Medieval Cause Papers added to project

This week we have been exploring the ways in which we can add images of the records of the medieval courts to the project. These records are physically more challenging for the digitisation process – the majority are on parchment (which can begin to curl if exposed to the warmth of photographic lights for too long), they are of variable sizes (from tiny slips to long rolls), and because many of them have wax seals attached, they are not suitable for any scanning method which presses down on the documents.

The project has been very fortunate to take onto the team David Pilcher an experienced archive photographer who has worked on similar records at Canterbury Cathedral Archives. David is setting up an additional workstation using the same Nikon D3100 camera and Kaiser RS1 copystand set-up as the other camera workstations but with additional space to work. The platen of the RS1 copystand has been enlarged using some plasterzote add-on side wings created by our conservation department. This enlarged platen will make handling the rolls easier and reduce the risk of damage to the documents.

One of the features of these medieval records is that the scribes were very economical with their materials, often writing right to the edge of their sheets and leaving no margins on which we can place weights. Since many of the records are on parchment, which tends to wave, or on paper with a curl, this can prove a difficulty. We have experimented with various methods of weighting down the records. Using conservators’ glass weights good images were obtained – but with a greenish colour caste. This colour caste was eliminated by using a sheet of thickish perspex of the type used for picture framing. Both methods were, however, sensitive to overhead reflections which were not easy for us to eliminate in the project room. Eventually we have settled on a method where 12″ x 14″, 6mm window glass weights are used at the very top and foot of any pieces which show a tendency to curl. These weights have no colour distortion and cast much less in the way of shadow that other types of weights we have used. Overhead reflection is less of a problem when the glass is only being used over small sections of the documents but has also been minimised by locating the new workstation away from direct overhead room lights.

We are expecting this imaging to proceed at a much slower pace than previous work but hope we may be able to make significant progress through the 14th and 15th century material.

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