Problems with the Mingana manuscripts at Birmingham

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.

8 Responses to “Problems with the Mingana manuscripts at Birmingham”


  1. Tony C-B

    I had a very good experience with Mingana manuscripts. I ordered them trhough the Interlibrary Loan Department of my university and the microfiche came very quickly and without cost (they were not copies but loan items; I then scanned them for my own use). I believe these fiche came from an American University, however. Why I am not sure. Perhaps I could find out more for you. (If so, contact me through my web site).

  2. Roger Pearse

    That is interesting — thank you. It sounds as if you got access to a loan copy somewhere in the US, tho.

  3. Tony Chartrand-Burke

    Hey, whatever works. Perhaps someone affiliated with the US university happened to buy copies of these particular MSS and then donated them to the library. Regardless, it’s worth a try.

  4. Roger Pearse

    Apparently Birmigham University themselves have a set, as do SOAS. Maybe if I travel to the Mingana collection in person, I might be allowed a print-off of some pages. I will enquire.

  5. Tony Chartrand-Burke

    Roger, I checked with my ILL department and they received their Mingana fiche from Princeton.

  6. Roger Pearse

    Thanks for the update!

  7. Jenny Childs

    I am writing from the Cadbury Research Library: Special Collections, University of Birmingham where the Mingana collection is held. Researchers are very welcome to view the original manuscripts, and there is no charge for visiting. We do also have a microfiche set of these manuscripts and if people require copies we take a copy from the microfiche to save damaging the originals from repeated copying. If however a high resolution copy is required for publication, we do have the option of taking copies using our overhead book scanner. Researchers are welcome to visit in person, or they can request copies from our reprographics unit. Details can be found on our website: http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/facilities/cadbury/index.aspx

  8. Roger Pearse

    (I realise my first reply was rather rude: my apologies).

    I am delighted to hear that the department does allow people to view the original manuscripts, and don’t charge admission. I’m not sure that many archives do not, tho! But in the age of high-speed internet, is this not a rather modest ambition? Likewise I am surprised to learn that the library is selling microfiche prints in the age of the digital camera, really I am.

    You see, the policy outlined appears weirdly out-of-date and out-of-line with developments in libraries and manuscript repositories over the last 20 years. It’s as if it was still 1990.

    The Mingana was some way past this policy when last I looked. I have a rather nice set of digital photographs which I bought some years ago. Which is as it should be, of course. :-)



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