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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
New Gutenberg Bible Web site opens up the Wests earliest printed book
A Web site allowing people interested in the history and significance of printing to explore in detail the British Library’s rare copies of the Gutenberg Bible – the oldest surviving printed book produced in the Western world – has been launched.
On the site are digital images of the entire text of the library’s two copies of Johann Gutenberg’s Bible, the first book to be printed using the technique which Gutenberg invented in the 1450s. The library first made its Gutenberg Bibles available on the Web in November 2000. The pages received 1 million visits in the first six months, showing the popularity and huge interest in this icon of early printing. This and the success of the launch of the entire text of the first two editions of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales on the Web in autumn 2003 encouraged the library to make the Gutenberg site accessible to as wide an audience as possible.
The library’s Gutenberg Web site is the result of a unique collaboration with Japan’s Keio University and NTT Inc. A team of ten researchers and technical experts from Japan digitized the library’s copies of the Gutenberg Bible using new digital technology designed specifically for use with rare books. The site was designed by the consultancy Oyster Partners to offer detailed information for scholars and general visitors alike. Users can view the digital versions of the two copies and compare them, highlighting the differences between them. Using the Web site readers can magnify images of the Bibles’ pages, allowing them to examine details not visible on the original printed copies. The site gives the opportunity to compare differences in the print quality and illumination and in the colour and texture of the library’s paper and vellum copies.
New background material allows the viewer to find out about Gutenberg, the world in which he lived, how he produced the Bible and the various texts he printed. There is also a section about the digitization of the Gutenberg Bibles. Other Web resources on Gutenberg appear in the links and further reading in references. A timeline sets out Gutenberg’s life, main achievements and milestones in the subsequent history of the library’s two copies of the Bible.
Kristian Jensen, Head of Early Printed Books at the British Library, said:
We are committed to making our collections accessible to as many people as possible. Before the Web only a privileged few could view the Gutenberg Bible in its original form and now it is opened up to all who are interested in its history and its cultural inheritance. With these digital copies users can explore these early editions in their entirety and study not only the text but the development of printing techniques.
Adrian Arthur, Head of Web Services Delivery at the British Library, who oversaw the project, said:
With the Gutenberg site the Library is bringing these great treasures alive in a new way for both the browser and the professional researcher. People new to Gutenberg and his work can brush up on their knowledge using the background material, then go on to explore the content. Experts in the field can go straight to the texts themselves.
Anil Pillai, client partner at Oyster, said:
The Gutenberg Bible is the most important work ever published in Europe and copies of it have been rightly regarded as real treasures.
Gutenberg used the technology of his day to try and bring the beauty of his work to as many people as possible, but relatively few were able to appreciate it. Now, through today’s technology, more people across the world can admire and appreciate this beauty in a single day than in the last 550 years. I think we can safely say Gutenberg would be proud of what has been achieved with this resource, using the online medium to “open up” access to amateurs and academics alike.