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Opening a Treasured Book: Rare Gutenberg Bible will be available to millions through digitization

Bullshead watermark from unidentified page
Photo: Courtesy of HRC
Page 114 v. Book of Judges. Gutenberg Bible. Biblia Latina. Johannes Gutenberg. Mainz, Germany, 1454-55.
The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center's copy of the Gutenberg Bible (c. 1450), one of only 48 complete copies in the world, is about to become much more accessible to the public.

Pairing pioneering technology from the 15th century -- the Gutenberg Bible was the first book produced using movable type -- and today's latest technology, every page of the Gutenberg Bible is being digitally captured for release first on CD and then on the Internet.

The project illustrates the university's commitment to its "Digital Knowledge Gateway" initiative, a developing online service to share the great intellectual and cultural treasures of the institution with the residents of Texas and people around the world.

This marks the first time the technology has been used to digitize a Gutenberg Bible in the United States. The project began at the Ransom Center the week of June 24.

"Digitizing the university's Gutenberg Bible will be of immeasurable benefit to scholars around the world, while making this treasure accessible via the Internet to teachers, students and many others," said Dan Updegrove, vice president for information technology.

"This project will be an ideal and compelling example of the resources the university will make available to the residents of Texas via the Digital Knowledge Gateway," he said.

IImage Retrieval Inc. of Carrollton, Texas, is allowing the Ransom Center staff to use one of its Digibook scanners, produced by the French firm of i2S-Bookscanner, to capture images of each of the Gutenberg Bible's 1,200 pages.

The scanner takes less than five seconds to process each page, and the Book Restorer software produced by i2S allows for correction of page curvature and faithful reproduction of the original colors in the book's beautiful illuminated letters.

The result will be 60,000,000,000 bytes (60 gigabytes) of stored digital images that within six months will be mounted on the Ransom Center's Web site, viewable by scholars working at the center or even in another country.

"For the first time, we will have high-definition images of all of the pages in the Bible for scholars to study," said Richard Oram, the Ransom Center's head librarian. "These will be of considerable interest to faculty and students of history.

"The digitization is an ideal opportunity for us to make the cornerstone of our rare books collection more easily available for study, while it benefits IImage Retrieval, which will have an opportunity to try out this recently introduced product in actual operation," he said.

"We are grateful we were able to work out this arrangement with the firm."

Since the large two-volume book normally is on permanent display and must be accompanied by a guard whenever it is removed from its secure case, it has been difficult for scholars to access and for the public to see.

Now, users will be able to look at highly detailed digital blowups of the illuminated letters through the Internet.

In addition, the images captured by the i2S Digibook will be used in a new interactive display featuring the Gutenberg Bible in the renovated Ransom Center, opening next spring. The public will be able to view the Bible page by page through a touchscreen interface as well as view the Bible itself in its traditional secure display case.

For more information about the Gutenberg Bible, visit the Ransom Center Web site.

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  Updated 2014 October 13
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