When Johannes Gutenberg’s 1455 Latin Bible became the first book printed using movable type, it started a revolution by making literature (especially the Bible) easier to produce and more widely accessible. Now, thanks to a contribution of more than $3 million by London’s Polonsky Foundation, the Gutenberg Bible will once again be at the leading edge of a technological effort to make history’s most important texts available to all.
The Bodleian Libraries of the University of Oxford and the Vatican Library (Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana) recently announced a new collaborative project to digitize 1.5 million pages of texts from their collections and make them freely available online. The project is expected to last four years and will include materials in three subject areas: incunabula, or early printed books from the 15th century; Greek manuscripts; and Hebrew manuscripts and early printed books. These subjects were chosen based on the strength of the two collections in these areas and on their importance for scholarship in their fields. After digitization, the texts will be freely accessible online to scholars and the general public. In some cases this new effort will digitally reunite texts that had been dispersed between the two institutions’ collections.
About two-thirds of the total pages for the project will come from the Vatican Library, which began a modest digitization effort in 2010 but has generally offered limited access to its vast holdings. The Vatican collection includes treasures such as the Gutenberg Bible, Greek manuscripts of the New Testament and Church Fathers, works by Homer, Sophocles and Plato, as well as one of the earliest extant codices in Hebrew and a copy of the Hebrew Bible written around 1100 in Italy. No word yet on whether the fourth-century Codex Vaticanus will be included in the project.