Getting Ibn Abi Usaibia into electronic form

Some time back I discovered that in 1956 the US government commissioned a translation of the great history of medicine by the medieval Arabic writer Ibn Abi Usaibia.  The translation completed by Arabist Lothar Kopf in Israel, was filed, and forgotten.  I discovered that it existed quite by accident when I was doing a Google search for something — anything — on this author.  It’s almost certainly public domain as well.

Yesterday, to my astonishment, a DVD with photographs of all the pages of the typescript appeared through my letter box.  The photographs were taken by Douglas Galbi, who read my notes about this on my blog, hied down to the US National Library of Medicine to take a look, and — we should all thank him! — did the back-breaking task of photographing the whole lot! 

Looking at the images — which are better than I would have managed! — I grew rather excited.  A very large proportion of the material covers the classical and patristic period.  The translation is obviously a very sound piece of work, as you can tell at once by reading it.  This is a text that begs to be online.

I converted these into 7 PDF’s — the translation is almost 1,000 pages — and have sent a copy to Adam McCollum, Librarian of the Hill Monastic Manuscript Library.  Adam is an excellent Arabist, and interested in the author.  He’s promised to take a look and verify the general standard of the translation, and also whether it includes all the material in the Arabic text.

Meanwhile we really need something other than a gigabyte of PDF’s.  I was in negotiation with the NLM for a copy, and we’ll see where that goes.  In a sense it’s unnecessary now; but something monochrome and rather smaller might still be useful.

I’ve also posted a job on to see if I can hire some data entry skills.  I’m offering 40 GBP for 100 pages.  I did look at OCR, but OCR software tends not to like typescript, and the number of errors was sufficiently high that I’d rather someone else corrected it.  Alas, the days when I could do such things myself seem to be gone, and I just do not have the time.

UPDATE: I have modified the job, which has yet to be submitted, hours later.  It looks as if no-one on PeoplePerHour works at the weekend!  The delay is rather unwelcome, but useful in this case.  Because I have tried OCR again, and got rather better results.  The images that I first tried at the start of the book were not as good as those later on.  This book is OCR-able, so I have revised the ad with that in mind.  Eight hours at £5 an hour ought to cover quite a lot of OCR proof correction.  Although I do have a memory of once trying to hire people, long ago, and being disappointed at how slow they were.  Hum.  Maybe I will do this after all.


5 thoughts on “Getting Ibn Abi Usaibia into electronic form

  1. I found in my loft (which I had to empty and then reload) some articles that I wrote for the Church Times back in the 80’s, which were done with a typewriter, since I didn’t have a PC, and nor did anyone I knew. How ancient they seemed! Yet I remember writing them, not that long ago! How else did people do things? Before that my thesis was typewritten when submitted, and I had to send it out to be typed, and pay for that. Photocopying wasn’t something that I would do either.

    Indeed I remember that later, even when we had word processors, in the DOS world, it required weird configuration to get WordStar to print in anything but fixed format, and you only did it once. It was only when Windows came along, with Word for Windows, that we acquired the sort of fonts we have today.

    You know, finding something like Ibn Abi Usaibia wouldn’t have been possible even 10 years ago. Maybe even more recently than that.

  2. Well, it wouldn’t have been possible for you or me, unless we happened to have a great deal of incidental luck with browsing the card catalog — or contacts with long memories for odd things, who also had a lot of incidental luck with card catalogs.

    Overall, it is undoubtedly better. But I do sometimes feel that search engines can be a bit narrowing. I mean, they’re great for finding things if you have the right search term; but if you don’t, you might never find it, and things do tend to disappear. Card catalogs — not only was I lucky with them, but they brought in a bit of locational memory to searches. 🙂 (I don’t really miss typewriters per se, but I do kinda miss the comforting sound and feel of them, and the making of conversation while typing. I don’t miss the sore fingers or messing around with correction tape and Liquid Paper.)

    Still… search engines are such a force multiplier for scholarship. I’ve found quite a few new reference footnotes for my Beatus translation, and it’s not that the critical edition was so lousily done as to miss easy stuff. It’s just that in the old days, you could only find so much of what was available. Now, if it’s online and publicly accessible, you can probably find it, even without really looking.

  3. Hi Roger,

    A really interesting blog. I read this after ‘discovering’ your advert on Peopleperhour (hey … I do work weekends!! :0) )

    Well I have put my bid in for your kind consideration, and wait to hear back.

    Good luck in your venture Roger and hope to be a part of it.


  4. @Maureen, yes it’s always worth considering what is NOT being shown by a search engine. I notice that my collection of the Fathers is only shown at the CCEL mirror, never my primary site (which is more up to date) for instance.

    @Jan, thanks for your reply — my broadband has been down so am just getting back to it now.

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