Students and academics from the Faculty of English in the University of Cambridge have created a new interactive website, the Manuscripts Lab, to explore the historical and cultural significance of hand-written texts, both medieval and modern.
At a time of widespread destruction of fragile cultural artefacts in conflict-affected states, and increased digitisation of information around the world, the importance of preserving and sharing the material texts which form the foundations of global culture is a major concern for universities such as Cambridge, which have a wealth of historic collections.
The Manuscripts Lab, which can be found at https://www.english.cam.ac.uk/manuscriptslab/, is a collaborative project between the Centre for Material Texts at Cambridge, Text Technologies at Stanford University and several other universities around the world. It grew from a need to create space for students at the English Faculty to share ideas, and now provides a virtual centre which bridges historical periods and geographical boundaries, in order to shed new light on the shares human culture represented by unique hand-written texts.
Dr Orietta da Rold, lecturer in Medieval Literature and Fellow of St John’s College, Cambridge, who co-developed the project, said:
“The Lab was initially developed as a way to showcase the work that our students do with manuscripts. As we worked on the web pages, we realised that we could do more, and capture a wider picture of what is happening in the field of manuscript studies. The Lab experiments with new methodologies, disseminates discoveries and circulates information. It also provides an open forum for demonstrating the powerful connection between research and teaching at Cambridge”.
The Lab is a digital space that provides a venue for scholarly debate within Cambridge and beyond, as well as encouraging collaboration between students and academics from around the world to promote the global study and appreciation of hand-written culture. It is supported by the internationally recognised collections of the Cambridge University Library. Keeper of Manuscripts Suzanne Paul said “I'm very keen to see students carrying out research on our manuscripts and sharing their findings as widely as possible. The manuscripts lab is also a great example of collaboration and the sharing of expertise between students, academics, librarians and conservators”.
Project co-developer and Cambridge postgraduate Bernardo Hinojosa said:
“When you are working with manuscripts, you often come across interesting features or discoveries that wouldn’t necessarily make an article-length piece. The Manuscripts Lab provides a venue for these important scholarly endeavours. Unlike blogs or similar digital publications, anything published on the website undergoes a thorough system of peer review which ensures quality, yet maintains all the benefits of open access”.
Undergraduate David Matthews, who also worked on bringing the Manuscripts Lab to life, said:
“The Manuscript Lab is a new and exciting space for people to share their research and thoughts into and about handwritten culture. It takes full advantage of its medium as a website by uploading pieces of work that otherwise might go unrecognised. We created the Lab to be a deliberately open environment for people studying at all levels to share their ideas. With this in mind we would be delighted to hear from anybody who would like to get involved!”
The Manuscripts Lab can be accessed at https://www.english.cam.ac.uk/manuscriptslab/.