A new collaboration between the Bodleian and Vatican libraries will see 1.5 million pages of treasured ancient texts brought into the 21st century.
The new four-year project, funded by a £2 million award from the Polonsky foundation, will make texts freely available online to the general public and researchers. Online material is set to include manuscripts from Homer and Plato, and what is believed to be the earliest Hebrew codex.
Sarah Thomas, Bodley’s librarian, said that the digitisation project would “transcend the limitations of time and space” and would allow scholars to “interrogate the texts with fresh approaches” by bringing together texts that have previously been dispersed.
Dr Leonard Polonsky, founder of the Polonsky Foundation that has supported the Bodleian’s previous digitisation projects, explained that “21st century technology provides the opportunity for collaborations between cultural institutions in the way they manage and make available the knowledge and expertise they hold.”
Monsignor Cesare Pasini, the Prefect of the Vatican Library, also recognised the importance of increasing the accessibility of key texts, saying that with the joint initiative, “Two Libraries will continue to accomplish their mission for the benefit of science and culture.”
Diarmaid MacCulloch, Professor of the History of the Church at St Cross College told Cherwell, “It’s always good to see custodians of precious manuscripts making primary sources widely available for general readers beyond the specialists in universities and to see two of the world’s greatest and oldest libraries co-operating as Bodley and the Vatican have done, is particularly cheering’.
Students have also backed the view that the digitisation project would prove beneficial to everybody and not just specialists. Becky Jowsey, 1st year Philosophy and Theology student at Keble College, said that the collaboration could help solve problems caused by differing textual interpretations, adding that ‘by giving people access to the original texts in an easy-to-use, familiar digital format, we give people the tools to turn negative disagreement into positive dialogue by giving them new resources’.
Jack Andrews, 2nd year Theology student at Mansfield College warned Cherwell that the project ‘may not be as revealing as Dan Brown fans would like to imagine’ although ‘it will be very interesting to see what new approaches to ancient texts emerge as a result.’