Monthly Archives: June 2014

Tales of the Phillipps Manuscripts #1

Phillipps MS 6551 contains Ptolemy’s Almagest, in the 12th-century Latin translation by Gerard of Cremona, together with several other short astronomical texts. This copy of the translation is particularly interesting because it is derived from two different Arabic versions. It even contains parallel translations of several chapters. The Almagest is the key classical work on astronomy and was originally written in Greek in the 2nd century.

The manuscript was written in Northern Italy in the early 13th century and contains a series of astronomical diagrams. It was probably part of the library of San Marco in Florence by the late 15th century. Phillipps acquired it in 1833 from the booksellers Payne and Foss, and it remained part of the Phillipps library until 1949, when it was sold by the bookseller William H. Robinson to the State Library of Victoria.

It is now one of the treasures of the State Library of Victoria, which has digitized the entire volume and documented it in detail.

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Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts

The initial data for my project are coming from the Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts – a marvellous and unique source which should be of value to any researcher studying the history and provenance of medieval European manuscripts. The database contains more than 220,000 entries, derived mainly from sales catalogues. The full database is made available for download in Excel and CSV formats.

The Schoenberg database contains almost 20,000 records relating to Phillipps manuscripts. This is the single largest provenance group, leaving the Bibliotheque nationale de France (15,000) and the British Library (7,500) well behind.

I downloaded the entire Schoenberg dataset and filtered it for all the records relating to Phillipps manuscripts. I then ran it through the OpenRefine software to split out the individual elements in the “Provenance” and “Comments” fields. The next task is to use these to extract all the Phillipps numbers. I will then be able to identify which Phillipps manuscripts are not represented in the Schoenberg database and use this as the basis for linking in information from other sources.

Many thanks to Lynn Ransom and the Schoenberg team for making their data available in this way.

Big data, data modeling, and the history of manuscript collections

The largest personal collection of European manuscripts ever assembled was that of Sir Thomas Phillipps (1792-1872). It is estimated to have contained up to 60,000 medieval and Renaissance manuscripts. The manuscripts had varied geographical origins across Western Europe, were written in many different European languages, and covered a wide range of different subjects and topics. Their dispersal took place gradually over more than one hundred years after Phillipps’ death, and their modern locations are spread across the globe.

In this blog, I will be reporting on a project to reconstruct and analyse the Phillipps Collection. The scale of the Phillipps Collection has proved a significant challenge to traditional research methods. Instead, this project is employing innovative data modeling and analysis techniques in order to trace the history of its component manuscripts, and to map the provenance events and networks which are embodied in the history of the collection.

This project is being funded by a European Union Marie Curie International Incoming Fellowship in the Department of Digital Humanities at King’s College, London. For more information about me, go to my Web site.

Toby Burrows