Category: Conservation

International interest in Great Parchment Book continues

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International interest in the Great Parchment Book continues unabated and here we share two recent connections with projects and programmes in France and Finland.

Les rescapés du feu

Colleagues in France were very interested to find out more about the digital reconstruction of the Great Parchment Book and invited the project to present at a study day in Chartres on 17 November 2017 entitled Les rescapés du feu: L’imagerie scientifique au service des manuscrits de Chartres (Fire survivors: Contribution of imaging techniques to the study of Chartres manuscripts).

The parchment collection at the heart of the study day has many parallels to the Great Parchment Book, being a form of doomsday book of the region of Chartres, and having fallen victim to a fire. The Municipal Library at Chartres was one of the great European libraries and home to a prestigious manuscript collection dating from the 11th century. On 26 May 1944 the library was bombed and fire destroyed many of the manuscripts. However, 220 of the 518 medieval manuscripts survived; some are almost intact, others as charred blocks or shrivelled fragments. Extremely fragile and often difficult to identify, the manuscripts remained inaccessible to researchers for more than seventy years.

The project REMAC – A la REcherche des MAnuscrits de Chartres – got underway this year. Like the Great Parchment Book project, the collaborative research has brought together a range of experts to work on the use of different imaging techniques to retrieve the written content in the damaged manuscripts. In parallel, research is being undertaken to set up new imaging and microscopy techniques to assess the degradation of parchment.

The study day aimed to present the research project from the perspective of historians, imaging scientists and conservators. It also included presentations from other research teams in Europe concerned with improving the accessibility and conservation of damaged manuscripts which is where the Great Parchment Book came in.

Tim Weyrich, Professor of Visual Computing and Deputy Director of the Centre for Digital Humanities (UCLDH) from project partner UCL, delivered a well-received presentation (in French!) on the Great Parchment Book at the study day. We hope that this will be available online in due course along with all the other presentations (watch this space).

 

 

Finland’s DIGIHUM programme

Tim has also been making connections with Finnish digital humanities researchers. On 4 October 2017 UCLDH were delighted to meet with delegates from the Academy of Finland’s multidisciplinary DIGIHUM programme, with the aim of sharing the latest British and Finnish research in digital humanities, and strengthening collaborations between the two. UCLDH presented on three projects including the Great Parchment Book.

Great Parchment Book attracts visitors from across the world

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London Metropolitan Archives receives regular requests from individuals and groups which want to visit to discover more about the Great Parchment Book project. These include archivists, conservators and other heritage professionals, and academics and students, especially those interested in digital humanities, from across the world.

A visitor from Down Under

In April, LMA welcomed Kit Kugatoff, Director, Collections and Access at Queensland State Archives who was keen to visit to discuss our approaches to digitisation and technology assisted conservation with particular reference to the Great Parchment Book project. During her visit Philippa Smith, Head of Collections and Caroline De Stefani, Conservation Studio Manager were delighted to show Kit some original folios of the Great Parchment Book and discuss other ways in which we see technology assisting conservators to make accessible to researchers the information locked in damaged documents. Laurence Ward, Head of Digital Services also talked to Kit about LMA’s digitisation programmes and showed her the Digital Services Suite. As always we found that we shared lots of experiences and issues and it was beneficial to exchange knowledge and ideas with a professional colleague from the other side of the world.

Exploring technology and heritage in London

In June LMA was pleased to host a group of students from Michigan State University in the United States based in London for a month for their “Technology, Humanities, and the Arts in London” programme. The course focussed on how archives, libraries and museums see the relationship between their physical (and digital) materials and the digital interfaces of those materials. The students especially wanted to find out more first hand about the Great Parchment Book project, but also to look at LMA’s regular digitisation processes as well as new developments.

Once again Philippa Smith and Caroline De Stefani talked about the Great Parchment Book project and the students were thrilled to see original folios of the book in a display in the Conservation Studio. Philippa and Caroline also showed the students examples of other documents where technology might not only improve accessibility, but also reveal hidden information about how the items were created and even more about former conservation treatments. LMA is currently working with UCL under the auspices of SEAHA on a project to explore the possibilities presented by multispectral imaging of documentary material. We were delighted to share with the students some of the documents we had been looking at with the doctoral student only a few days before which may provide the raw material for her research. Laurence Ward then showed the students some of the ways in which digitisation is transforming how we work at LMA and took them down to the Digital Services Suite to learn more about our digitisation processes.

This is becoming a regular annual visit and we look forward to welcoming another group of students next year.

Taking a closer look back home

Also in June Caroline met with Gwen Spicer, an art conservator from the United States who was interested very specifically in the technique of using magnets to flatten parchment which we had used in the Great Parchment Book project. Gwen was also intrigued by one of the materials we had used in the project when humidifying parchment – Bondina. She hadn’t come across it in the US and took samples back home so she could take a closer look. Gwen wrote about her visit for her own blog and you read about it here.

Great Parchment Book: major paper published

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EssenceOur partners at UCL have announced the publication of a major paper describing the process of conserving, imaging, virtually flattening, and finally reading the Great Parchment Book of the Honourable The Irish Society, held in London Metropolitan Archives. As followers of this blog will know the project saw archivists, conservators, imaging scientists, historians, computer scientists, and digital humanities experts working together in an interdisciplinary, international partnership. We developed a low-cost process for conserving, digitizing, 3D-reconstructing, and virtually flattening the fire-damaged, buckled parchment, enabling new readings and understanding of the text to be created.

GlobalThe paper, published in Oxford University Press’s Digital Scholarship in the Humanities journal, presents a complete overview of the project, detailing the conservation, digital acquisition, and digital reconstruction methods used. It is freely available in open access, meaning anyone can read the details of the project, and see our images and videos to understand the scope and scale of the project, and its contribution to the restoration of the Great Parchment Book. It is freely available online.

Note: Please use the hashtag #greatparchmentbook when referring to the project on social media.

Significance of the project for some of the key partners

ucl-veivProfessor Tim Weyrich, Professor of Visual Computing, Virtual Environments and Computer Graphics Group, Department of Computer Science, University College London, lead of the digital acquisition and reconstruction said: “I feel privileged having been able to conduct computer science and imaging research in the context of a project of such cultural importance. We were fortunate enough that the engagement with the humanities’ unique problem domain allowed us to go beyond mere application of known techniques, pushing the boundary in our own research field while making a tangible difference to the wider public.”

irish-society-coat-of-arms-colour-jpgEdward Montgomery, Secretary of The Honourable The Irish Society, said: “We are delighted that The Honourable The Irish Society has been part of a major collaborative project to bring The Great Parchment Book, one of its most historic documents, ‘back to life’. The Book is a marvellous testament to history and provides a detailed account from 1639 of the City of London’s role in the Plantation of Ulster and its administration. It is a valuable tool for anyone interested in their ancestral history within Ulster and an excellent teaching aid for those exploring early modern Ireland.”

lma-logoGeoff Pick, Director of London Metropolitan Archives said: “The City of London Corporation, through London Metropolitan Archives, has been delighted to be a major partner in the Great Parchment Book project, one of the most innovative in the archive sector in recent years.  It places great value on the Book, not least in helping the City’s support for the 400th anniversary of the building of Derry’s city walls in 2013 and the state visit to London of the President of Ireland in 2014.   The Book has also been recognised by UNESCO as being of outstanding national importance this year when it was inscribed on the UK Memory of the World Register, the first on the Register concerning Northern Ireland.”

UCLDH logoProfessor Melissa Terras, Director of UCL Centre for Digital Humanities said: “It has been a pleasure to work on this project, which has brought together expertise from so many different angles, allowing us to finally provide advanced access to this important, but very damaged, document. The conservation, imaging, and reconstruction have all contributed to the creation of a digital resource of lasting value for researchers, students, and the wider public. Our work encourages further understanding of the role of the City of London in the plantation, and the importance of the Great Parchment Book to its local, national, and international contexts. It also shows us the benefits of undertaking advanced digital projects in the area of cultural heritage.”

Full citation details

Pal, K., Avery, N., Boston, P., Campagnolo, A., De Stefani, C., Matheson-Pollock, H., Panozzo, D., Payne, M., Schüller, C., Sanderson, C., Scott, C., Smith, P., Smither, R., Sorkine-Hornung, O., Stewart, A., Stewart, E., Stewart, P., Terras, M., Walsh, B., Ward, L., Yamada, L., Weyrich, T. (2016). “Digitally reconstructing the Great Parchment Book: 3D recovery of fire-damaged historical documents” Digital Scholarship in the Humanities, Oxford University Press.

The Great Parchment Book in Trieste

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The Great Parchment Book project was referenced in a paper on the Scientific Use of Archives given at the International Institute of Archival Science of Trieste and Maribor conference on 25 October 2016.

trieste-1Over 150 delegates from 25 different countries heard Tim Harris talk about the variety of sources available for scientific research at London Metropolitan Archives, the way LMA uses science in the preservation of archives, and the success of the STEM education stream working with London schools to promote discovery in science, technology, engineering and mathematics through historical sources.

The article accompanying the paper has been published in Atlanti vol 26 (2016) Number 2  ISSN 1318-0134.

Great Parchment Book goes to South Korea

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seoul-1At the International Council on Archives Congress at Seoul, South Korea Friday 9 September 2016, London Metropolitan Archives’ Tim Harris presented on the collaboration and cooperation which resulted in the successful outcomes of the Great Parchment Book Project.

The audience was excited to see the transformation of the Great Parchment Book and several members of the audience noted the excellence of the blog.

seoul-2One member of ICA, Gerard Foley from the Archives of Western Australia, revealed that he had found two of his ancestors who had been carpenters in Londonderry.

People were pleased to learn that the products and outcome were continuing to be shared and developed.

 

For another view from Seoul, go to the Borthwick Institute of Archives blog post Up and AtoM: The Borthwick Institute Goes To South Korea.

Do you want to work in one of the UK’s finest conservation studios?

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THIS RECRUITMENT HAS NOW CLOSED!

London Metropolitan Archives’ conservation studio, which undertook the work on the Great Parchment Book, is recruiting a book conservator for a grant funded project fixed term for 12 months.

The project aim is to assess the condition and treat items from selected Anglo-Jewish archives held at LMA. The collections consist of a great variety of documents and formats such as volumes, bundles, photographs and modern media created between the late sixteenth century and today.

conservation-adThe purpose of the post is twofold: to assess the condition of selected collections and to carry out the necessary conservation treatments to allow their safe access and long term preservation. The successful candidate will be asked to run a survey in order to establish the condition of the items, propose conservation treatments and packaging solutions, and estimate the time to stabilise the items unfit for handling and access. In the second phase of the project, the conservator will carry out the conservation treatments proposed in the survey and manage the work of repackaging that will be carried out by selected volunteers.

We are looking for applicants with a recognised qualification in the fields of paper, archive or book conservation or equivalent and the necessary skills and experience to undertake this challenging project. The post holder will work to the Conservation Studio Manager, Dr Caroline de Stefani.

Please see Job Information Pack for more information.

Closing date: 19 September 2016 at 12 noon.

Interviews: Tuesday-Wednesday 27-28 September 2016

To apply, go to City of London Jobs and search for “conservator”.

Contact 020 7332 3978 (24hr answerphone) quoting reference number CHL175 if you experience any problems. A minicom service for the hearing impaired is available on 020 7332 3732.

An essential and enduring online resource

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The Great Parchment Book website is proving to be an essential online resource in several fields of study, with even the blog itself used as a case study.

Examples which have come to our attention recently include:

 

If text then code websiteThe Great Parchment Book project is being used as a case study in an undergraduate course in the Digital Humanities. If text then code is taught by Dr Diane Jakacki at Bucknell University, a liberal arts college in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania in the United States of America. On the course students write and critique code as a form of textual engagement, and amongst other skills, gain competency with TEI­-compliant XML, the code we used to encode the text of the Great Parchment Book and facilitate online accessibility. Currently, London Metropolitan Archives, in partnership with UCL, are looking at how we can make the XML from the Great Parchment Book more widely available.

 

1641 depositions learning websiteThe Great Parchment Book is referenced as an enriching research resource for understanding the history of the Ulster Plantation on Trinity College Library Dublin’s learning website about the 1641 Depositions. The digitisation of the depositions, which we have looked at previously on the Great Parchment Book blog, has opened up these sources for use in the classroom and 1641 Depositions Bridge21 Learning Resources website enables secondary school students in Ireland to hone their skills as young historians while learning about the plantations, the 1641 rebellion and their impact on Irish history.

 

NMCT case studiesThe National Manuscript Conservation Trust, to which we are grateful for funding the Great Parchment Book conservation project, features it as a case study on its website and also highlights the blog as one of the best about conservation projects that have benefitted from NMCT grants.

 

Cilip blogThe Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) also asked London Metropolitan Archives to write about the pleasures and pitfalls of writing the Great Parchment Book blog for their own blog as a case study.

 

 

Inside HistoryAustralia and New Zealand’s Inside History Magazine has included a link to the Great Parchment Book website in its latest issue as a handy hint for those searching for Northern Ireland ancestors, especially those from the County of Londonderry. This has been driving a lot of traffic to the website since it was published, and some of those visitors are then going on to look at other related Irish genealogical sources for which we provide information and links.

 

Sometimes we are frustrated as we can’t see exactly what the Great Parchment Book website is being used for. For example, we know it’s  referenced in an online learning module run by the University of Haifa in Israel, but we can’t see what it is as it’s for registered users only!

 

UCLThe Great Parchment Book website is used cross-discipline and worldwide, reflecting the comprehensive and enduring nature of the work it represents. Not least, the Great Parchment Book is used by our close partners at UCL in the Centre for Digital Humanities and Department of Computer Science and you can follow this on UCL’s own website relating to the project and on related pages.

Great Parchment Book on Twitter

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You can also keep up to date with the Great Parchment Book project and associated activities on Twitter using the hashtag #greatparchmentbook.

2016_06_24_ALMS_Conservation_002We’ve recently posted images of the viewing of the Great Parchment Book at the ‘Without Borders’ LGBTQ ALMS Conference (22-24 June 2016) at London Metropolitan Archives on 24 June 2016. Visitors given a behind-the-scenes tour of the LMA Conservation Studio were thrilled to see original folios from such an iconic manuscript on display especially as it had only been added to the UNESCO UK Memory of the World earlier that week (on 21 June). They were also able to chat to Great Parchment Book project conservator Rachael Smither (on the right in the photograph) who was on hand to talk about the conservation project and answer questions.

We’ve been posting to Twitter more frequently as it enables us to post snippets of information not suitable for the more extended format of the blog. It also allows us to publicise blog posts, highlight different aspects of the project, make connections with other related material and activities, and exploit events such as the UNESCO UK Memory of the World award. Overall this has had the effect of driving more traffic to the website and making the project more widely known.

 

 

Do you want to work in LMA’s award winning conservation studio?

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PLEASE NOTE THIS RECRUITMENT IS NOW CLOSED!

LMA is recruiting for a book conservator for a grant funded project fixed term for 6 months.

Diocese of London Consistory Court booksThe project aims to repair and repackage a selection of pre-1660 Diocese of London Consistory Court Books unfit for consultation owing to their condition to enable public access. It is funded by the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust, which also funded the conservation of the Great Parchment Book.

Consistory Court Book before conservationThe post holder will be required to carry out conservation treatments based on up-to-date techniques on the volumes which can be described as early archival parchment bindings. The post holder will work to the Conservation Studio Manager, Dr Caroline de Stefani.

We are looking for applicants with a recognised qualification in the fields of paper, archive or book conservation or equivalent and the necessary skills and experience to undertake this challenging project.

To request an application pack please contact the City of London’s Corporate Recruitment Unit on 020 7332 3978 (24hr answerphone) or email cru@cityoflondon.gov.uk quoting the reference number (CHL 33D0931/001 or OCHL161). A minicom service for the hearing impaired is available on 020 7332 3179

The City of London Corporation is committed to Equal Opportunities and welcomes applications from all sections of the community.

Website: https://jobs.cityoflondon.gov.uk/

Closing date: noon, 18 April 2016
Interviews: 10-11 May 2016

Great Parchment Book retrospective: the legacy and the future

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With the successful outcome of the Great Parchment Book project well-established and in the public eye once again, we’ve been reflecting back on the different elements which made up the project and trying to make sense of the journey.

Over the past few weeks we have looked at conservation, digital imaging, transcription and textual encoding, historical importance and synergy with other sources, outreach and public recognition. To round up, we’re going to look at legacy and the future.

Great Parchment Book foliosThe conservation, digital reconstruction and resulting transcription of the Great Parchment Book have provided a lasting resource for historians researching the Plantation of Ulster in local, national and international contexts.

A schools programmes associated with the exhibition is underway in Derry. The Great Parchment Book is also being used in undergraduate teaching at the University of Ulster and is proving to be a vital resource for postgraduate and post-doctoral research. The website and project blog are also used extensively by students of conservation and digital humanities.

After

On the digital imaging side, UCL has enabled free access to the digital reconstruction process through a stand-alone version of the software (available on the UCL project page). The open-sourcing of UCL’s platform should enable other institutions to access the acquisition and restoration process themselves. Meanwhile LMA wants to explore the possibility of developing our role as a centre of expertise for the conservation, imaging, and digital restoration of distorted parchments and other damaged material, working in tandem with UCL to maintain the trajectory we have built up working on this together.

LMA is continuing to post updates on the project on the blog making connections with other digital projects and technologies revolutionising access to archives and cultural artefacts, and exploring the synergies with other documents relevant to the story that the Great Parchment Book has to tell. Watch this space!

Great Parchment Book retrospective: public recognition

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The successful outcome of the Great Parchment Book project is now well-established and the project has been very much in the public eye. This post, in our occasional retrospective, is about public recognition.

The project was an ambitious collaborative undertaking and each element was a major piece of work in its own right and different funders were approached for each aspect of the project:

  • The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council funded a four year Engineering Doctorate in the Virtual Environments, Imaging and Visualisation programme at University College London for the digital imaging and virtual reconstruction of the Great Parchment Book from September 2010.
  • The National Manuscripts Conservation Trust awarded a grant for conservation in 2011.
  • The Marc Fitch Foundation, the Irish Society and several of the Great Twelve City of London livery companies (Clothworkers’ Company, Drapers’ Company, Fishmongers’ Company, Goldsmiths’ Company, Ironmongers’ Company, Mercers’ Company, Merchant Taylors’ Company and Skinners’ Company) gave grants towards the transcription and textual encoding of the document and its online publication in 2012.
  • Advice and support was given by Professor James Stevens Curl, The British Library, The National Archives and The Trustees of Lambeth Palace Library.
  • Derry City Council Heritage and Museums Service, LMA and UCL also provided funding and staff time and resources.

Great Parchemtn Book public recognition and awards

The Great Parchment Book project has been nominated for a number of awards, evidence both of the importance of the document and the strength of the project.

Finally, the importance of the Great Parchment Book project has been recognised at the highest level. First Minister of Northern Ireland, the Rt Hon Peter D Robinson MLA, wrote in 2013 that “I cannot praise the work of the LMA & UCL highly enough. In completing this mammoth project they have succeeded in opening a veritable treasure trove of information relating to a most significant period in the history of Ulster; and illustrating as never before the central role played by the London Guilds in the creation and preservation of the city of Londonderry and its environs.”

President of Ireland

Also in 2013, the Lord Lieutenant of the city of Derry, Sir Donal Keegan, was shown a folio relating to the city when he was presented with the Freedom of the City of London. During his visit to the United Kingdom in 2014, the President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins, viewed a display of folios from the Great Parchment Book at a State Banquet in his honour at Guildhall.

You can find out more about awards and other project updates connected with the Great Parchment Book on the blog (go to the end of the page once you’ve clicked the link to read in chronological order).

Great Parchment Book retrospective: outreach

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The Great Parchment Book had been inaccessible to researchers for over 200 years owing to its fragile state. Our overriding objective with the project was to make the manuscript available again to as wide a range of people as possible, not just for the benefit of scholars and other researchers, but also for the communities to which it was most relevant. In our occasional series of posts looking back at the project, we turn our attention to engagement and outreach.

The original ambition was to produce a digitally reconstructed and fully accessible manuscript that could take pride of place in the exhibition in Derry Guildhall opening in June 2013 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the building of the city walls during Derry’s year as UK City of Culture.

Overall, the project was more successful than we could have hoped. The Great Parchment Book website went live on 30 May 2013 on the eve of the opening of the Derry Guildhall exhibition; it features a blog and an embedded video. Since its launch it has attracted 87,000 page views to date and counting, and has been a great success with a whole range of people around the world including academic researchers, local and family historians, conservators and those interested in the digital humanities.

Bernadette and Edward looking at an original folio of the Great Parchment Book

The exhibition curated by Derry City Council Heritage and Museums Service entitled Plantation: People, Process, Perspectives opened in Derry’s Guildhall in June 2013. The exhibition had nearly 270,000 visitors in its first year and has had over 864,000 visitors to the end of 2015 including school groups. Such has been its popularity that it is set to continue for the foreseeable future. Visitor feedback has been very positive, including high praise for the original archive material which for the first ten months included an original folio of the Great Parchment Book and other documents from the Irish Society archives.

Great Parchment Book Day 2014

All aspects of the project have been celebrated and presented by LMA and University College London at various conferences and events including the Archives and Records Association Conference, Brighton 2012; Digital Humanities Conference, Nebraska USA 2013; Plantation Families event, Belfast/Derry, 27-28 September 2013; Opposites Attract: Science and Archives, LMA 21 March 2014; STEM from the City careers day, City of London Guildhall 27 June 2014; Great Parchment Book Day, LMA 25 July 2014; International Council on Archives annual conference, Girona, Spain 15 October 2014; University of Melbourne, Australia 31 October 2014; ARA Conservation Training Committee and Instructors, LMA 20 November 2014; Association for Historical and Fine Art Photography’s annual conferences, London 27 November 2014 and 22 October 2015.

The project has been published in a range of publications (the UCL project page has a list of the most significant and provides access to the free software produced in the course of the project) and is featured on many websites including the European History Primary Sources (EHPS) website and that of the International Council on Archives and the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust. The Great Parchment Book project has featured in an article in the Observer, 5 July 2015 on conservation technology.

It is used in teaching history at all levels especially in Northern Ireland, as well as for teaching students of conservation and digital humanities around the world.

You can find out more about events connected with the Great Parchment Book on the blog (go to the end of the page once you’ve clicked the link to read in chronological order).

Great Parchment Book retrospective: conservation

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Now with the successful outcome of the Great Parchment Book project well-established and in the public eye once again, it seems a good time to reflect back on the different elements which made up the project and try to make sense of the journey.

We start with conservation, the essential first phase of the project prior to the digital imaging, for which funding was obtained from the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust. The six month project ran from April to September 2012. Conservator Rachael Smither, was appointed to carry out the work, supervised by Dr Caroline De Stefani the London Metropolitan Archives Conservation Studio Manager.

Great Parchment Book folio

The conservation treatment of such a degraded and fragile manuscript was challenging and a considerable amount of research and a number of treatment trials had to happen before any work on the folios of the Great Parchment Book could take place.

One trial which really caught the imagination was when Rachael took a replica parchment book home to cook in the oven to see what the effect would be (it was very smelly!) She also discovered that an earlier attempt had been made to flatten some of the folios which had led to some perfectly flat sheets, but increased instability of the original material.Conservation in action 

It was decided therefore that only minimal treatment would be undertaken to make the digital imaging possible where folds and creases were obscuring the text. Instead of flattening, the folds and creases were gently pushed out with the result that the so-called poppadum book retained its familiar physical characteristics. A bespoke packaging solution was devised to support and protect the folios in the future.

Improved storage

 

The conservation of the Great Parchment Book was recognised in 2015 when the project was short-listed for the Pilgrim Trust Award for Conservation.

 

You can explore the conservation of the Great Parchment Book on the blog in detail (go to the end of the page once you’ve clicked the link to read in chronological order).

You can also see the conservation treatment in action on the Great Parchment Book project video.

Great Parchment Book retrospective

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When we embarked on the Great Parchment Book project, we were very uncertain that we would be able to achieve our aim: a digitally reconstructed and fully accessible manuscript that could take pride of place in the exhibition in Derry Guildhall opening in June 2013 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the building of the city walls.

Great Parchment Book partners

The project was an ambitious collaborative undertaking committed to exploring new techniques and technologies; nothing else had any chance of success. Each element was a major piece of work in its own right and different partners and funders were approached for each aspect of the project.

Now with the successful outcome well-established and the project in the public eye once again, it seems a good time to reflect on the different elements which made up the project and look back on the journey.

Over the next few weeks watch out for posts about –

  • Conservation
  • Digital humanities: imaging, transcription and textual encoding
  • The history of the Plantation and synergy with other original sources
  • Public engagement and recognition
  • The legacy and the future

And to help you get your bearings here is the Great Parchment Book project timeline –

  • Initial discussions between LMA, University College London and other potential partners, March/April 2010
  • Imaging – Four year EngD at UCL, September 2010-September 2014 (first year taught so project got underway in September 2011)
  • Conservation, April-September 2012
  • Transcription and encoding, September 2012-May 2013
  • Great Parchment Book website launch, 30 May 2013
  • Derry Guildhall exhibition opened, 10 June 2013
  • Public engagement, recognition and future developments – ongoing

The pleasures and pitfalls of writing a blog

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The importance of recording the progress of the Great Parchment Book project through a blog was identified right at the start of the discussions about the project  and it has been a key means to publicise and ensure the legacy of the project.

LMA Conservation Studio Manager Caroline De Stefani and project lead Philippa Smith are delighted to have been invited to write about the pleasures and pitfalls of writing a blog for a fellow blog published by Cilip (The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals).

The recently published post includes our tips for writing a successful blog and looks at the lessons we have learned along the way.

You can read the Cilip blog post – The pleasures and pitfalls of writing a conservation project blog – here.

X-ray technology reveals a hidden library

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The Great Parchment Book project through interdisciplinary research has allowed researchers to digitally explore the contents of a badly damaged and distorted manuscript. Recently, we’ve come across another collaborative project which has allowed researchers to digitally leaf through invisible pages and gain access to a hidden library.

Early-modern books contain hidden treasure: fragments cut from medieval manuscripts placed inside bindings to reinforce the textblock and to provide support for the binding. In his blog Medieval Books, Dr Erik Kwakkel from the University of Leiden in the Netherlands looks at how to gain access to the fragments using the Macro X-ray Fluorescence Spectrometry (MA-XRF) technology developed by Joris Dik and his team at Delft University in collaboration with industrial, academic and museum partners.

The blog post – X-Rays Expose a Hidden Medieval Library – gives an exclusive look behind-the-scenes at the process, and discusses the challenges and opportunities it presents for the future.

Conservation of Great Parchment Book – update on Pilgrim Trust Award

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Back in July London Metropolitan Archives was very pleased and excited to learn that Conservation of The Great Parchment Book had been shortlisted for the prestigious The Pilgrim Trust Award for Conservation 2015. The award recognises excellence in conserving an individual or collection of cultural heritage objects in the UK and the project was one of only four shortlisted, so a great achievement in itself.

Along with the representatives of the other three shortlisted projects, LMA Conservation Studio Manager Caroline De Stefani attended the VIP awards ceremony on 22 October 2015 at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in the heart of Westminster, London. She was accompanied by Graham Packham, Deputy Chairman of the Culture, Heritage and Libraries Committee of the City of London Corporation.

We were competing with very high profile projects and unfortunately we did not win. Still, it was a great achievement to have been shortlisted and we are so proud of the Great Parchment Book project. Our congratulations go both to Caroline and to Rachael Smither who worked as project conservator, for their achievement.

Thanks also to all those who have worked with us on the project, but especially Dr Tim Weyrich from our UCL partners who supported us at the judging panel.

The Icon Conservation Awards recognise the highest standards of conservation, research and collections care within the UK art and heritage sectors. More information about the ICON Conservation Awards is available on the ICON Conservation Awards website.

 

ICON awards Pilgrim Trust

Great Parchment Book shortlisted for prestigious conservation award

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It is with great pleasure we announce that Conservation of The Great Parchment Book has been shortlisted for The Pilgrim Trust Award for Conservation 2015. The award recognises excellence in conserving an individual or collection of cultural heritage objects in the UK.

Pilgrim Trust

Four shortlisted projects, including the Great Parchment Book, are now in with a chance to win a coveted prize fund, trophy and attend the VIP awards ceremony in October at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

The Icon Conservation Awards recognise the highest standards of conservation, research and collections care within the UK art and heritage sectors. The Great Parchment Book project is in good company as some of the highest-profile conservation projects in the world have been short listed.

Icon Chief Executive Alison Richmond said “The screening panels had a hugely difficult task putting the shortlists together from a strong group of applications but we have a final list that reflects the diversity of the many wonderful conservation projects being undertaken by skilled professional conservators and dedicated volunteers throughout the UK.”

ICON awardsMore information about the ICON Conservation Awards is available on the ICON Conservation Awards website. You can keep up to date with news on Twitter using the hashtag #IconAwards15.

Great Parchment Book project in The Observer

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The Great Parchment Book project has featured in an article in The Observer, 5 July 2015 on conservation technology.

The Observer interviewed project lead Philippa Smith and conservation project supervisor Caroline De Stefani at LMA, and Professor Melissa Terras, co-supervisor with Dr Tim Weyrich, of the Great Parchment Book project at UCL.

The project is the meat in the sandwich between discussion of the British Library’s work on preserving old newspapers and project partner UCL’s research into multispectral imaging.

LMA is continuing to work with the Centre for Digital Humanities at UCL and also with the British Library through a SEAHA fully-funded studentship on the Multispectral Imaging of Documentary Material as reported in an earlier Blog post.

We’ll be updating this Blog with news of the SEAHA Multispectral Imaging project in due course, but watch this space for some exciting news about the Great Parchment Book project coming soon!

 

Programme announced for Great Parchment Book Day

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LMA is holding a Great Parchment Book Day at LMA on Friday 25 July 2014. The morning will focus on the Great Parchment Book story; the afternoon will look to the future and explore accessing historical documents through innovative technologies.

PROGRAMME

MORNING: CONTEXT

10.00am Registration, coffee and housekeeping

10.15am Welcome (Deputy Catherine McGuinness)

10.20am Introduction to LMA, collections overview, where the Great Parchment Book sits within those collections, why it became the focus for the project and why it mattered (Philippa Smith)

11.00am  TEA/COFFEE

11.15pm Accessing History through Innovative Technologies:
The Great Parchment Book Project Story
Conservation (Dr Caroline De Stefani)
Transcription/textual encoding (Dr Patricia Stewart)
Digital flattening (Kazim Pal)
Q&A

13.00pm LUNCHTIME

AFTERNOON: EXPLORING NEW TECHNOLOGICAL APPLICATIONS IN CREATING ACCESS TO HISTORICAL DOCUMENTS

14.00pm Welcome and introduction – impact, outcomes and wider context (Dr Tim Weyrich)

14.30pm Display of damaged original materials including Great Parchment Book and LMA Rogues Gallery; demonstration of digital flattening software; opportunity to discuss further possible applications of flattening software and other techniques being researched on LMA material; demonstration of textual encoding (Dr Caroline De Stefani, Marie Poirot, Dr Tim Weyrich, Kazim Pal, Dr Helen Graham-Matheson, Dr Patricia Stewart)

15.15pm TEA/COFFEE

15.30pm HISTORY FUTURES PANEL (Professor Melissa Terras – UCL, Chair, Dr Tim Weyrich – UCL, Emma Stewart – LMA, David Howell – Bodleian Library)
 
How new technologies can and may impact on challenging materials, access and availability, preservation issues – how can we take projects forward? HLF partner bid proposal, Q&A and expressions of interest

16.30pm  CLOSE

The event is already full, but if you would like to be added to the waiting list, please go to http://the-great-parchment-book.eventbrite.co.uk.

Great Parchment Book website viewed more than 50,000 times

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This week the Great Parchment Book website passed the landmark of 50,000 page views since it was launched on 30 May 2013.

In addition, the Derry Guildhall exhibition – Plantation: Process, people, perspectives – which until recently displayed an original folio of the Great Parchment Book, has had 323,033 visitors from its opening in June 2013 until the end of March 2014.

We are really pleased that the Great Parchment Book has been seen and appreciated by so many both as an original folio in Derry, and remotely through the website. There will be a further chance to see the real thing at the Great Parchment Book Day at LMA on 25 July 2014 so book your place now at http://the-great-parchment-book.eventbrite.co.uk.

Booking opens for Great Parchment Book Day on 25 July 2014

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LMA is holding a FREE Great Parchment Book Day on Friday 25 July 2014. The morning will focus on the Great Parchment Book story; the afternoon will look to the future and explore accessing historical documents through innovative technologies. A more detailed programme will be posted as soon as it is available.

In the meantime, you can book your place at http://the-great-parchment-book.eventbrite.co.uk.

GREAT PARCHMENT BOOK DAY

Friday 25 July 2014

London Metropolitan Archives

9.30 am – 4.30 pm

FREE, booking is essential; tea and coffee available, but bring a picnic for lunch.

Great Parchment Book project receives Succeed Award Commendation of Merit

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LMA and UCL are pleased to announce that the Great Parchment Book project has received a European Succeed Award Commendation of Merit. The winners were selected from 19 nominations world-wide and, due to the high quality of the project, the Board decided to distinguish it with one of two Commendations of Merit.

Succeed is funded by the European Union. It promotes the take up and validation of research results in mass digitisation, with a focus on textual content.

You can find further information about the awards by clicking on  http://succeed-project.eu/succeed-awards and http://succeed-project.eu/succeed-awards/awards-2014.

The project represents a major partnership of international significance between a number of institutions. LMA and UCL gratefully acknowledge the support of the following:

Clothworkers’ Company; Derry City Council Heritage and Museums Service; Drapers’ Company;  ETH Zurich; Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council; Fishmongers’ Company; Goldsmiths’ Company; The Honourable The Irish Society; Ironmongers’ Company; Marc Fitch Fund; Mercers’ Company; Merchant Taylors’ Company; National Manuscripts Conservation Trust; Skinners’ Company; The British Library; The National Archives; The Trustees of Lambeth Palace Library.

Save the date!

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Planning is underway for a Great Parchment Book Day at London Metropolitan Archives on Friday 25 July 2014. The morning will focus on the Great Parchment Book story; the afternoon will look to the future and explore accessing historical documents through innovative technologies.

Save the date now! A more detailed programme and details on how to book will be posted as soon as they are available.

Science in Archives conference tomorrow!

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There is still time to book for the Opposites Attract: Science in Archives conference tomorrow at London Metropolitan Archives from 10am to 4pm.

Scientific thinking is distilled, recorded and kept in many archive collections. This conference will look at science found in archives and science collections. The programme is given below.

Opposites Attract: Science in Archives.

Friday 21 March 2014

London Metropolitan Archives

10 am – 4 pm

£10, booking is essential; bring a picnic.

10.20 am Anita Hollier from the CERN Archive, “CERN – accelerating science for 60 years.” 2014 marks the 60th anniversary of CERN and Anita will be looking at the development, contents and activities of the archive and some of the challenges they face.

11.30 am Felicity Henderson, University of Exeter, “Science and the City: Robert Hooke’s life in the City of London”.

1.30 pm Caroline de Stefani, LMA’s Conservation Studio Manager,  the Great Parchment Book project.

2 pm Jacqueline Cahif and Catherine Parker, the Bodleian Library, “Saving Oxford Medicine: an overview and a case study of a geneticist’s archive”.

3.10 pm Anne Barrett, Imperial College London, “Big Data – Scientists’ catalogues online.” An investigation of global linked data catalogues and bibliographical information in the history of science.

Opposites attract: science in archives

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Opposites Attract: Science in Archives.

Archives are not known for cutting edge science, but all that scientific thinking is distilled, recorded and kept in many archive collections.

This conference will uncover Robert Hooke’s world, the latest from Saving Oxford Medicine at the Bodleian Library, what goes on in CERN, and last but definitely not least, the science behind archive conservation featuring a presentation by LMA Conservation Studio Manager Caroline De Stefani on the Great Parchment Book project.

London Metropolitan Archives, 40 Northampton Road, London EC1R 0HB

Friday 21 March 2014

10am – 4pm

£10, places are limited and booking is essential; bring a picnic.

 

Journeys in Archive Conservation

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Readers of this Blog will be aware already of the skills of the conservators at London Metropolitan Archives through the conservation work on the Great Parchment Book.

All users of original documents at LMA benefit from the work of our Conservation team often without being aware of it. Our conservators are keen to show you more of what they get up to behind the scenes so have prepared an exhibition entitled Journeys in Archive Conservation.

Conservator Hilary Ordman preparing to be filmed for Journeys in Archive Conservation

The exhibition uses videos, images and displays of original items to explore the challenges that conservators deal with every day to make the collections accessible and delay the degradation of fragile and damaged items.

Conservator Rachael Smither showing the Great Parchment Book during a Conservation open dayThe Great Parchment Book project is featured at the centre of the exhibition through the video featured on the Great Parchment Book website.

 

London Metropolitan Archives, 40 Northampton Road, London EC1R 0HB

17 February – 15 May 2014

FREE – just drop in during normal opening hours.

Poppadum books

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The Great Parchment Book is not the only “poppadom book”. We have other burnt and heat-affected parchment volumes at London Metropolitan Archives. Crisp as a poppadum looks at examples of burnt manuscripts in the British Library collections. It is hoped that the ground-breaking work on conserving and digitally reconstructing the Great Parchment Book will have an impact on the accessibility of other burnt parchment items.

The challenge of displaying the Great Parchment Book

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Conservator Caroline De Stefani writes: Mounting and displaying the folio of the Great Parchment Book for the exhibition in Derry Guildhall presented some challenges due to its condition. Owing to the severe fire and water damage it was very difficult to find a suitable, stable and secure display method for such distorted, rigid and yet fragile material.

Display of GPB in Derry Nov 2013

The least invasive, but firm way to mount the folio was on a Perspex® sheet with v-shaped Melinex® tabs. These tabs gently secure the folio on the Perspex® surface greatly reducing the movement of the folio during the opening and closing of the drawer in which the folio is displayed. One side of the Melinex® has double sided tape which allows firm adhesion of the v-shaped Melinex® to the Perspex®. This method avoids using adhesive directly on the document.

For all the other LMA items on display, mainly volumes, we produced our in-house book supports which were assembled on site. The volumes were then strapped on the supports by means of inert polyester strips.

During installation, the environmental conditions (such as light level, temperature and relative humidity) in the gallery were checked and adjusted to meet the best conditions for the items. For the entire duration of the exhibition we are in contact with the curator who is providing us with regular updates on the physical condition of the documents and the environmental conditions in the exhibition area.

Spot the difference!

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We have now finished uploading on to the website all the original images of the Great Parchment Book folios, and enhanced images for at least two thirds of the folios.

The original images are of the folios in their original state before the conservation treatments were carried out. The enhanced images show the folios after both the conservation treatment which was carried out to facilitate the imaging process, and the advanced imaging work carried out by UCL.

Can you spot the difference between an original folio and an enhanced folio? The enhanced folio often looks very different owing to the way the imaging process has flattened the folios to reveal the text. Read more about the imaging process under Project history.

h6r

h6r original image

h6r

h6r Enhanced image

 

THE GREAT PARCHMENT BOOK WEBSITE HAS GONE LIVE!

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You can now start to explore the Great Parchment Book for yourself.

A good place to start is the video on the Home Page which illustrates the challenging nature of the project.

To continue your exploration, click on “Take a look inside the book” or search for a person, place or livery company.

If you want to know more about the historical background, book or project history, investigate the history tabs at the top of the Home Page.

The website is dynamic. Work is continuing on the transcription, and transcriptions and images will continue to be added to the site. Once the transcription is complete, the book history page will be expanded to take account of new insights into the codicology of the book, and to explain the arrangement of the folios.

The Great Parchment Book Blog is now embedded into the website and you can subscribe to the Blog on the website. Work is continuing to align the original Blog and the website Blog.

If you have any comments on the website, or can offer additional insights into the Great Parchment Book and what it reveals about the people, places and organisations involved in the history of 17th century Ulster, please share via the Blog or use the comment form at the bottom of the website Home Page.

Open studio event at LMA – Behind the Scenes in Conservation

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Next Tuesday 20th November we will have an open studio day. This is an opportunity to come and see the repaired and housed Great Parchment Book. Rachael will show you the techniques she has used to humidify, tension dry and repaired the parchment.

Just come to London Metropolitan Archives between 10 and 12 or 14 and 16. To find out more please click here. See you soon!

Great Parchment Book membranes

Repackaging

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Once all the sheets had been treated, they just needed rehousing. The sheets could not be put back into their original boxes because they were no longer suitable in terms of their size and shape. Also, it was felt that the boxes were housing too many sheets to a box.

For ease of handling, it was decided that the sheets should be stored in Clamshell style boxes with, on average, six to a box. The sheets would also need to be interleaved to stop them catching on each other. The interleaving material needed to be something thin and flexible that would mould to the shape of the sheets, so reducing the risk of extra bulk, but also smooth surfaced so the sheets won’t catch on it. It will also act as a support for each sheet when moving them in and out of the boxes.

Tyvek® was chosen for the job as it fits all these qualities and is chemically inert.

Lifting the membranes

Repackaged

Repairing the membranes

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There are fragments from some of the sheets that have been found at the bottom of the boxes. Some of these have already been matched up to certain sheets and numbered; some still need to be matched up. Gelatine coated tissue is used to hold these loose fragments in place.

Attaching gelatine coated tissue splints

Attaching gelatine coated tissue splints

Treatment on the Great Parchment Book

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Part 3

Tension drying

Magnet drying is proving to be the most effective method for holding out the creases whilst drying. Metal sheets are wrapped in thin blotter and covered with thin non-woven polyester (which reduces the risk of the parchment sticking). Magnets wrapped in felt or Tyvek® are used to hold open creases whilst the parchment dries. It was found fairly early on that the amount of shrinking present on some of the sheets was preventing the creases from being pulled out horizontally. This was remedied by inserting polyester wadding underneath the creased area and so pushing it out in a vertical direction, as well as pulling horizontally with the magnets.

Magnet set up

The edges of the parchment are held down with magnets

The edges of the parchment are held down with magnets

Tears can also be secured with magnets

Tears can also be secured with magnets

Treatment on the Great Parchment Book

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Part 2

Testing of inks

Prior to humidification, the Inks were tested for solubility in water and also for the presence of any metals within the ink. The inks were found non-soluble in water and, for the most part, no presence of metals was detected.

Humidification

The sheets of parchment are placed in a humidification ‘sandwich’, where they are layered up with Gore-Tex® and damp blotter (see diagram below) and left to gently humidify for approximately six hours.

Cross section of humidification set-up

Cross section of humidification set-up

Small ‘humidity packs’, made by wrapping Laponite® (a synthetic layered silicate) in thin non-woven polyester and then Tyvek® (a brand of flash spun high-density polyethylene fibres), can be placed in the sandwich over the shrunken areas to increase the humidity reaching these areas and therefore increase the softening.

Humidity packs placed over shrunken areas

Humidity packs placed over shrunken areas

Treatment on the Great Parchment Book

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Part 1

With all the tests we have carried out we are now ready to start to work on the Great Parchment Book!

Surface cleaning

Prior to humidification surface cleaning is being carried out using vulcanised rubber sponges and soft goat hair brushes. The sponge works by picking up and drawing in the dirt when it is placed in contact with the surface of the object to be cleaned. With the Great Parchment Book, ideally, we would like to remove as much surface dirt as possible from the parchment to stop it being drawn into the substrate when it absorbs moisture during humidification. Also, it helps to improve the legibility of the text. However, where flaky media is present, surface cleaning has to be avoided as the sponge will pick this up too.

Area before cleaning

Area before cleaning

Area after cleaning

Area after cleaning

The ink on the sample above is very stable and so the area could be cleaned. The sponge was most effective on the area in the middle, where the dirt was sitting loosely on the surface. However, the dirt in the bottom right hand corner of this image was much more ingrained, and so surface cleaning did not improve it.

Treatment trials continued… (part IV)

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17th-century samples with original fire damage

An original sample of heat damaged parchment (not part of the LMA collection) was found, and the magnet drying system was tested again. This was a good sample to test the treatment on as it had similar planar distortions and fragile edges as seen on the Great Parchment Book, which would not withstand having clips attached. (The sample was fully humidified between blotter and Gore-Tex®.)

Before treatment

Before

After treatment

After

Close-up before

Close-up before

Close-up after

Close-up after

Results

This method worked really well. Stronger, larger magnets were used around the shrunken areas to help hold the creases open, and then weaker, smaller ones were used to hold down the torn, fragile edges. However some tears, that were already present, did become wider and more obvious. This was a natural reaction to the overall plane of the parchment becoming flatter, but should be avoided when treating the Great Parchment Book.

Treatment trials continued… (part III)

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RESULTS – PEGGING

Before treatment

Before

Peg drying

Peg drying

After treatment

After

The peg method was quite successful in reducing the planar distortion on the fully humidified sample. The pins were put straight through the ends of the pegs, meaning the parchment was held very taught with not much room for movement. If using this method on the Great Parchment Book, which is much more fragile, we would want to allow for more movement to prevent tearing. Therefore elastic bands would be attached to the pegs and the pins put through these to allow for more flexibility.

Close-up before treatment

Close-up before

Close-up after treatment

Close-up after

Treatment trials continued… (part II)

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RESULTS – SUCTION TABLE

Before treatment

Before

Suction table drying

Suction table drying

After treatment

After

It was found that with both local and complete humidification, suction table drying was not appropriate. It did flatten out the sheet, but pulled smaller creases in more deeply. This method would be more effective on items that were less badly damaged, without shrunken areas, and that could be humidified to a greater extent.

Close-up before

Close-up before

Close-up after

Close-up after

Treatment trials continued…

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19th-century, artificially damaged parchment

A large manuscript, parchment document (not part of the LMA collections) was cut down into 16 small rectangles (180 x 140mm), which were then folded and sewn together to make a replica book. Successful shrinking was achieved through baking the book in a conventional oven and introducing moisture at regular intervals. The temperature was 200°C, and the book was left in the oven for 20 minutes with mill board clamped around it, then for another 10 with no mill board. The best shrinking was achieved by spraying the pages with water whilst it was in the oven.

post8Fig1

The book was dis-bound and six folios chosen which seemed to have damage similar to that seen on the Great Parchment Book. Local humidification and full humidification combined with peg drying, suction drying and magnet drying was tested on the sheets. The results for those that were fully humidified can be seen below.

Results – magnets

Before treatment

Before

Magnet drying

Magnet drying

After treatment

After

This method was very successful, in terms of reducing the planar distortions. The only concern was that it might damage flaky media, and so an extra barrier, between the magnets and parchment might be needed. This method would be very good for badly torn sheets with areas too fragile to withstand having a clip or peg attached.

Close-up before

Close-up before

Close-up after

Close-up after

Treatment trials

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Creased new parchment

Twelve samples of new parchment, which had been scrunched up and creases folded in, were tested to compare plain water against a water/ethanol solution, local humidification against full humidification, and different tension controlled drying methods (suction table, pegging out and magnets).

The three drying techniques:

1. For the suction table method, samples were placed onto the suction table, with thick blotter underneath, and the creases gradually eased out.Suction table
2. For the pegging method, plastic clips (with rubber and thick non-woven polyester between their jaws) were attached to the edges of the samples, and then put under tension and pinned in place on a soft board.Pegged samples
3. For the magnet method, a metal sheet was covered in thick non-woven polyester, the samples placed on top, then small magnets covered in felt arranged on top to hold them flat.Magnets

Results

Humidification

In comparing the use of water and a water/ethanol solution to humidify the samples, it was found that there was little difference. After 1.5 hours, all samples were equally soft and ready for drying. The only main difference was that the samples that had been fully humidified with just water tended to curl up. Also with these samples it was difficult to see much difference between samples that had been partially humidified and those that had been fully humidified.

Tension drying

All the tension drying methods were quite successful with all the samples, which was to be expected for new parchment. With the magnets, difficulties might occur when applying the magnets to older, distorted samples with wavy edges if the parchment was only locally humidified. In this instance the edges would be quite hard and so susceptible to damage from the pressure of the magnets. This would also be a problem with the pegging out method too. The next stage will be to test these tension drying methods on samples of distorted parchment to see how appropriate they will be for use on the Great Parchment Book.

Deciding on treatments to trial for potential use

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When deciding on potential treatments it is important to consider the main aims and outcomes that are sought.

For this project, these are:

  • To remove creases so that hidden text is visible and can be photographed
  • To consolidate flaky media
  • To repackage sheets for safe storage
  • To use techniques that are ethical and involve minimal intervention

Solvents for humidification

To achieve the first goal, humidification will be necessary and so we have to decide which solvents will be used for this. The main ones in use are water and water/ethanol solutions which work by the vapours penetrating between the fibres and improving hydration. Latest research findings suggest that any use of either can have a detrimental effect on parchment fibres, but the extent of this is dependent on the type of fibre and its condition. Water and a water/ethanol solution will therefore be tested on samples for their effectiveness as humidification agents.

Amount of humidification necessary

Minimal intervention is critical and so it should be tested to see if just partial humidification of the worst areas is adequate for opening creases, or if full humidification is required. For partial humidification, the samples will be put in a damp blotter/Gore-Tex sandwich, interleaved with polyester to protect areas that are not to be humidified. The samples that are to be fully humidified will be placed on top of damp blotter and Gore-Tex in a covered tray.

Methods for tension drying

Magnets

The item is pinned out onto a metal sheet with magnets placed on the surface. This is an appropriate option for the GPB as it has pages with very torn, fragile edges. However, it is important to be aware of the strength of the magnets being used. Also, they can be quite brittle and can leave marks on parchment, so should be wrapped in a protective material such as felt or thick non-woven polyester.

Pegging out

Pegs (or bull dog clips) are attached to the item edges and then tensioned out with pins. This method is appropriate for some of the less fragile pages of the GPB as the pegs can cause further damage to fragile edges.

Suction table

The item is held flat on the table while it dries. This could be an option, but might not be very effective on parchment that has areas that are very distorted and stiff, which the GPB has, as it relies on good contact with the table to allow flattening.

Pressing under boards

The item is placed under boards with weight on top. Given the amount of planar distortion in the GPB, this method would be totally inappropriate – creases would be pushed further into the parchment rather than pulled out. Also, problems have been seen in the past with this method causing the parchment to become transparent.

The next three posts will give details of trials to be carried out for humidification and crease reduction on three types of parchment. The first type is deliberately creased pieces of new parchment; the second is 19th century parchment, which will be deliberately heat damaged to replicate that seen on the GPB; the third is 17th century parchment with old heat damage caused by fire.

Previous conservation treatments: learning from the past

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Twenty-one of the sheets have had previous conservation treatment, for which there is no documentation of when the work was carried out, by whom, or what was done. However, we can get a few clues from the condition of the sheets.

Previously treated sheet showing transparency.

Previously treated sheet showing transparency.

The sheets still have some degree of planar distortion but are generally much flatter. Gelatinisation in some areas has also worsened.

Less planar distortion.

Less planar distortion.

Complete gelatinisation in some areas.

Complete gelatinisation in some areas.

Each sheet has a layer of adhesive on the surface and a mesh like pattern imprinted into it.

Mesh pattern in surface of parchment.

Mesh pattern in surface of parchment.

A fairly standard method used in the past for drying parchment under tension, was to paste it out with an adhesive (most likely wheat starch paste) onto Terylene (or a similar fabric) and leave it to air dry. This is the method that seems to have been used here. It seems likely that having been pasted out onto the Terylene, the sheets were then also pressed with a board with some weight on top. This can be seen through the combination of the transparency of much of the parchment, the imprint of the Terylene weave into the surface, and in some cases some very deep, but very flat creases.

Pressed creases.

Pressed creases.

Compared to the untreated sheets this sheet shows more gelatinisation, which is probably caused by the treatment that was carried out. This previous intervention has led to further denaturing of the parchment with an increase in gelatinisation. The parchment is physically less stable now than it was before treatment.

Damage ratings

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These are some of the results we have collected:
Each sheet could be assigned a number depending on the extent of the creasing present; if there were creases but no text obscured it was C1, if there were creases which obscured one area of text it was C2, and if there were creases that obscured more than one area of text it was C3.

Only 13% of the sheets were rated as C1, so in no need of treatment. The other 87% of the sheets were designated as having at least one area of text obscured, so a C2 or C3 rating, and 74% of these were rated as C3. These crease ratings can be viewed alongside an overall damage rating for each sheet of 1, 2 or 3 (1 being slightly damaged, 2 being damaged and 3 being heavily damaged). All sheets were rated at either 2 or 3.

Damage rating 2 Damage rating 3
C2 21 (13%) 16 (10%)
C3 30 (18%) 78 (47%)

So, just under half of all the sheets are heavily damaged with more than one area of text being obscured by a crease. These sheets will be the most challenging to treat.

C2 rating 2

C2 rating 2

C2 rating 3

C2 rating 3

C3 rating 2

C3 rating 2

C3 rating 3

C3 rating 3

Condition Assessment

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The first thing Rachael did was to define the types of damage present in the parchment sheets and to determine the grade of deterioration. The fire and water have almost destroyed the book and the sheets left are badly damaged. The different types of damage and extent of each are recorded.

The most obvious one present in all the sheets is the planar distortion of the surface. Some of the creases are so stiff (due to the heavy gelatinisation) that it will be impossible to flatten them to any better degree.

These distortions are also caused by the heat of the fire which has shrunk the parchment. As a reference, we have taken a picture of a letter P present in the same area as another P. The only difference is that one P on the parchment was affected by the heat at a different grade than the other P, where the parchment has shrunk and is less than half its original size!

Two letters P of different size due to parchment reaction to heat

Two letters P of different size due to parchment reaction to heat

Creases and tears are found in various areas, mostly on the edges of the sheet.

Creases and tears are present in most of the parchment sheets.

Creases and tears are present in most of the parchment sheets.

Some sheets have calcite on the surface; this is a typical degradation product of parchment that has been subjected to moisture and high temperatures. Calcite is present within the structure of the parchment, but, under these conditions, migrates to the surface.

The white powder on the surface of the sheet is calcite.

The white powder on the surface of the sheet is calcite.

Another type of damage is severe gelatinisation. Gelatinisation is a degradation process catalysed by high temperature in which the collagen changes its structure irreversibly (denaturation). We have rated the damage in terms of severity at G1, G2 or G3. All of the gelatinisation recorded was rated G2 (full glass layer) or G3 (full penetration of parchment- transparent).

Gelatinisation rating G2: the parchment has stiffened and started to become translucent.

Gelatinisation rating G2: the parchment has stiffened and started to become translucent.

Gelatinisation rating G3: the parchment has deteriorated into pure gelatine.

Gelatinisation rating G3: the parchment has deteriorated into pure gelatine.

There are some areas where the parchment is so curled that the text is hidden between the folds.

Folded and curled parchment is hiding the text.

Folded and curled parchment is hiding the text.

The metallogallic inks, presumably due to the heat, have darkened greatly and from the original brown have become almost black. In some areas the ink is flaking off and in some other parts it has completely flaked off leaving a lighter colour on the parchment.

The burnt ink is flaking off the surface.

The burnt ink is flaking off the surface.

Traces of the ink applied on the surface of the support.

Traces of the ink applied on the surface of the support.

Last, but not least, you can’t miss out the dirt and stains in this whole collection of different types of damage.

Dirt and stains.

Dirt and stains.

This job is going to be very challenging, let’s see what Rachael will come up with!

Physical Evidence

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This, so far, is what we know about the Great Parchment Book:
The book is made of 165 folios and is stored in 19 boxes.

There are also a lot of fragments which, at this stage, are impossible to place in any of the pages which survived the fire in 1786.

The light brown ink line which runs vertically along the left and right margin of the written area.

The light brown ink line which runs vertically along the left and right margin of the written area.

The pages are about A4 size (295×210 mm). On a closer look at the surface of the pages, calf skin may have been used to make the parchment. It was very difficult to find the traces of the hair follicles since most of the pages have a thick layer of gelatine on the surface.
There are no traces of either the binding format or of the sewing structure. Although the fire and the water have damaged most of the document’s surface, the worst damages are found on the spine fold of the pages.
Writing area: the page is ruled with a different ink than the one used for writing: a light brown line runs vertically on the sides of the written area.

Light lines are present horizontally as a ruling guide

Light lines are present horizontally as a ruling guide

Detail of the ink used for writing

Detail of the ink used for writing

A different ink, possibly a lead pen, was used for ruling the horizontal lines. It is really difficult to detect the latter and it even looks as though just some lines were ruled, not all of them.
The media used to write is a metallogallic ink.
The Great Parchment Book is written in Secretary Hand. This was a script which began to be used in England in the sixteenth century and continued until the late seventeenth century. Scripts evolve continuously and this is a fairly late example of Secretary Hand, when the script was already starting to incorporate more rounded, Roman, characters. This makes the script of the Great Parchment Book much more accessible and readable than pure, early Secretary Hand.
Looking through the pages it seems that different hands have written the text.

The next thing to do is to assess the condition of the parchment sheets. We will attempt to cover this in our next posts.

Approaches to Conservation

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We have now appointed the conservator who will treat the Great Parchment Book. Rachael Smither will work on the membranes for the next six months.

Her working approach will be of minimal intervention in order to facilitate the digitization of the pages.

The treatments will be localised to the areas where the writing is hidden by creases, folds and dirt.

The decision to work in this manner came from the realisation that the parchment is so damaged that a more invasive intervention could damage the material even further.
This modus operandi is also based on the Code of Ethics, promoted by the European Confederation of Conservator-Restorers’ Organisations and adopted by its General Assembly, Brussels 7 March 2003.

For the first weeks Rachael will assess the type of damages in the book and decide the best technique to use to relax the areas which present problems for the digitization process. Once the assessment is completed Rachael will then start to work on the membranes that need to be treated. We will record the stages of these treatments, show you pictures of the procedures, and the final results of the treatment.

I hope you will enjoy taking this challenging journey with us!

A membrane from the Great Parchment Book

A membrane from the Great Parchment Book