By Andrea Winkler
The History Teacher, Vol. 35:2 (2002)
Introduction: For many medievalists, the increase in digitized manuscripts has been a wonderful by-product of the Internet. Several ongoing projects provide scholars with access to an increasing number of useful manuscripts. Most of these projects are available on the Internet, and usually consist of library exhibits, excerpts from illuminated manuscripts, or, occasionally, complete manuscripts. 2 Other projects, such as volumes of the Papal Registers, are accessible only on a CD-ROM set. 3 These manuscript sources are invaluable for scholars and provide a number of advantages. Digitized images increase access to certain manuscripts for both scholars and graduate students, and allow travel and research funding—if available—to be spent in other areas. Digitized images also allow researchers to see the archaeology of the manuscript page, such as layout, glosses, and marginalia, which will not appear in a typed transcription. Images are also far easier to read than microfilm, which is often grainy, reproduced in negative format, and has limited enlargement ability.
Despite their utility for scholars and graduate students, however, these images remain less accessible for undergraduate students, who usually lack the linguistic and paleographical skills to use such manuscripts. Hence, at the undergraduate level manuscript images on the Internet are often used in the classroom simply as bigger, better slides. Slides and static images of course are very useful. They can show students what a manuscript looks like, and show styles of illumination, marginalia, and glosses. The ability of digitization to increase access to manuscript pages and all their detail certainly gives both professor and students a wider variety of materials from which they can choose, particularly in places where there have traditionally been only a few slides available.