Equipment challenges

We’ve had a challenging couple of weeks, with various pieces of equpiment failure coming all at once. First of all the scanning head developed a problem, and then various of the Bowen 200/200 light heads have started malfunctioning. The scanner was under a service contract and so the scanner head was replaced without difficulty resulting in about a weeks lost work. The Bowen light heads are proving more of a problem. One of them has been replaced under warranty by the manufacturer. However, to send all the malfunctioning units back would mean doing without lights for a few weeks which is something we can’t factor in to such a short project. We have, therefore, made the decision to carry on with the malfunctioning lights we have – turning up the brightness of the background lighting to compensate for flash failure. The lighting quality of the images is different to the images taken earlier on the project – but the images are still high-quality.

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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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Main series of 16th and 17th century cause papers completed

The teams imaging the 16th and 17th century cause papers have now completed the main series of papers and have moved on to the Dean and Chapter cause papers – these are a very similar set of cases concerning people living within the legal jurisdiction of the Dean and Chapter of York Minster. Work is also underway on the series Test.CP which are the records of cases concerning disputed wills.

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Cause Paper Colloquium 27 July 2011.

Colloquium announcement:

Cause Papers unwrapped: exploring the resource value and access challenges of the records of the ecclesiastical courts.

 A one-day colloquium for archivists and records custodians to share experiences of recent cause paper digitisation projects and exploring ways to increase the usability of church court records.

Wednesday 27 July, 2011: Borthwick Institute for Archives, University of York.

For more information contact Sara Slinn, sara.slinn@york.ac.uk.

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Dr Philippa Hoskin, University of Lincoln, has been awarded a UROS (Undergraduate Research Opportunities Scheme) grant to work with Lincoln undergraduate, Diane Ranyard, on the project ‘Geography, gender and reputation in the Church Courts of York, 1400-1550’. The project will make extensive use of the York cause papers.

These grants, supported by the Higher Education Academy and part of the University of Lincoln’s ‘Student as Producer’ programme, provide scholarships for students to work alongside staff in the production of work of academic content and value, thus gaining experience of academic research.

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Main series of 18th century cause papers completed

This week the team imaging the eighteenth century cause papers finished the main series (archive refenece CP.I.), which is a good milestone to have reached at this stage in the project. The next 18th century section to tackle will be the series of cases about testamentary business – basically contested wills (archive reference Test.CP.) and after that the team will be working on the Dean and Chapter Cause Papers for the 18th century.

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A chance to draw breath

With a month and a half’s imaging work completed we are going to take the opportunity next week to go back over our quality control logs and replace any images that are below standard.

As the images have been listed on spreadsheets and then have been cropped, the team have been making a note of cause papers they’d like to have another go at because, for instance, the camera focus was not quite right or because there is a document weight placed in an un-ideal position. Next week team will be going going over their lists and replacing poor images with better ones. We are doing well for time so we can take some extra time arranging any tricky documents. Parchment documents can be particularly difficult to get flat and can need significant numbers of weights at their edges.

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