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Medieval literary treasures to go online

Manchester University's John Rylands Library will be digitising much of its renowned collection of medieval manuscripts, including parts of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

The project, funded by the the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), will allow widespread access to the works online. Staff will begin to scan the pages using a high definition camera in October and the results will be available by late 2009.

Jan Wilkinson, University Librarian and Director of the John Rylands Library, said: “The Library’s Middle English manuscripts are a research resource of immense significance.

“Yet the manuscripts are inherently fragile, and until now access to them has been restricted by the lack of digital copies. Digitisation will make them available to everyone.

“For the first time it will be possible to compare our manuscripts directly with other versions of the texts in libraries located across the world, opening up opportunities for new areas of research."

As well as the Canterbury Tales, the collection includes a number of fifteenth-century copies of the New Testament translated into English by John Wyclif, the fourteenth-century radical and church reformer, and John Lydgate’s two major poems, the ‘Troy Book’ and ‘Fall of Princes’.

The Forme of Cury, a cookbook written by the personal chefs of Richard II in the late 14th century, is also amongst the works to go online. The Middle English manuscript contains details of more than 200 recipes that were cooked for the royal family.

In total, 40 rare manuscripts are due to be made available on the internet.