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Digging Deeper - an online course about medieval manuscripts

Digging Deeper Logo

In January, Stanford launched Digging Deeper: Making Manuscripts, an online learning experience devoted to the technologies involved in creating and interpreting medieval manuscripts. We're off to a roaring start with thousands of enrolled participants across more than 90 countries (and it's not too late to sign up!).  The creation of the course has been a truly collaborative experience: Stanford University faculty and library staff have worked closely with counterparts at Cambridge University, Stanford Academic Technology Specialists, graduate students, and a team from Stanford's Office of the Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning to produce a suite of learning materials that have become much richer than any of us envisaged at the beginning of the process in 2013!

Elaine Treharne has been discussing the development of the course on her Text Technologies blog, where we'll talk about teaching as a team across institutions and departments. For now, I would like to showcase some of the content and technologies that the library has contributed to this collaboration.

Basic Infrastructure

OpenEdX, the platform supported by the Office of the Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning is very robust and is designed to accommodate high volumes of traffic. Where the library plays a role is being able to provide an infrastructure to serve many high resolution images out to be embedded and re-used in other platforms. While largely invisible, this capacity allows us to provide users with access to the images for many entire books in a zoomable interface. In a sense, we support the delivery of content that can be accessed through lighter-weight front-end software.

There are two exciting technologies that we're providing in support of the class that bring very unique viewing experiences to the scholars working with this content

Embeddable Content

Any image-based content held in the Stanford Digital Repository can be easily embedded into blogs, online course platforms, and other interfaces. While we are used to accessing this content through Searchworks or a persistent URL (PURL), the embeddable option allows library infrastructure and content to be reused in many different places. In the case of Digging Deeper, it means that we can provide more than just a single image of a manuscript for the class participants, but can allow them to explore all of the images from a manuscript quite easily. In the example below, Astrid Smith and the Digital Production Team digitized a 15th century Book of Hours from Stanford's collection (see here) - these images can now be re-used in any number of ways by anyone in the world.

Try This!
It's very easy to embed this example in your own webpage, just click on the icon that looks like 〈/〉 and copy the code into your site. This holds true for any kind of content in the Stanford Digital Repository where you see that icon.

Comparison Viewing

Comparison viewing and medieval manuscripts go hand-in-hand. One of the primary tasks of a student or scholar of medieval texts or books is noticing similarities and differences across medieval objects. Whether one is examining letter-forms, textual details, artistic details, or other materials, comparison across examples is fundamental.

The Mirador viewer was developed to provide a rich comparison viewing experience for content held in many different institutions. In the example below, we can see content from the Walters Art Museum (hosted at Stanford), alongside content served by the e-codices project in Switzerland.

You can explore this example further here.

Looking Forward

While Digging Deeper is one of the first Stanford online courses to take advantage of these technologies, we hope that there will be many more collaborations between the faculty, the online learning teams, and the library that can expand the use of our systems and contents to further teaching and learning both at home and around the world.