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Inside the Evellum Scriptorium Series


Bernard J. Muir


Evellum has been producing digital editions and facsimiles for the past fifteen years, but has in the past five years begun to develop DVDs which focus on the making of the manuscript book in the Middle Ages. This has been done for a number of reasons, both pedagogical and financial.

The facsimile editions are enormously labour-intensive and expensive to produce, and on average take 4-5 years to complete, sometimes even longer. The editions completed to date include three in the Bodleian Digital Texts series, MS Junius 11, Terence's Comedies, and The Vernon Manuscript; the fourth in this series, which was established in 2000 as a collaboration between Evellum and The Bodleian Library, will be The Peterborough Chronicle. It is virtually impossible to complete such a project without a very large grant from a national competitive funding scheme, such as the Australian Research Council here in Australia.

Another practical consideration is that it is essential that there be a continuity among research and programming staff because this helps to keep training to a minimum, thus saving both time and money. It also provides us with an 'collective memory' of how we have got to where we are and why. Luckily, staffing has been a strong point in our development. Some of us have been here from the beginning, others for nearly a decade. No one has ever walked out or been attracted away to greener pastures.

We decided to develop the Evellum Scriptorium Series for a number of reasons. The content is now essentially video based, and each new product includes a Resources Disc to supplement the DVD, which contains an array of teaching resources – essays, films, photographs, illustrated glossaries, and reference works. These contents vary from project to project, reflecting the subject of the main DVD. The titles in the series to date are The Making of a Medieval Manuscript, Inside the Scriptorium 1: Inks, Paints and Quills, and Inside the Scriptorium 2: Writing and Illuminating.

It is our perception that there will be a wider audience for video-based pedagogical tools than there is for the more scholarly digital editions, which usually attract a more specialised audience. This audience potentially includes students in secondary or high schools, as well as the public at large, which seems to be very interested in programmes on the history of the book and related historical topics. At a production level, it has proven to be less costly to make the video-based DVDs than those relying on a large amount of computer programming. And with longevity a major concern in IT developments, computer programming-based projects are to a large extent open-ended, in that you cannot predict what will be required in the future in order to ensure that current and past projects will remain accessible (in the IT world the future is just around the corner at any moment).

In the past, a number of people have asked why the DVDs we produce cannot be distributed free – they have assumed that such programmes could not have been produced without large subventions and so we should not charge for them. In the best of all worlds, it would be wonderful if all our projects were fully funded, but the reality is that to date less than half have received funding that covered the cost of production. One reason for this is that national funding schemes are usually reluctant to fund projects which do not entirely consist of 'pure research'. This means that they would be interested in the content aspect of a project, but not in the technical aspect. The reality here is that in such projects the one cannot easily be separated from the other – they have a symbiotic relationship. In our experience, the government funding body is gradually coming to accept this, so that, for example, the Peterborough project is fully funded, whereas earlier we found it impossible to secure government funding for the Junius 11 project, in spite of rave peer-reviews of the proposal.

We are now seeking funding for the development of a new series on 'Culture and Language'. The first titles in this series will be on the Vikings in Europe (Stones Shall Speak), the history and use of Germanic runes, and English etymology. This series will be aimed at students of all ages and the general public.

The titles in this series should be less expensive to produce, which will be reflected in their RRP; but even 'less expensive' projects require funding, and so their development will be dependent upon other titles generating income.

It will perhaps seem unfortunate to focus on making ends meet financially, but we are currently experiencing a worldwide trend in higher education to eliminate highly specialised subjects, especially at the undergraduate level. The development of digital pedagogical tools and scholarly editions, while not a replacement for a full-time lecturer in the classroom, will at least ensure that materials are available for less well-trained lecturers to continue teaching subjects about the Middle Ages. We have also developed the concept of a digital Resource Warehouse where a lecturer can select course materials and have a customised disk made to order.

A surprising aspect of these developments is that I have found a number of skilled artisans who are willing to contribute to the projects with no promise of financial return – they want to participate merely out of interest. Without their dedication and generosity none of these new projects would be possible. Through these projects I have extended my own interests and skills. I am keen to have feedback and consequently each new work reflects critical comments on previous publications.

As the project concept evolved and moved towards video technology rather than computer programming, my role as project manager and developer has changed. I conduct market surveys to see what educators and the public want and then try to develop the programmes to meet these expectations. I research each new project and write the voiceovers, running through many revisions before a spoken version of the text emerges from what initially looked well-written on paper but refused to sound natural when spoken. These are things I had seldom thought about in the past.

I do not expect to author another analogue publication, unless one is specifically commissioned. I feel how I think Gutenberg and his colleagues must have felt as they moved from the manuscript period into the age of print – it is a very exciting time to be involved in scholarly publication and to play a small part in the next stage of the history of textual transmission and how it will be transformed in the digital age.