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.’

I swear it’s not an existential crisis!


Who am I?:

My name is Andrea Lane. I am a graduate of University College Cork in Ireland.

Where am I coming from? (academically speaking):

My BA was in Celtic Civilisation and Classics, and I subsequently completed a Higher Diploma in History of Art. I am presently a candidate on UCC’s MA Digital Arts and Humanities programme. I have many and diverse interests: Early and Medieval Irish, Latin, Classical Greek, Art History, Palaeography, Codicology, Manuscript Imaging, Text-Encoding, Book Illustration.

But who am I really? (generally speaking):

I have a huge curiosity about loads of other things too: Archaeology, Philosophy, History, Psychology, Neurology, Physics, Astronomy, Consciousness Studies, Anthropology, Ecology, Sociology of the 19th Century, Gothic Literature, Visual and Symbolic Literacy, Editing Practices, Music, Botany, Medicine, Comparative Religion, Mythology, Podcasts, Calligraphy, History of Science, Museum Studies, Medical Herbology, Science Fiction, Linguistics, Data Analysis, The History of Printing, Mycology, Language Acquisition and Pedagogy, Egyptology, Anatomy and Physiology, Alternative Medicine…At least those are the ones at the forefront of my magpie-mind!

But who am I at heart? (in my everyday life):

I am a dog-lover, movie-enthusiast, quiz aficionado, book-hoarder, puzzle-solver, eclectic music-collector, Monty Python fan, occasional meditator, and all-round big kid with a uniquely individual dancing style which has been dubbed ‘unforgettable!’

Where I am going to? (Fingers crossed):

Besides the fact that I want to keep learning new things for the rest of my life, I am currently very interested in how digital technologies might be used to improve and expand the discipline of Palaeography.

The dead arose and appeared to many…

On this Halloween night, it seems particularly appropriate to discuss a project named after a man who returned from the dead. The Lazarus Project, a not-for-profit initiative, was founded by Dr. Gregory Heyworth, Associate Professor of English at the University of Mississippi. It grew out of a wish to unite the traditional academic disciplines of ancient language scholarship, textual analysis, and palaeography with the emergent technologies of the digital age, such as multi-spectral imaging, and the chemical analysis of inks and materials. This hybridisation of two unrelated fields resulted in a new hyperdiscipline which Heyworth labels Textual Science. And with the help of a substantial grant from the U.S. government, The Lazarus Project was born. It has been called to the rescue of many endangered manuscripts thus far, in seven countries, and the potential contribution such technology could yet make to the study of the 60,000 manuscripts currently residing in practically illegible and precarious conditions is both staggering and awe-inspiring.

Project: An attempt to collate and classify online paleographical resources


I am currently gathering information for a general survey of the spectrum of Palaeographical and Manuscript-based Research resources available online. This task, although fascinating and enlightening, is nevertheless very daunting. Not simply because of the plethora of sites and projects, the many languages of these host sites and the specialised linguistic skills required to make sense of the materials therein contained, but also because of the diverse aims and methodologies espoused by these diverse projects. To say that I am a trifle overwhelmed by the sheer volume of content is an understatement! I will attempt to develop some sort of criteria by which I will classify these resources and perhaps assess their merits and flaws. If anyone has any suggestions as to how I might tackle this mammoth task, then I would greatly appreciate any comments, insights or links to relevant sites and resources. Or failing that you might want to simply wish me luck!

In principio erat verbum…In the beginning there was the word.


My name is Andrea and I am a learning-junkie. Here begins my next learning adventure. I am embarking on a journey to become a digital humanist. I am not 100% sure yet what that means exactly! Nevertheless, in so doing, I am challenging my ingrained papyrophilia, and forcing myself to go where I have never felt truly comfortable. Yes my friends, I am e-voyaging into the nebulous cloud of confusion which lies at the heart of the dangerous digital realm. Join me on my quest to take by storm the very new and shiny field of digital humanities. Watch me  as I try to battle emergent technologies, as I attempt to reach some sort of accord with new media and endeavour to crack the conundrum of ‘what it means to be human  in the digital age’.

Given that I am not necessarily a fan of novelty for its own sake, and that I would feel more competent with a calligraphy quill than with a haptic feedback device, this is probably the most difficult challenge I have ever set myself,  and I once gave astrophysics a go!

So, in the spirit of openness, interdisciplinarity and self-reflection, which I am coming to realise are watchwords for this nascent discipline, I invite you to join me on this trek into the unknown. Share in the inevitable failures, and hopefully occasional triumphs of a woman whose favourite languages are dead ones, whose favourite works of art are centuries old and whose favourite books were written and illustrated long before the printing-press was even a twinkle in Gutenberg’s eye.

This should be fun.