The same would apply to any RTL language, such as Hebrew and Arabic. Is Ethiopic RTL, I wonder?
Archive for August, 2006
Among these was one from the British Library, whom I know to be bitterly hostile to anyone seeing or using their holdings:
This had a notice stating that such an image was public domain in the USA, and citing the following 1999 court case:
What this seems to mean is that you can buy a picture of any page in any ancient or medieval manuscript from any library you like and the image is public domain in the USA. You can then upload it onto your website, or Wikipedia, or wherever.
This, if true, is revolutionary. Libraries and museums have sought prevent the circulation of photographs of out of copyright material by claiming that the photograph is copyright. The damage that this has done to public access to their holdings is incalculable.
The page also referred to UK law, which is generally drawn up without reference to the public interest. The article expressed an opinion that even UK law would not protect such images. Well, I have been enquiring in the ABTAPL list of smaller theological libraries, and been told that no case law exists in the UK, but that the opinion of “copyright professionals” is that UK law does allow museums and libraries this dog-in-the-manger right. Apparently no lawsuits have ever been brought, tho, but the “Museums Copyright Group” has made all sorts of very positive statements reiterating copyright. That the public fund these museums so that the public can see these items does not trouble these bureaucrats at all, it seems.
I shall enquire further as to how this works, but I would encourage every US citizen interested in manuscripts to start uploading images. We in the unfree world may not be able to do this; you can.
Postscript: I have written to this “Museums copyright group” and queried whether preventing public access was really what museums were for. I await a reply full of bureacratic evasions!
2 The Syriac copyist has here added a note to the following effect: ‘From here twelve pages have been torn out and lost from the original by the troops of Bedr Khan Bey, when they captured the district of Das in the year 2154 of the Greeks (= A. D. 1843).’
The Syriac copyist in question must be a modern scribe writing one of the handwritten copies made ca. 1900 of the unique 11th century manuscript, since the editor only had access to these copies. The 11th century ms. was damaged but fortunately not destroyed by the Kurds when they massacred 10,000 Nestorian Christians in 1843. It appears to have been destroyed altogether during WW1.
I’ve been trying to pin down data about the loss of the library. I’ve found online a book from 1920 in English which gives eyewitness accounts of how the scholar Addai Scher (left) died, after fleeing his residence with the aid of a sympathetic Turkish officer, he was caught, “looking pale and emaciated”, beaten up by Kurdish irregulars, and then shot several times. Elsewhere the account refers to books being looted from other sites.
This leads to an interesting question: do we know for a fact that these volumes are not to be found somewhere in Kurdistan? A couple of weeks ago I heard from someone who named himself a Kurd, proferring a bible manuscript, “written on skin”. The invitation sounded like a con. George Kiraz recounts how a DVD of images of a manuscript, on black parchment (!) and containing a mixture of crude Syriac and Arabic lettering, was being touted around bishops in Eastern Turkey, so clearly someone has realised that there is a market.
But who are these people? And, more seriously: what books exist in Kurdistan? Saddam Hussein had a collection of manuscripts before his fall, which included Arabic and Kurdish mss. Is there work to be done, to determine what actually exists out there?
Indeed it contained all the articles from Vigiliae Christianae from the 1950’s which I was myself refused permission to scan! Amusingly it discusses a time ‘wall’ after which articles won’t appear, so that it doesn’t interfere with publishers’ revenue streams — of about 10 years before the present! This makes ironic reading for those of us afflicted by the copyright law: only material 70+ years old may appear. But of course it is good that they have found a way around that. It also highlights that the material protected by copyright law really is nearly all commercially worthless.
Clearly this system must have a huge impact on how people access information, if you can access it. It’s accurate, it’s searchable, the articles can be exported to PDF, and it’s fast. I did searches on “Severus Sebokht” (who gets relatively few mentions on google) and came up with a mass of recent and not-so-recent scholarly articles about him.
There are still limitations. The coverage of French and German serials was negligible; but I think that this will change, such is the obvious benefit to all of the system. Likewise I think that access will be broadened as time goes by, probably as central institutions buy access for all colleges in a country or something like that. It was interesting to learn that all educational establishments in Africa will be given free access. But I don’t think that the general public will ever get access, and I think that the period of non-inclusion will remain or extend. This allows publishers to sell their CDROMs.
So what will be the impact on the web? Why would anyone use amateur sites, when this is available? Likewise, what is the point of Project Gutenberg, the CCEL, indeed my own collection, if instead the books can all be downloaded in PDF? Well, this last is not yet the case. But the success of the Early English Books Online project (likewise inaccessible to the public, but free to all educational institutions in the UK at least) which does just this for all English printed books to 1700 means that the writing must be on the wall. A project to do the books to 1900 must be in proposal somewhere already, I would imagine.
As these sorts of projects become more mature, I think that we will see more attempts by publishers to push sites like my own offline using copyright law, so as to bring the whole dissemination of data under commercial control again. After all, all these projects involve fees, payments, revenue streams. They have completeness, and state-funding, so they are far more desirable than some amateur site full of typos. The publishers profit, the average student doesn’t care. But the publisher has thus a financial interest to ensure that only the approved site is used.
One thing is for sure, in 10 years time the internet will be a very different beast for people with our interests. We may all be much better informed (if we belong to one of the favoured groups with access). But the “Wild west” days of the internet will be over.
The majority of the collection contains saints’ lives and homilies. None of the lives seem likely to be of interest, but include a life of Alexander the Great, and, interestingly, a version of the “Dialogues” of Gregory the Great (11th century, ms. 276). The sermons are clearly translated from coptic, and include sermons by John Chrysostom (in great quantity), Ephrem Syrus, Jacob of Serugh, Isaac the Syrian, John Climacus, John Saba and Severus of Antioch.
There are various works by Severus of al’Ashmuneim (=Hermopolis, a.k.a. Severus Ibn al’Muqaffa), who is also represented by a copy of his monster “History of the Patriarchs of the Coptic Church of Alexandria” (ms. 301), almost the only historical text included.
A couple of bestiaries (“physiologus”) are present, and a couple of texts by Ps.Aristotle. The life and questions of Secundus the Philosopher is present at least twice. There are seven copies of the “Barlaam and Joasaph” romance, sometimes attributed to John Damascene (mss. 268-274), who is also present in a few sermons.
There is a manuscript of the “Protevangelium of James” (ms. 147, #16). There did not seem to be other apocrypha. There were various apologetical dialogues with Moslems and Jews. There are also some texts translated in modern times from French or Italian literature.
I’ve been browsing through the catalogue of Arabic mss. As one might expect, the contents are mainly derived from Coptic or Maronite texts. But what a treasure! Sadly we need not ask whether other major libraries have done the same.