Announcing the Digital Vercelli Book (beta)

After years of hard work, the Digital Vercelli Book is now online! This is a beta version though, lacking several features that will be present in the final edition, scheduled for publication in 2014. At the moment only two texts, The Dream of the Rood and Homily 23, are available: the plan is to improve the current user interface and software on the basis of the suggestions and comments that will be sent to us, publish the revised software at some point next year and then progressively put online all the texts after a final cross-revision has been accomplished.

The Digital Vercelli Book (beta) is available at this URL: http://vbd.humnet.unipi.it/beta/.

To make it easier to send feedback to the project team we have prepared an online form here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1YlJp_78gZANsyDRU0EKhusJWpjLP8mQ6bwOYvcdkb0o/viewform. Any comment and/or suggestion will be very much appreciated.

The Digital Vercelli Book is a partner project in the Visionary Cross project: the critical edition of The Dream of the Rood will be integrated with an edition of the Ruthwell Cross poem, including a 3D model of the Cross. Just as the Digital Vercelli Book is looking forward to receive feedback from its users, we also need beta-testers for the Ruthwell Cross viewer.

Features of the current version

Most of the basic features are already in place, once the site has been loaded on your browser you can navigate the manuscript in one of three modes selectable through the icons on the upper right corner:

  • Image|Text mode: a manuscript image and the corresponding text in two separate frames, this is the default browsing mode;
  • Text|Text mode: two juxtaposed text frames, at the moment you can compare the two different edition levels, in the future this feature will be enriched by other types of accompanying texts, such as a commentary, critical editions, translations etc.);
  • Bookreader mode: this mode will present you with the manuscript images in the “double page” format.

We suggest that you maximize the browser window using the full screen button on the same toolbar, this will allow you to enjoy images and text at the maximum screen resolution. In the default Image|Text mode you can use the following tools available on the upper toolbar of the image frame:

  • Magnifier: a magnifying lens to explore the manuscript images in greater detail; the lens shows an area of a high resolution version of the same folio image, which means a better view compared to the standard zoom feature.
  • HotSpot: if activated, areas of the images for which there are specific notes and/or details will be highlighted and clicking on them will recall a pop-up window with the related information; this feature is quite recent and still has to be refined, the pop-up window may be replaced by a better solution; note, however, that in this beta version only a couple of sample hot spots are available, at f. 106r and f. 133v.
  • TextLink: when this feature is active, lines in the manuscript are highlighted and linked to the corresponding lines of the edition text, and vice versa.
  • Thumbnails: will show miniature images for all the available manuscript digitized folios.

The lower toolbar hosts the zoom in/out controls, note that you can also zoom in/out by means of the mouse wheel. In the text frame you will find three drop down menus that will help you navigate the manuscript, choosing a Text, a specific Folio and the desired Edition level; at the moment the Diplomatic and Interpretative levels are available, in the final version they will be joined by the Critical level when critical editions of the Vercelli Book texts will be published on the DVB site.

For the final version we will have several new features available, the most important of which are text search functionality (already working in experimental form) and an Image|Image mode which will permit to compare images in two separate frames (f.i. a Vercelli Book “regular” image and one showing text currently unreadable, or one of the Maier transcription pages).

About the Digital Vercelli Book project

The Digital Vercelli Book project is directed by R. Rosselli Del Turco, University of Turin. The idea of creating a digital edition of the Vercelli Book manuscript was largely inspired by the pioneer work done by Kevin S. Kiernan (Electronic Beowulf), Peter Robinson (Canterbury Tales Project) and Bernard Muir (Junius Manuscript, Electronic Exeter Book). The project was started about 2003 and progressed relatively slowly until a temporary TEI-based encoding scheme was defined and, most importantly, funding for a new scan of the manuscript was granted by Regione Piemonte.

During the 2005-2010 period many parts of the digital edition framework were accomplished: the new scan, adoption of a final version of the encoding schema (TEI XML v. P5) and encoding of 90% of the texts, a scan of the Maier transcription, even an attempt at digital restoration of the damaged parts of the manuscript using a combination of multi-spectral imaging and sophisticated software algorithms (thanks to the CNR researchers working in Pisa), unfortunately with very little results. What was still missing was a way to integrate and publish on the web all the digital edition components: manuscript images, edition texts, image-related tools, search functionality, etc. None of the available software that we considered seemed fully suitable and offered all the features needed (rich feature set, standard compliant, open source). Which is why we continued looking into several projects being developed, but also decided to start an experimental project specifically aimed at the Digital Vercelli Book project needs. That was the initial idea, in any case.

About EVT, the browsing software

In fact EVT (Edition Visualization Technology), developed at the University of Pisa, has turned into a separate project with the goal of providing a simple tool to create a digital edition starting from documents marked according to the TEI XML standard. The work flow is quite simple, after the edition encoding is done you apply a style sheet to your XML file and the software builds the same web site that hosts the Vercelli Book edition around your data. Everything works in a client-only way, so that no server software is needed; this means that you only need some space on a web server to copy your data, and nothing else, to be able to publish a digital edition.

More in detail, EVT builder’s transformation system divides an XML file holding the transcription of a manuscript into smaller portions each corresponding to individual pages of the manuscript, and for each of these portions of text it creates as many output files as requested by the file settings. Using XSLT modes to distinguish between the rules it is possible to separate the rules for different transformations of a TEI element and to recall more XSLT style sheets for processing of specific elements. This allows to extract different texts for different edition levels (diplomatic, diplomatic-interpretative, critical) processing the same XML file, and to insert them in the HTML site structure which is available as a separate XSLT module.

At the present moment EVT can be used to create image-based editions with two possible edition levels: diplomatic and diplomatic-interpretative; this means that a transcription encoded using elements of the TEI transcr module (see chapter 11 Representation of Primary Sources in the TEI Guidelines) should be compatible with EVT, or made compatible with minor changes; on the image side, several features such as a magnifying lens, a general zoom, image-text linking and more are already available. For the future we aim at taking the Critical Apparatus module into consideration, which would imply creating a separate XSLT style sheet to complement the two existing ones, and make it easier to configure the whole system, possibly by means of a GUI tool.

EVT is built on open and standard web technologies, such as HTML, CSS and Javascript, to ensure that it will be working on all the most recent web browsers, and for as long as possible on the World Wide Web itself: specific features, such as the magnifying lens, are entrusted to jQuery plugins, again chosen among the open source, best supported ones to reduce the risk of future incompatibilities; the general architecture of the software, in any case, is modular, so that any component which may cause trouble or turn out to be not completely up to the task can be replaced easily. A previous version of the code has already been released on Sourceforge (http://sourceforge.net/projects/evt-project/), the current version offers all the tools listed above, with the exception of a search engine (expected to be implemented in early 2014), and again will be made available as open source software on Sourceforge after a code clean-up following to the Digital Vercelli Book beta publication.

Acknowledgments

Throughout all the project phases (preparatory work, manuscript scan, text encoding and browsing software development) I could always count on the help and support of the Biblioteca Capitolare of Vercelli staff, in particular from Director Anna Cerutti and Dr. Timoty Leonardi, whom I thank wholeheartedly.

Quite a good part of the text transcription was done by Raffaele Cioffi and Federica Goria at the University of Turin: thank you for your patience and your time!

A new scan of the Vercelli Book, including multi-spectral images, was done in March 2013 by a research team led by Prof. Gregory Heyworth (University of Mississippi), which will hopefully be the basis for a recovery of at least part of the damaged areas.

EVT wouldn’t be possible without the hard work and the passion that my students at the University of Pisa (Corso di laurea in Informatica Umanistica) poured into the project. The team leading to the current release is composed by Raffaele Masotti, Julia Kenny, Chiara Di Pietro and Jacopo Pugliese.

The current beta version is hosted by the University of Pisa, a service provided by CISIAU, and is one of the projects developed under the umbrella of the Laboratorio di Cultura Digitale.

Last but definitely not least, we built on many important technologies generously made available to the academic community: the TEI Guidelines and schemas for the XML markup of all edition texts, the Image Markup Tool by Martin Holmes for image processing, and the beautiful Junicode font by Peter Baker.

Posted by R. Rosselli Del Turco (roberto dot rossellidelturco at gmail dot com)

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