For those unable to visit the Heritage Museum, an online exhibit has been created for the Heritage Protocol & University Archives project Degrees of Discovery. The digital exhibit includes additional items and information not included in the physical exhibit, providing new understandings about the various scientific developments on campus over the years.
Creating the digital exhibit offered an entirely fresh perspective of the objects I had curated for Degrees of Discovery. The first step was to determine the best way to view each object on a screen, rather than in person. Staging a physical exhibit requires an awareness of how items play off each other’s size, color, and texture; because digital items are more likely to be viewed individually, the focus lies with image clarity and whether the digital copy is a faithful representation of the original. After digitizing each object using scanners and conventional photography, I sat down to compile the information that would help people understand the objects they would now see on a computer screen. Rather than interpreting the items in relation to each other to tell a story, I needed to objectively observe each object in terms of size, genre, creator, and subject matter. The information I could glean from the item became its metadata. If you’ve used a catalog record in a library, you’ve seen metadata; it’s the information that describes the item, like the date of publication or its place in a larger series. This metadata allows users to search for objects if they have a subject, keyword, or title already in mind. Though arguably less creative than the initial curatorial development, the creation and implementation of the objects’ metadata is what makes it possible for users to find what they’re looking for.
As I sit down to write my final blog entry as the Special Collections and Archives graduate assistant, I can’t help but think about the pivotal moment that started me down this whole career path.
It was the Fall semester of 2011 and I was the nerdiest college sophomore that you’ve ever met. I was completely obsessed with a class I was taking called Illuminated Manuscripts, which my brother still, to this day, jokingly refers to as “laminated manuscripts.” Once a week, our class would meet in one of the classrooms in Strozier Library to study the medieval facsimiles from Special Collections. The rare books librarian, who I thought had the greatest job in the whole world next to Alex Trebek, would administer over these extraordinarily recreated works of art as we students examined the pages with the unflinching attention of a neurosurgeon and took notes (in pencil, of course) on our discoveries.
The facsimile I found the most impressive was the iconic Book of Kells. Likely created around the year 800 CE on the Scottish island of Iona, the Book of Kells is widely regarded as the finest European medieval manuscript to survive. Comprising of the four gospel books of the New Testament, it is created in the Hiberno-Saxon, or Insular, style, which refers to a time period in post Roman Britain before the Viking Age when indigenous artistic conventions, such as stylized interlacing knot and animal motifs, were popular. There are a total of ten full page illustrations, including a whimsically blonde Christ and a vignette of cats eating the Eucharistic host, with numerous decorated initials and smaller abstract illustrations surrounding the text. The manuscript is massive, lavishly decorated, and constructed from the finest materials. Its pages are made of vellum, the highest quality calfskin parchment, and the colorful inks are made from a wide variety of imported materials. Ultimately, this manuscript is a showstopper. It’s the medieval equivalent of a modern day Ai Weiwei or Damien Hirst masterpiece.
And now as I wrap up my assistantship and prepare to graduate I realize I’m sincerely going to miss my friend, the Book of Kells, who sparked my interest in medieval manuscripts and beckoned me to pursue this opportunity in Special Collections. It’s true; those of us who seek a career in libraries envision being surrounded by the materials that we feel the most passionately about. And as great as blonde Jesus is, it’s the people of Special Collections that really make the department so special. Looking forward to commencement and the nebulous unknown of the “real world” that will follow graduate school, I honestly hope that I can find a work environment as supportive and team as cohesive as the one I’ve spent the last year with.