Italian Paleography

This page is in continuous development. We are in the process of compiling the history of the project, from its first stages to it latest updates, including project documents and video interviews with all its major contributors.

​Italian Paleography (officially launched in July 2019) originated from a few simple considerations:

The Newberry Library’s Center for Renaissance Studies has more than thirty-five years’ experience in offering intensive classroom-based instruction in vernacular paleography. These Summer Institutes, sponsored by the Mellon Foundation, have been taught by internationally recognized experts in their fields, among whom: Bernard Barbiche and Marc Smith for French; Armando Petrucci, Franca Nardelli Petrucci, and Maddalena Signorini for Italian.

Dr. Lia Markey, Director of the Center for Renaissance Studies at the Newberry Library, introduces the Italian Paleography project outlining its connections to the Newberry’s paleography tradition:

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Our website—Italian paleography—is really connected to a long, wonderful history of studying paleography here at the Newberry Library, which began decades ago thanks to the funding of the NEH and the Mellon Foundation who have supported these summer institutes, that take place here and also at the Getty. It began with Armando Petrucci. I just wanted to show you one of his books about Italian paleography. He came to the Newberry beginning in the 60s to teach these summer institutes and created a whole generation of scholars who study Italian literature, art history. It’s really been an interdisciplinary group. We are grateful to Petrucci and his legacy and we are fortunate to have had Maddalena Signorini continue the classes here at the Newberry. The project for the website really developed out of these institutes and we are very grateful to the Mellon Foundation for supporting it. They first supported our French project which was launched in 2016. And this grant we applied for in 2016 and we spent the last two years (2017-2019) working on the project.
- Lia Markey

Step 1: Usability Testing

Spring, Summer and Fall 2017

Before starting to plan the Italian Paleography site and to help us better envision it, we organized a number of usability testing sessions to gather constructive feedback on the already launched French Renaissance Paleography website. 

More soon…

Step 2: Building a Master-List of Primary Sources

Summer 2017

In the summer of 2017, we started compiling a master-list of Italian vernacular primary sources (1300-1700 ca.) in the Newberry collections. Our collaborator Eufemia Baldassarre (University of Chicago) took charge of researching into a number of bibliographical resources such as:

The result of Eufemia’s work was a comprehensive spreadsheet listing the Italian manuscript in the Newberry collections. The spreadsheet was subsequently updated and used by editors Lia Markey, Isabella Magni and Maddalena Signorini to select the 80 (ca.) manuscripts and documents to include in the project. To know more about the selection process and methods see Step 4 below. 

Step 3: Planning and Designing

Fall 2017

Content available soon

Step 4: Selecting Primary Sources

Fall 2017—Spring 2018

Starting in the Fall of 2017, we started the process of selecting which primary sources to include in the site: 100 (ca.) in total, 80 of which from the Newberry and 20 of which from other North American institutions. Our goals were to select and provide a wide spectrum of examples in terms of script, time and places of production, and condition of the documents. Because our project is pedagogical at its core, we wanted to provide our users with samples of different types of handwritten documents that they would in a trip to the archives: highly illuminated manuscripts, documents in poor conditions (tears, water damages, faded ink etc.), regular handwriting by professional copyists, or less regular everyday cursives. Our parameters for choosing primary sources to digitized were a combination of:

More soon

Step 5: The Conservation Lab

Content available soon

Step 6: Photography

Content available soon

Step 7: Metadata

Content available soon

Step 8: Transcribing Selected Documents

Content available soon

Step 9: Researching and Writing Background Essays—Collaboration in Action

Content available soon

Step 10: Drupal, IIIF and T-Pen, Working on the Digital Infrastructure

Content available soon

Step 11: The Launch

Content available soon

Step 12: Outreach and Social Media

Summer 2019—ongoing

Simultaneously to the launch of our Italian Paleography website in July 2019, we also launched a series of initiatives to create an active community of users. We created a Twitter account for the project to announce new content and material; share news and events related to the project, paleography and manuscript studies; receiving feedback from our growing community of users:

Specific documents included in our website were also discussed in a series of initiatives using different types of media (live videos, podcasts, recorded short videos etc.). 

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Click to hear audio

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Step 13: Updating and Maintaining

Summer 2019—ongoing

We are currently in the process of continuously updating the website:

Our sister-project: French Renaissance Paleography

The Newberry’s French paleography site project, launched in January 2016, drew on the expertise gained from this traditional, face-to-face educational format to create a digital resource that makes accessible the study of early French manuscript culture to a much wider range of users than can be accommodated in a classroom. This website presents French manuscripts written between 1300 and 1700, with tools for deciphering them and learning about their social, cultural, and institutional settings. The site provides integrated access to an archive of historically significant, visually captivating manuscripts held by the Newberry and other North American repositories. It is intended for many users: scholars preparing to undertake research in French-language archives; students studying French history and culture; curators and archivists who work with manuscripts; calligraphers and graphic designers interested in historical scripts and decorative practices; and anyone who would like to experiment with transcribing early French documents.

French Renaissance Paleography is a collaborative digital project between the Newberry, the University of Toronto Libraries, the Center for Digital Humanities at Saint Louis University, and ITER: Gateway to the Middle Ages and Renaissance. It was supported by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

We interviewed Dr. Carla Zecher, Executive Director of the Renaissance Society of Amercia (RSA) and principal investigator of French Renaissance Paleography. Dr. Zecher discusses the origin, planning and realization of the project (subtitiles available on our YouTube channel):