Following is a list of Digital Humanties + Book History projects at Penn. Since the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies (SIMS) is housed in the Kislak Center, many of these projects concern medieval manuscripts, but we look forward to further broadening the portfolio of BH+DH projects at Penn. Projects are divided into three main groups, although they may overlap: Experiential Projects, which are participatory and an many cases experimental, Local Projects, which tend to be led by a small group and have a research agenda, and Institutional Projects, which are larger projects, often focused on large-scale digitization, but which produce material that may be reused in other projects.

Experiential Projects

Book videos

SIMS has a program creating videos of books in the Kislak Center collections. Most of our videos are in the genre of Video Orientations, which are 2-3 minutes long and linked to catalog records. We have also done longer-form videos, focusing on treasures from the collections and featuring expert scholars. The video program is led by Dot Porter, but anyone is welcome to make a video of any rare book (condition allowing), manuscript or print.

Ms Codex 1566 - Book of hours

Ms Codex 1566 – Book of hours

Early Books Collective

Interested in the Early Modern Period or digital humanities tools? Learn to interpret and encode 16th and 17th Century printed texts, or how to prepare your own text-based project for digital display using the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI). We are working collaboratively on encoding  different texts using TEI. Every Friday at 2:00 p.m. No registration necessary: come initially to learn how to work with TEI and then drop in as you need assistance or to code in good company. The Early Book Collective is led by Rebecca Stuhr, Assistant Director for Liaison Services, and Vickie Karasic, Manager of the Weigle Information Commons.


With close consultation with the Penn Libraries Metadata Services group (specifically intern Carly Sewell and Head of Metadata Services Katia Strieck), we have developed a workflow for building ebooks from manuscripts on OPenn. Carly and her team are actively developing ebooks for the Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis project manuscripts, but there are hundreds of other books to be done!

Screenshot of the ebook for LJS 101

Screenshot of the ebook for LJS 101

OPenn Data Work

As more and more data is hosted on OPenn, staff in the Kislak Center work on ways to make that data usable for ourselves and for scholars and other interested people outside of Penn. We lead workshops on accessing OPenn images, working with the TEI manuscript descriptions, and visualizing data extracted from the descriptions. This work is led by Jessie Dummer, Digitization Project Coordinator, with assistance from Dot Porter, Curator of Digital Research Services.

Penn manuscripts, linking language to date, viewed in Palladio

Penn manuscripts, linking language to date, viewed in Palladio

Paleography Working Group

A group of graduate students and others interested in reading medieval manuscripts.

Virtual Reality: Experiments with Early Books

This is a new project to experiment with placing early books from Penn’s collections in a Virtual Reality environment. We’ll be working with existing VR technologies, beginning with Google Cardboard. We want to learn about developing VR technologies while experimenting with different ways to make our books available to different audiences. The project is through a Library Staff Learning Group, but anyone is welcome.

Local Projects


Cut/Copy/Paste reconstitutes the scattered fragments of the women of Little Gidding’s bookwork. It does so by developing a Digital Concordance Room for harmonizing the Harmonies. This web-based workspace 1) offers access to high-resolution facsimiles of three Harmonies. By clicking a button to “HARMONIZE” any facsimile page, visitors enter the Digital Concordance Room, where 2) this page is situated within a network of drag-and-droppable materials: source prints, poems, letters, 3D models of printing technologies, and videos of bookmaking techniques. There, visitors can also upload supplementary items or generate additional links, bringing new historical and aesthetic configurations into relief.

Early Novels Database

The Early Novels Database (END) project generates high-quality metadata about novels published between 1660 and 1850 in order to make early works of fiction more available to both traditional and computational modes of humanistic study. By uniting twenty-first-century database and search technologies with the sensibility of eighteenth-century indexing practices, END creates several innovative access points to a dataset that currently includes 1800+ richly detailed records. END metadata records and encodes information about how early novels instruct readers about themselves, carefully noting prefaces, introductions, and dedications; tables of contents and indexes; full titles and footnotes buried deep within the text. Each record includes both discursive descriptions of copy-specific information and codified languages that enable nimble search.

Edition of Commentaries on Aristotle’s De Anima

As the 2016-2017 SIMS Graduate Student Fellow, Daniel Mackey, a Ph.D. Student in Classical Studies at Penn, conducted research on two of Penn’s 17th Century Manuscript Commentaries on Aristotle’s De Anima. His project focused on the digital transcription and encoding (using TEI) of the sections of the two manuscripts which deal with the nature of the rational soul and its relationship to the body. Both works were written in the Scholastic style; that is, they progress in an orderly and highly structured fashion, presenting both detailed arguments for, as well as objections against, various concepts regarding the nature of the soul, such as whether or not it is immortal, or whether it is made up of discreet parts or exists as a unity. After presenting detailed arguments and the most prominent objections usually given against them, these authors provide (or attempt to provide) refutations to these objections in which they also try to square the Aristotelian conception of the soul with their Christian faith.

As the capstone of his project, Daniel is currently curating an exhibition which will aim to feature the extent of influence of the man famously referred to throughout history as “The Philosopher.”

Needham Calculator

The Needham Calculator is a tool that, given the size of a sheet of paper, the direction of the chain lines, and the location of the deckle edge, will provide the “flavor” of the paper, using Paul Needham’s classification of categories of fifteenth-century paper. We hope it will be useful to manuscript scholars, art historians, incunabulists, and all those interested in the categories and formats of fifteenth century paper, and the impact they had on the sizes of books and works of art as we see them today. The Needham Calculator was developed by Will Noel, Director of the Kislak Center and the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies, and George Gordon. Read more about the Needham Calculator here.

three folios

Three folios: Royal (UPenn Ms. Codex 725, 41.7×27.3cm), Median (UPenn MS. Codex 323, 33.2×23.1cm), and Chancery (UPenn Ms. Codex 96, 29.9×21.4cm)

VisColl: Modeling and Visualizing the Physical Collation of Medieval Manuscripts

VisColl is for building models of the physical collation of manuscripts, and then visualizing them in various ways. The VisColl project is led by Dot Porter, in collaboration Doug Emery, Special Collections Digital Content Programmer, with the University of Toronto Libraries and the Old Books New Science lab. Collaborators include Alexandra Gillespie, Alberto Campagnolo, and Conal Tuohy.

Visualization of Ms. Codex 708, quire 2.

Visualization of Ms. Codex 708, quire 2.


Institutional Projects

Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis

Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis (BiblioPhilly) is a project of the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PACSCL). Over three years (2016-2019) we are digitizing more than 400 western European medieval and early modern codices, plus selected leaves and cuttings, from fifteen institutions in the Philadelphia area. Images are in the public domain and metadata is licensed CCBY, and all are hosted on Penn Libraries OPenn. Search and browse of the project in-process is provided through the Library of Congress’s Viewshare. BiblioPhilly is organized through PACSCL, with PIs at Lehigh University, the Free Library of Philadelphia, and Penn Libraries. A team of catalogers operates out of Penn Libraries (including Nick Herman, Amey Hutchins, Erin Connelly, and Dot Porter), and much of the photography is happening in Penn Libraries SCETI.

Fragmentarium: Digital Research Laboratory for Medieval Manuscript Fragments

The Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies is partnering with Fragmentarium, an international digital research lab for medieval manuscript fragments. Officially launched in St. Gall, Switzerland, on September 1st 2017, the Fragmentarium platform enables libraries, collectors, researchers and students to publish medieval manuscript fragments, allowing them to catalogue, describe, transcribe, assemble and re-use them online. Over the course of the 2017-2018 academic year, SIMS Graduate Student Fellow Emily Shartrand (PhD Candidate, University of Delaware) is working on a case study of the roughly 2,300 fragments of Western Medieval manuscripts collected by John Frederick Lewis of Philadelphia and now housed at the Free Library of Philadelphia. Emily will be working closely with SIMS Curator of Manuscripts Dr. Nicholas Herman throughout the duration of the project.

Screenshot of Case study 9 from the Fragmentarium website

Screenshot of Case study 9 from the Fragmentarium website

OPenn: Primary Digital Resources Available to Everyone

OPenn contains complete sets of high-resolution archival images of cultural heritage material from the collections of its contributing institutions, along with machine-readable descriptive and technical metadata. All materials on OPenn are in the public domain or released under Creative Commons licenses as Free Cultural Works. OPenn is led by Doug Emery, Special Collections Digital Content Programmer, with assistance from Jessie Dummer and Diane Biunno.

LJS 101, fol. 1v, as presented in OPenn

LJS 101, fol. 1v, as presented in OPenn

Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts

The SDBM aggregates observations of pre-modern manuscripts drawn from over 12,000 auction and sales catalogs, inventories, catalogs from institutional and private collections, and other sources that document sales and locations of these books from around the world. Members of the user community can sign up to contribute to and interact with the data and to collaborate with other users to build a universal finding aid for the world’s manuscripts. The SDBM is directed by Lynn Ransom, SIMS Curator of Projects.



One comment on “Projects
  1. […] about projects at Penn. Upcoming events are listed on our main page, and projects are listed on our Projects Page. If you have a project you’d like listed here or you’d like to present a brownbag, […]

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Upcoming Events
  • December 6, noon-1pm – Lunch presentation & discussion: Rebecca Stuhr and Vickie Karasic on Early Books Collective
  • December 14, 12:30-1:30pm – Geniza Project Workshop with Laura Eckstein and Amey Hutchins
  • January 17, noon-1pm – Lunch presentation & discussion: Lynn Ransom on the Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts
  • January 24, noon-1pm – Lunch presentation: Lindsay Van Tine on the Early Novels Database


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