William Noel: Revealing the Lost Codex of Archimedes TED Talk

This fascinating TED talk is a few years old by now but it is definitely still worth a watch.

Dr. Will Noel, Curator of Manuscripts at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore describes how a private individual purchased and preserved for posterity, this 13th century codex overwritten on  recycled earlier manuscript sheaves which contain lost material by Archimedes.

This magnanimous, unnamed individual did so in the first instance with the noble aim of protecting that which was fragile and of making it freely available to scholars.

And he goes on to explain how a crowdfunding initiative made the analysis of the palimpsest and the subsequent revolutionary discoveries possible. The initial preservation and research was augmented by application of multispectral imaging techniques and using refined X-ray radiation produced by synchrotron of  the Stanford Linear Accelerator Centre at Menlo Park.

For some more, general information see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archimedes_Palimpsest

See also the Archimedes Palimpsest Project, http://www.archimedespalimpsest.org/

According to Dr. William Noel,  

‘institutions can learn from this. Because institutions at the moment confine their data with copyright restrictions and that sort of thing. And if you want to look at medieval manuscripts on the Web, at the moment you have to go to the National Library of Y’s site or the University Library of X’s site, which is about the most boring way in which you can deal with digital data. What you want to do is to aggregate it all together.’

We in the digital humanities community, especially those involved with palaeography, codicology and manuscript-based research are undeniably far better off than our counterparts of yore when it comes to gaining access to the collections of multiple institutions, which, happily have been widely digitised and many are conveniently available at our individual desktops around the globe. However, there are hundreds of lifetimes worth of work left to do in these fields and anything which can further elucidate and advance these disciplines through these new digital media and tools will be invaluable.

William Noel puts forward the case for a sharing of resources and the increased accessibility to these materials on the world wide web:

‘Because the Web of the ancient manuscripts of the future isn’t going to be built by institutions. It’s going to be built by users, by people who get this data together, by people who want to aggregate all sorts of maps from wherever they come from, all sorts of medieval romances from wherever they come from,people who just want to curate their own glorious selection of beautiful things. And that is the future of the Web. And it’s an attractive and beautiful future, if only we can make it happen.’