2017-01-17 - Exercise 1 (May)
For Exercise 1, I chose to critique [Digital Bodleian] (http://digital.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/) because I studied abroad in Oxford last spring and I’m feeling nostalgic, and [Gallica] (http://gallica.bnf.fr/), because I’d like to find manuscripts of Venantius Fortunatus’ poetry for a research project, and I would expect to find them in France. I’m going to just browse on the Bodleian, and then do a more targeted search on Gallica.
Digital Bodleian has a beautiful interface, and it’s immediately clear how to search for items. Before searching, though, I want to browse - below the search bar, they have several collections that seem easy to look through. When I hover over the icon of each collection, a description pops up. I’ll look at Masterpieces of the Non-Western Book.
Clicking on the link took me to a different webpage, still apparently connected to the Bodleian, but in a completely different format. Looking through, if I land on a certain object in the “manuscripts” subsection, I find plenty of information about the object: shelfmark (MS. Ind. Inst. Sansk. 72), place and date of origin, incipit, size, et cetera. For each piece of information, the user can search by that information; so for instance, I can search for all other MSS with “Devanagari” in the “Script” section of the metadata.
Other collections, like “Christ Church, Oxford,” link to a page within the Digital Bodleian repository and have similarly thorough information in the sidebar, without the same click-to-search option. I prefer to stay in the Digital Bodleian site over having that ease of searchability.
Gallica, the repository of the National Library of France, also has an elegant homepage. It’s too bad that the English version n’est pas encore disponible. But because I know that my target author is called “Venance Fortunat” in French, I’ll search that.
When I search for “Venance Fortunat,” he comes up as a “suggested author.” Two documents are associated with him, one a published and edited collection of his poetry, the other a manuscript from about the 13th century (from what I can tell). Clicking on the link to the manuscript takes me to the website of the Bibliothèque Municipal de Dijon, which does not have much more information than Gallica had - just the shelf mark and a thumbnail (which links to a high resolution scan).
If I want to expand my search, I’ll try ignoring the “suggested author” and searching “Fortunat.” The immediate results are quite a few scholarly works from the last two centuries. Narrowing to manuscripts, I have a bit more luck; I’ll order them by date from early to late.
Once I click on a shelf mark, the metadata disappears and I have just an image — on Digital Bodleian, I liked that the metadata stayed on a sidebar onscreen. Here, I have to go back out to my search results and click “detailed information.” I’m able to find some helpful information about dating and contents, but the size of the object, the number of pages, and really any information about the object’s materiality, is lacking.
For other manuscripts, I had more luck with finding information about their physical characteristics.
Digital Bodleian strikes me as the more standardized repository when it comes to providing basic necessary information about objects. After searching around in Gallica, I found that upon returning to the Bodleian I was almost relieved. I had been clicking back and forth way more than seemed necessary to find any data about objects in Gallica.
I found that the more types of objects or texts the repository had, the more difficult the site was to use - especially when searching for a specific kind of object. For browsing, on the other hand, I found myself down in rabbit holes of the history of French music players and drawings of “Burmese Life and Devotion.”
The flashy initial interface, and the vast array of materials in each repository, are impressive to someone stumbling around the internet for fun or perhaps seeking to answer broad historical questions. But for the targeted researcher (unless this researcher is particularly incompetent), the range of dates and categories was somewhat daunting, in both cases.