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Digitally Restoring Manuscripts: Sharing our Techniques

‌Many researchers will have had that frustrating experience of calling up a crucial document in a library or archive to find that because of fade, wear, damage or deliberate deletion it cannot be read. High resolution photography, however, now offers the researcher some possibilities for attempting to restore the content to readability.

In April we held three workshops introducing scholars, students and other interested people to the art of digitally restoring manuscripts. Participants included musicologists, literary scholars, historians, art historians, some involved in other digitial humanities porojects and some workshing with digitial images and Adobe Photoshop for the first time.

Using images of music manuscripts from the DIAMM collection Julia Craig-McFeely led partcipants in exploring how using some relatively simple Photoshop techniques such as layers, level adjusts, and colour selects some surprisingly good results could be achieved. 

Even just turning your notation or text a shocking shade of purple might be enough to help brain to pick out what you need to read.

Julia Craig-McFeely teaching digital restoration

Katherine Butler also introduced some of the early result of our restoration work on the Sadler partbooks, where acidic ink has caused significant burn through, obscuring the music (pictured behind Julia on the right). Here we're aiming not just for scholars to be able to read the notation, but to produce a printed facsimile that performers will be able to play from. This is a process not just of making the music transcribable but of cleaning up the manuscript, and as the techniques used here involve copying 'clean' bits of manuscipt' over the damaged parts, this raises all sorts of interesting ethical issues (this restoration press really requires a post of it's own so we'll write more on this process soon!).

If you think these techniques might be useful in your research, you can download Julia's digital restoration workshop booklet. Also, do get in touch if you'd be interested in future workshops as we will do plan to run more if there is sufficient interest.

Last modified: Sat, 17 Oct 2015 11:13:13 BST