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Vatican and Oxford Libraries to Digitize 1.5 Million Pages of Rare and Ancient Texts

For fans of Dan Brown novels, the Vatican Libraries likely represent a treasure hoard of lost secrets. In some ways they, and the Oxford libraries, really are — at least if you’re a professional scholar. Which is why card-carrying book nerds around the world can rejoice at the news that the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana and the University of Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries will be digitizing portions of their collections and placing the works online.

The project is expected to last for five years, and was funded by a $3.17 million cash infusion from the Polonsky Foundation. The practical upshot of all this is that 1.5 million pages of rare and ancient texts will be available to scholars the world over. For researchers dreading the cost and time it takes to peruse these exclusive book vaults, that will surely come as a relief.

Among the text to be contributed by the Vatican library is Sifra, which was written between 800 and 950 A.D. and is the oldest Hebrew book in the library’s collection. The library will also be scanning a 12th century Italian Bible. The Bodleian libraries will be contributing Greek manuscripts which include “testimonies” by Homer, Sophocles, Plato, Hippocrates, among other classical big wigs. These so-called “testimonies” are summations and commentaries on the works of others, and give insight into those works as well as their authors.

Other works in the project include De Europa by Pope Pius II; Johannes Gutenberg’s Latin Bible printed somewhere between 1451 and 1455; as well as various New Testaments and related texts from Church Fathers, which will be scanned along with their accompanying Byzantine illuminations. Other Greek manuscripts, early printed books, astronomical, and medical writings will be added along with the theological writings.

The word is that these works will be made available online, though there is no word yet as to where or if there will be a fee associated with it. Hopefully, these books will find the path of least resistance to the Internet, and be seen by as many people as possible. Even if they don’t understand the now-obscure languages and heady material involved, these works were once the exclusive provenience of a select few and sharing them with the world just seems right.

(via PhysOrg, Catholic News Service, photo of the Sistine Hall of the Vatican Library via xiquinhosilva)

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