News Release — July 22, 2003
The Digitization of the Ransom Center's Gutenberg Bible
Already notable as owner of one of five complete copies of the Gutenberg Bible in the United States, The University of Texas at Austin's Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center has joined a handful of international institutions in digitizing its copy of the rare Bible.
For the first time the public is able to view all pages from the Ransom Center's Gutenberg Bible online and through the university's Knowledge Gateway. Each of the large illuminated letters in volume I and the copious handwritten annotations as well as other indications of the book's use in religious services are visible in great detail.
"Just as Johann Gutenberg made knowledge more readily accessible with the invention of the printing process, this digitization project continues that legacy," said Richard Oram, head librarian of the Ransom Center. "It's appropriate that the Ransom Center launches a new phase in its digitization efforts with the first book ever printed with movable type. Combining today's technology with a treasured work from the 15th century makes it possible for anyone with Internet access to view every page of the Bible."
In June 2002, the Ransom Center and IImage Retrieval Inc. of Carrollton, Texas, collaborated on the digitization of the center's Gutenberg Bible using the I2S Digibook 6000 overhead scanner. The scanning project took less than a week to complete and resulted in thousands of digital images. Although the scanning process of each double-page spread of the Bible took less than 45 seconds, completion of the digitization and online project involved hundreds of hours.
"The use of the I2S scanner was critical to the digitization project," said Derek Jenkins, president of IImage Retrieval. "With the scanner's lighting environments specifically designed to digitize precious and fragile archival materials with low heat and low light, the archive materials are not prematurely aged as they are with most scanners."
The completed project provides Web visitors with more than 7,000 images from the two-volume Bible. Pages may be viewed as double-page thumbnails in two sizes and large individual images. With special software, the center's staff corrected the curvature of each page, producing final images that allow full visibility of the text and illuminations.
"We undertook this project with the goal of providing legible and high-resolution images of the Gutenberg Bible," said Steve Wilson, associate curator of film. "Although it required an incredible investment of time and energy, our digitization project provides scholars and the public the opportunity to see the Bible in its totality."
Often referred to as the first printed book, the Gutenberg Bible is an acknowledged landmark in the history of printing. It is generally agreed that Johann Gutenberg (ca. 1399-1468) was the inventor of the mechanical printing process that changed the course of western civilization.
Internationally there are 48 surviving copies of the Bible. Each copy is unique because local artisans throughout Europe were employed to illuminate the initials opening each book, to supply the page headings and lesser initials, and to add a suitable binding. Marginal notes suggest that certain sections of the Bible were to be read in the refectory while others were reserved for church services.
In addition to now being viewable online, the Ransom Center's Gutenberg Bible is on permanent display in a new exhibition case in the center's recently remodeled public space.
Acquired in memory of Harry Huntt Ransom, The University of Texas at Austin purchased its copy of the Gutenberg Bible in 1978 from the Carl H. and Lily Pforzheimer Foundation of New York City.
One of the university's treasures, the Ransom Center houses one of the world's finest cultural archives, specifically 36 million manuscripts, five million photographs, one million books and more than 100,000 works of art and design.