Possibly a very important announcement here. The project proposal is very badly worded, so I’m not quite sure of this, but it sounds as if the Mingana library is going to make all of its manuscripts available online. A German NT group is also involved. I’ve buzzed an email to the Mingana to see what it’s all about.
Later: OK, I think I understand what is going on. Here’s my understanding, and yes, this could be HUGE!
A bunch of people at Birmingham called ITSEE are developing a website to allow researchers to work on texts. If you want to see a passage in an ancient text, the idea is that you can just click and see the relevant manuscript witnesses, then and there, for each part of the text. The site will be a kind of manuscripts workbench.
Imagine you want to work on some text. First you get images of the manuscripts uploaded. Then you go into the workbench, and start tagging the page images — image 1 shows text chapter 1, verse 1; image 2 shows text chapter 1 verse 19, and so on. Repeat this for all the manuscripts in the system, and then you get a set of links for the text. Then enter some kind of raw electronic text, and link that in the same way. You then end up with a way to browse the text, and see whatever variants you want, in the manuscripts, at the click of a button.
In order to make this work, they need to prime it by uploading lots of images of manuscripts. This is the bit that will start everything else. At the moment, they have two sources to draw on.
Firstly, the Birmingham people have access to the Mingana collection of oriental (Syriac and Arabic) manuscripts. They’ve started to digitise these and upload them. At the moment the website isn’t working or displaying anything much (because someone forgot to install a Python library on the server; early days, all this), but there are definite signs of Syriac mss there.
Secondly a German institute have a load of New Testament manuscripts in horrible low quality microfilm, and are going to input these. Their particular interest is to make it possible to work on the critical text of the New Testament.
The images will need lots of tagging. This tagging will be a huge job, and the idea is to involve volunteers — suitably qualified scholars — to do this in their own interest as they work on the text. The more people contribute, the more valuable the results will be. We’ll start with raw manuscript pages, which will gradually — for some texts — grow tagging data (data like “this page starts at chapter 3, verse 2”, etc).
The project is being talked about a lot by people interested in the New Testament. But that’s really accidental; that’s just one community around one text and one set of manuscripts. But the clear intention is to provide this online workbench for all scholars to work — collaboratively or alone — on critical texts using the manuscript evidence from photographs.
Because the Mingana Syriac and Arabic mss will be digitised, this will have a really important effect on Syriac and Christian Arabic studies. Frankly it could revolutionise things!
If a community comes into being, as it will for the NT mss, then a Wikipedia-type effect will occur. That would mean that far more can be done, far more quickly, than is presently possible. Once the data base has a certain number of manuscripts in it, the hope is that it will snowball, and more and more material will be added.
There is a formal launch date in July. They aren’t ready yet, tho. But isn’t it exciting!?!