A Month in the UK: Spring 2022

After leaving the UK in the summer of 2021, it was great to be back.

First, this post is mostly a recounting with pictures for friends and family. In my next post, I'll be back to my technical and boring form.

David in front of Lambeth Palace

I traveled to London to examine and digitize Greek New Testament manuscripts held by the Lambeth Palace Library. While the collection of Greek manuscripts was impressive, it was the professionalism and kindness of the library staff that impressed me most.

It may not seem obvious, but these digitization ventures require just as much of a personnel and time commitment from the holding institution as is required of the outside digitization team. The library conservators and staff have many concerns. Consider, for example, the security concern. Single folia have been known to be cut out and secreted away by library visitors to other institutions. For this reason alone, books and manuscripts are generally never out of sight of staff.

Beyond security and loss prevention, however, the conservation staff are rightly concerned with the protection and longevity of the manuscripts. Most manuscripts with which I interacted had vulnerable bindings or other vulnerabilities. The destructive effects of digitization are real, and it is better to acknowledge this and work with conservators to lessen that damage as much as possible than pretend that a manuscript is exactly the same before and after the stress of digitization. In order to open bound material as little as is necessary, a book must be opened to every single page twice. We first capture images of the front of every folio, then we turn the book around and capture an image for every back side. The benefit is that the book can be opened to 90 degrees or less.

Preparing the Manuscripts

Manuscript Page with Ornate Heading. The heading has blue backfilling with gold and red accents and swirls.

Before a manuscript can be put into the cradle and imaged, we first need to know exactly how many pages a manuscript has and what, if any, numbering system was used. This is to ensure that we can track the imaging progress and catch missed or duplicated pages early. I have developed software for generating a spreadsheet that has the written number, the actual number, and the corresponding image number for every page to be imaged.

The development of this application and the new method for counting pages will be detailed in my next blog. As far as digitization is concerned, counting the pages (folia, actually) is the most important. However, there are some other data points that are helpful to record at this stage. For example, cataloguing measurements and initial observations concerning the content.

Manuscript with water damage on the button. The text is in two columns and the water damage reaches up 5 or 6 lines.

Digitization

Once a manuscript is prepared, it enters the digitization queue. My main role during digitization is to manage the computer side of things. I calibrate the camera, initiate the session files and folders, and cross reference the incoming image numbers with the spreadsheet to ensure that we are not missing anything.

I digitized manuscripts for three weeks, including a few days set aside for multispectral imaging.

Audrey Joined Me

Audrey travelled to the UK and joined me starting from my third week of work.

David and Audrey in front of Big Ben, London

We were able to take in some of the touristy things of London in the evenings. Once I knew I'd be in the UK for an extended period, I began planning for a way to have Audrey join me and then tack on a quick trip up to Edinburgh to see our friends and for me to have a face-to-face meeting with my doctoral supervisor.

Once I completed my three weeks of work in London, we took a train from King's Cross Station in London to Waverly Station in Edinburgh. The train ride was around between five and six hours long, but the view was incredible except for the passenger in the row ahead of us who kept pulling the window shade down. He wanted to watch movies on the ride while we were taking in the cross-country sights.

David and Audrey on LNER Train

Returning to a Different Edinburgh

When we moved to Edinburgh in the Fall of 2019, we could not have predicted that we'd be in a full pandemic and lockdown only six months later. For the next two years we lived in an Edinburgh that was far quieter than normal. When we arrived this time, however, I was shocked at the number of people crowded around Waverly Station and Princes Street. There were street performers drawing crowds and we couldn't find a restaurant that had room for us until we had dragged our luggage a mile up and past the castle.

The Edinburgh that we returned to was full of life and people. There were still signs of mild covid restrictions, but this was not the quiet Edinburgh that we had left behind in the summer of 2021.

By far the best part of the visit to Edinburgh was seeing our friends and hearing about what had happened since we left. The community that we experienced was far and away the best and most caring that we had ever experienced. I am so thankful that we were able to see dear friends.

David and Audrey on Craigmiller Castle

We also did a few things that we were unable to do previously either because of the pandemic or because we had five kids and no sitter. The highlight here is that we visited Craigmiller Castle. It is not the main castle in Edinburgh, but it was an amazing self-guided tour. We were able to go down to the dungeons and cellar, the main hall, and up the spiral stone staircase to the top of the tower. It didn't hurt that the weather was absolutely splendid for the entirety of my time in the UK.

Heading Back "Home"

Where is home for us? We both grew up in Wisconsin, but we first moved away over ten years ago. We lived in Chicago for three years, Dallas for three years, and Edinburgh for two years. We now live in North Texas for the moment. For me, nothing feels as much like home as Edinburgh. The best part of Edinburgh is the friends that we left there but I anticipate feeling an affinity for that city even after our friends have moved away to different continents and countries.

We took the train back to London; this time it was only four hours and forty minutes to return to King's Cross. From there we made our way to Heathrow airport and stayed a night at a hotel that is connected to the terminal out of which we were flying.

The only excitement we experienced between getting through security and take-off was the extra hour we spent in the plane on the ground. A passenger had some "medical issues" and was escorted off the plane. We waited more than an hour to see if the passenger was fit for travel. In the end, they weren't. Audrey and I were not bothered by this, but it did make me wonder if they'd have held the plane up for an hour on my account. Probably not. So, I imagine it was an 'important' passenger.

David and Audrey outside Craigmiller Castle

Final Reflections

The time alone with Audrey was fantastic. It was the first time we had been together and apart from the kids for more than a few days. We were able to talk and make plans for maintaining some of the peace and serenity we experienced on the trip.

I also learned that I just like the UK. I enjoyed London, I loved Edinburgh. I love to talk about the differences between the US and the UK. Both have things I like and don't like. But there is something about the UK that I enjoy. I can't put my finger on it, but I enjoyed raising a family there and I enjoyed getting back for a month.

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