Asterix, manuscripts, and the Bibliothèque Nationale Français

In Asterix and the Normans, the Gauls encounter the Normans, who know no fear but would like to.  They are invited to listen to the village bard, the aptly named Cacafonix.  After his first number, the Normans look pained.  “By Thor!” says one; “By Odin!” another; “Bite on the bullet!” says a third.  A few more numbers, and they run!  Recommended, actually, this one.

What brought this on, I hear you cry?  Well, I want to get images of a manuscript of the History of the Arabic Christian historian, Al-Makin.  The British Library let me down when I ordered some from them, so I’ve asked the BNF in Paris for help.  The invoice arrived today.  For Ms. Arabe 294 and 295, total number of pages 648, the price is going to be…. 234 euros!  OUCH!

I’ve paid it anyway.  I have to have it to progress.  But this is serious money.  Each page costs 26c from the first ms and (mysteriously) 36c from the second.  But of course it hardly costs that much to make these copies. It certainly doesn’t cost a different amount for each of the two halves! Greed, I fear, is responsible for this bill. And all these images, I suspect, will be low quality monochrome. It’s enough to make any digital camera owner spit!

I know that I have banged on about this before, but this is serious stuff.  The medieval manuscripts are the raw stuff of scholarship on all ancient texts.  If we can’t access the dratted things — and a bill of 234 euros per manuscript is no different to refusing access, for most people — then we can’t work.  This is particularly bad for unpublished texts, which means most of Arabic Christian and Syriac and Armenian and…

The fact is that these institutions are making money off this.  Come on, you scholars; clamp down on it!


3 thoughts on “Asterix, manuscripts, and the Bibliothèque Nationale Français

  1. I specifically asked Google Books to target one of the texts I was desperate to get… why don’t Google launch Google Manuscripts!! If they dominate that sphere, I would not be one to complain. Better than truculent librarians

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