Penn Library digitizes 17th and 18th century manuscripts

Drawing of a Guidonian hand

This drawing of a Guidonian hand, a mnemonic device to assist singers in learning to sight-sing, is taken from a 1682 handbook that originated in Italy on alphabets, letter writing and language, calendars, chronology and music theory.

Educators and researchers around the world will soon have easier access to rare European and American manuscripts from the Penn Libraries. Penn’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library, part of Penn’s 15-library system, has received a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grant to digitize approximately 1,000 manuscripts dating from 1601 to 1800. When the project is completed in two years, Penn will be the first American repository to allow computer access to its entire collection of medieval, Renaissance, early modern and Western manuscripts.

The Library’s digitization project builds and expands on a project started in 2009 from another NEH grant to digitize 800 manuscripts from the 11th through the 16th centuries.

“Adding manuscripts to the year 1800 will greatly benefit scholars across disciplines as varied as art history, legal studies, music, religion, history and literature in Western languages,” says H. Carton Rogers, vice provost and director of libraries at Penn.

The manuscripts include material collected by Henry Charles Lea for his research on the history of the Roman Catholic Church and the Inquisition. Other rare manuscripts cover topics of university education over the centuries, the history of science, the history of witchcraft and occult activities and the history of banking and commerce.

The new digitization project also adds more than 350,000 digital images to the 250,000 images currently available at the “Penn in Hand: Selected Manuscripts” website.

Originally published on May 26, 2011