of a need for new scholarly tools, illustrated by a moving account of how one manuscript has benefited from new attention. And, finally there was technical discussion of the electronic challenges involved. We heard the whispers from this new library! And then, at the reception, we watched as the world was invited to share in this remarkable conversation. St Edmund Hall played an essential role in hosting twelve of the scholars visiting from Germany. I overhead many of their expressions of thanks and add my own.”

Prof. Nigel Palmer speaking at the launch
Professor Nigel Palmer speaking about manuscripts in the Bodleian

Talks were given at the symposium by Jo Story, Nigel Palmer (Emeritus Fellow of St Edmund Hall), Christian Heitzmann and Henrike Lähnemann on manuscripts in the collection; followed by a panel on digitization and a website demonstration with Sabina Pugh, David Maus, Torsten Schaßan and Emma Stanford. You can listen to a recording of Henrike’s talk on the Medingen Manuscripts online here, and find out more about the Medingen devotional manuscripts by reading a blog post by Henrike.

The Deputy Head of Mission of the German Embassy, Minister Julia Gross, gave a speech and pressed the button to officially launch the website.

Participants were also given the opportunity to print a keepsake (see below) on a historic printing press with an image of the Radcliffe Camera: a building that was partly based on designs by Leibniz for the Rotunde in Wolfenbüttel.

Historic printing press with Radcliffe Camera plate
Printing keepsake made by participants at the launch

The College was delighted to be involved in celebrating this exciting digital initiative, and has a further connection with the Polonsky Foundation: our alumna Naomi Polonsky (2013, French & Russian) is the granddaughter of its founder Leonard Polonsky.

Manuscripts from German-Speaking Lands website

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