While at the garden party at the Patristics conference in Oxford, I got talking with someone and the subject of the Mingana manuscripts at Birmingham came up. This collection of Syriac, Arabic and other oriental manuscripts was the property of Alphone Mingana, who left it to the university.
My friend was complaining about difficulty getting a reproduction of one manuscript. I myself have had the same experience. It is nearly impossible to get a copy of any manuscript in that collection; and for a daft reason. The university authorities have signed an exclusive deal with a continental firm to produce micro-fiche of them all. This has been done — but now you can only obtain copies of the fiches from this company.
And they price very, very high. A complete set goes for tens of thousands of pounds. There is no easy way to order individual manuscripts. My own enquiry was ignored. And… what on earth are most of us going to do with fiche anyway? I don’t have a microfiche reader; does anyone? In the age of PDF’s, why are we messing around with microfiche?
Some time back I made a vain attempt to obtain a copy of Thomas of Edessa On the epiphany from their collection. I communicated with the library, who made sorrowful noises and expressed their inability to help me. In the end I went without. My friend at the conference likewise was trying to do without, since he could not afford the extraordinary fees for these low-quality inconvenient reproductions.
Birmingham university needs to get its act together. I suspect that if I looked at the terms of the Mingana bequest, I would find that they are in breach of it. I can’t believe for a moment that Mingana left his manuscipts so that copies could NOT be obtained. After all, there is little practical difference between the current situation and an outright ban. The catalogue of these manuscripts, needless to say, is out of print and impossible to find anyway.
Has anyone ever managed to get a copy of a manuscript in the Mingana collection?
Update: I’m now trying again for Ms. 142. I’ve emailed IDC, who own the microfiche and want 19,000 euros for a complete set (!). Let’s see if I get any reply.
Update 27th August: No reply from IDC. Hmm.