Baltimore, MD — The Walters Art Museum has launched a new website that houses its digital collection of manuscripts: manuscripts.thewalters.org. Featuring a user-friendly design, the site provides visitors with intuitive search options, including the ability to refine their search by date, geography, subject, culture, and more. It also gives users a chance to coordinate their own online collections by gathering, saving and sharing their favorite masterpieces.
Over the past decade, cataloguers, conservators, curators and digitization specialists have been poring over the museum’s collection of more than 900 manuscripts dating from the 8th to the 20th century. The new site is designed to make these works accessible to scholars and curiosity seekers alike, bringing the Walters’ manuscript holdings to the widest possible audience.
“The Walters is among the first institutions to distribute its digital manuscript images under a Creative Commons 3.0 license that allows visitors to download publication-quality pictures for free,” said Julia Marciari-Alexander, Andrea B. and John H. Laporte Director of the Walters Art Museum. “This benefit has been a key aspect of the Walters digitization project since the beginning, and has already piqued significant interest in the museum’s collection, as manuscripts from the Walters have started to appear on the covers of books, in scholarly articles and on social media.”
The manuscript digitization project was initially supported by three substantial grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the first of which was awarded in 2007, and a generous gift from an anonymous donor. The culmination of a decade of work, the manuscripts site features an extraordinary level of detail in the information it disseminates about each work, including the flyleaves, annotated margins and bindings. To date, the Walters has digitized 45 percent of its manuscripts collection.
“Here we have digital surrogates of entire manuscripts and not just the illuminated pages,” says Amy Landau, director of curatorial affairs and curator of Islamic and South & Southeast Asian art, a content specialist for the project who oversaw the digitization of the Islamic works. “When you have a collection that’s one of the best in the United States in terms of its manuscript holdings, you want to break new ground.”
Among the highlights users can enjoy in their entirety is an illuminated 13th -century Book of Hours from England (W.102) with appealing imagery, including a hooded figure pulling words up the side of a page with a rope, to the spot where the book’s actual scribe had forgotten to place the text. Also in the online manuscripts collection is the Islamic Book on Navigation (W. 658), a 17th -18th century collection of maps that provide a view of how people understood the world in terms of cartography—one of the most important Ottoman compilations of maps, seas, and ports known today.
“Making the images completely free really encourages people to research our works because they know that they can then publish them,” says Lynley Herbert, Robert and Nancy Hall Assistant Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts cataloguer of the medieval works. “It’s an exciting moment for manuscript scholarship.”
The manuscripts site, an ongoing project, joins the museum’s growing network of online resources, including its general website, thewalters.org, and its online collection, art.thewalters.org.