Digitisation, Books, Conservation

On to the Manuscripts! Progress on our Digitisation Project with the Malta Study Center

Museum of the Order of St John Simone Monti (Project Librarian)

Where were we? The Library has been very busy over the past few months, but our project to digitise our precious collection in collaboration with the Malta Study Center at the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library (HMML) is progressing brilliantly! As we wrote in the last update, this project will make most of our library collections available online on the HMML Reading Room, fully catalogued and browsable. This will provide an invaluable resource for scholars and students, while also offering the public an easy way to explore our wonderful collections.

A screenshot of the HMML Reading Room webpage, available at https://www.vhmml.org/readingRoom/.
HMML Reading Room webpage.

In these few months, we have finished digitising our pamphlets collection and have moved on to our manuscript collections. These consist of any handwritten materials held in the Library and Museum, including both bound volumes and loose sheets. These materials, mostly in Latin, Italian and French and spanning from the sixteenth- to the nineteenth-century, contain unique sources on the history of the Knights of Malta.

A man sitting at his desk looks at a screen on his side, checking the photograph of a manuscript page he has just taken. In front of him, a manuscript volume is placed on a black mat on his desk. Over it, there is a camera fixed to a column, framing the black mat below.
A manuscript being digitised using HMML’s photographic equipment.

These manuscripts include historical accounts and treatises of conduct, account books, armorials, charters and other legal documents, as well as many seventeenth- and eighteenth-century letters from the turbulent period of the French Revolution, when the existence of the Order was at risk. Some of these manuscripts are beautifully illuminated, such as these eighteenth-century proofs of nobility (documents that aspiring members of the Order had to present to join the historical Order) by Italian nobleman Cesare Borgia.

A book lies open on a book pillow. The right-hand side page presents a beautiful illumination consisting of a family tree. This is represented as an actual tree with fruits on its branches and flowers around its base; on the trunk, there are white circles containing the names of Borgia’s ancestors.
One of the illuminated pages of Borgia’s proofs, showing a family tree.

The materials will be available online at the end of the project, but you can already see an example that has been uploaded to HMML’s Reading Room to get a preview of what our digitised collections will look like. These digital resources will allow the study of these documents and provide up-to-date catalogue records, with detailed information and links connecting them to other similar objects.

A screenshot of HMML webpage containing the digital version and catalogue record of one of the Library’s pamphlets. Available at https://w3id.org/vhmml/readingRoom/view/791108.
The digital version of the ‘Relatione del signor Gabrio Serbellone sopra l’espugnatione di Tunisi’ (late 16th century).

We are very happy and proud of the progress we have made and cannot wait to continue on this path. In the next phase, we will start digitising our early printed books, which are the core of the Mellows Library’s collections. This step will further improve the access to our collections and help us promote them to new and global audiences.