Finding online medieval manuscripts has long been a patchy, slow and fragmented affair, with each set of scans isolated and typically accessible only at the third or fourth remove (if you’re lucky). Luckily for us all, this situation so annoyed a UCLA assistant English professor called Matthew Fisher that he decided to do something about it.
A couple of years ago, Fisher started building up a web-resource listing every fully digitized pre-1500 manuscript he could find: and last December (2008), his group launched its Catalogue of (currently 1101-strong!) Digitized Medieval Manuscripts.
Of course, it’s not perfect: for instance, though you can search the database in a number of ways, “by date” (or even “by probable century“) – which I would have thought would be the first way most researchers would like to narrow their search down – is sadly not one of them (yet). Also, Cipher Mysteries’ favourite pre-1500 online manuscript (Beinecke Ms 408, as if you couldn’t guess) isn’t yet listed, but my guess is that 1100 is no more than 50% of the current achievable total.
But all the same, in many ways these are just ridiculously carping pot-shots at a truly epic project which has managed to transform a large set of bits into a substantial (and unified) resource. Right now, I’ve just used it to claw my way through St Gallen’s large set of mss: but I’ve still got many hundreds of others more to go. Hmmm… it might end up one of those nightmare scenarios where new entries get added at the rate you work through existing entries. Still, that would be a nice problem to have, relatively speaking. 🙂
For more background on the whole project, here’s a nice little article on Science Daily (thanks to John McMahon on HAstro-L).