Heritage preservation and international exhibitions of medieval manuscripts, real and virtual : from strong room to public platform
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Sheffield
Unit of AssessmentModern Languages and Linguistics
Summary Impact TypeCultural
Research Subject Area(s)
Studies In Human Society: Policy and Administration
Language, Communication and Culture: Literary Studies
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies
Summary of the impact
Research at Sheffield has led to international cultural and conservation
impact, as well as commercial impact in the UK. Two free international
exhibitions designed to attract visitors of all ages and nationalities
(Royal Armouries 2007/08, 20,000 visitors; and Musée national de l'Armée,
Invalides, Paris (2010, 80,000 visitors) were underpinned by research on
illuminated manuscripts of Jehan Froissart's Chronicles of the
Hundred Years' War (covering the years 1325-1404). The exhibitions were
inspired by the desire to raise awareness, regionally and nationally, of
the culture of the Book and of Franco-English relations in the later
Middle Ages. Miniatures from the manuscripts depicting key events were
displayed alongside items selected from each country's national collection
of arms and armour; interactive displays showed how the manuscripts were
copied and illustrated. The research enabled an SME to be launched and
opened up new access to major aspects of French cultural heritage whilst
enabling the preservation of the originals' integrity, part of the
intellectual and artistic patrimony of Western Europe.
Professor Peter Ainsworth's 2005-06 Leverhulme Research Fellowship
launched investigation into the nature of the narrative and illustrative
content of an early two-volume manuscript of Books I-III of Froissart's Chronicles:
Besançon Public Library, mss 864 and 865, copied and illustrated around
1412-1418 by Parisian scribes and artists. The prime focus of the research
was on the place of these two volumes within the broader context of the
textual and artistic transmission of the earliest extant manuscripts of
the Chronicles. The key findings and outcomes were reported in R1.
Digitisation of the manuscripts
A successful application with Liverpool University to AHRC's Resource
Enhancement scheme broadened and enriched perspectives, leading ultimately
to the Online Froissart (2007-09; published May 2010; updated
annually, R2). Numerous transcriptions of complete manuscripts were
produced, plus samples from all witnesses for Books I-III.
Liverpool also provided codicological descriptions, name glosses and a
collating tool; Sheffield majored on IT, image- handling, glossaries, name
glosses, translations into English and art-historical commentaries.
Background essays for wider publics were commissioned from eminent
European/US/UK scholars. Additional project manuscripts were photographed
on site at Stonyhurst College, Toulouse Public Library and the Royal
Library in Brussels. (R2)
Besançon's Public Library, eager to foster international awareness of its
remarkable collections, supported the digitisation. The high-resolution
facsimiles prepared the ground for additional projects on the manuscripts'
narrative, iconographical, codicological, cultural and linguistic content,
impact from which would subsequently be optimised through deployment of
innovative digital technologies for two major international exhibitions.
Research towards impact: affective communication; technologies to enhance
access and display
In 2005 Professor Ainsworth accepted an invitation to join the White
Rose Network for Affective Communication in Consumer Product and
Exhibition Design (April 2005-July 2007, EPSRC). A major objective
was to investigate `technology-enhanced museum and gallery display'. With
Dr Mike Meredith (Humanities Research Institute, University of Sheffield),
Professor Ainsworth then obtained funding (Virtual Vellum, May to
November 2006, EPSRC, in association with the AHRC ICT programme; Pegasus,
January to December 2008, EPSRC) respectively to build a customised
manuscript viewer and develop tools for working online with manuscript
facsimiles (OFTools). The Virtual Vellum manuscript viewer
devised for the Online Froissart and since adopted by two
AHRC-funded electronic editing projects (Universities of Reading and
Birmingham) inspired the Kiosque interactive viewing software
developed for both exhibitions thanks to HEIF and KTP funding, 2006-07.
Extending access via digital editions
A joint British Academy-CNRS project (2009-11; Universities of Edinburgh,
St Andrews, Liverpool, Sheffield and Nancy-Lorraine) linked the online Dictionnaire
du Moyen Français to the Online Froissart and to the Christine
de Pizan Queen's Manuscript and Clermont-Ferrand Municipal
Archives projects. Research questions focused on deriving linguistic
output from large-scale digital editions. New glossaries were generated
and a tool specially developed to allow any member of the public using the
Online Froissart to click on a word in one of our transcriptions
and be sent direct to the matching, lemmatised entry in the online Dictionnaire
du Moyen Français. In 2013 the online DMF and Frantext
databases were enriched with new words and lexicons contributed by the Online
References to the research
The underpinning research was funded by a Leverhulme Research Fellowship
to Ainsworth. Initial outcomes reported in:
R1.Jean Froissart, Chroniques. Livre III, Le manuscript Saint-Vincent
de Besançon, édité par Peter F. Ainsworth avec une etude
codicologique par Godfried Croenen, tome I, Droz, TLF 594 (Geneva, 2007)
The digitised edition was funded by the AHRC.
R2. Ainsworth P and Croenen G (eds), The Online Froissart : A Digital
Edition of the Chronicles of Jean Froissart. Sheffield: HRI
Online (2010; updated 2011, 2012 and 2013):
R3. Ainsworth, Peter, and Michael Meredith, `Breaching the Strongroom : a
Pervasive Informatics Approach to Working with Medieval Manuscripts', Proceedings
of the KMIS 2011 International Conference on Knowledge Management and
Information Sharing, Joachim Felipe and Kecheng Liu eds, Setúbal,
Portugal 2011, pp. 264-71.
R4. Ainsworth, Peter, `Collections: Editing, Exhibitions, and e-Science
Initiatives', in Collections in Context. The Organization of Knowledge
and Community in Europe, edited by Karen Fresco and Anne D. Hedeman,
The Ohio State University Press (Columbus, 2011), pp. 13-29. ISBN
R5. Affective Communication in Design. Challenges for Researchers.
Proceedings of a conference organised by The White Rose University
Consortium, Leeds, UK, 21-22 June 2007, Taylor & Francis, CoDesign
vol 3, supplement 1 ( 2007), 1-2, Guest Editors Tom Childs, Chris Rust,
Peter Wright, Peter Ainsworth, Jim Nobbs. 210 p. ISSN 1571-0882.
Details of the impact
Three principal impacts arise from Ainsworth's original research:
Commercial impact: creation of an SME
Scriptura Ltd was launched by the photographic work carried out at
Besançon for the Leverhulme project. (S1) The outstanding quality of these
facsimiles quickly led to consequential assignments, putting Scriptura
onto a permanent footing as an SME, with one permanent employee.
Post-project assignments have included work for Trinity College Dublin's
Long Room, the Bodleian Library in Oxford, and (most recently) the Duke of
Devonshire's Library, Chatsworth House.
Cultural impact: International exhibitions
Royal Armouries, Leeds (2007-08).
The idea for this exhibition emerged during a workshop held by the
EPSRC-funded White Rose Universities "Affective Communication" network on
the Shogun exhibition at the Royal Armouries. Discussions between
Peter Ainsworth and Senior Curator Karen Watts launched the idea of an
exhibition on France and England during the Hundred Years' War. Narrative
and historical content from the Online Froissart, complemented by
miniatures from the Besançon and Stonyhurst manuscripts, would be
`twinned' with relevant items from the national collection of arms and
armour. Innovative technologies would provide visitors with exciting
pathways through the facsimiles.
The event, curated in English and French, brought the blood and thunder
of the Hundred Years' War to life for visitors of all ages through careful
matching of manuscript illustrations depicting 14th-century warfare to
items of arms and armour from the national collection. The digitised
surrogates were complemented by Stonyhurst College ms. 1, kindly lent by
the College Library. Cambridge's Fitzwilliam Museum lent material on
making manuscripts, while calligrapher Sara Mack gave master classes on
copying a manuscript page. Visitors Book comments demonstrate the level of
enhancement to public understanding: `The best history lessons for all';
`Brilliant, the book's really interesting and the art work is fabulous';
`I wish this display were here permanently, it's fascinating'; `I
really enjoyed the Kiosque interactive screens. The Stonyhurst
Chronicles book was amazing. Very good'; `Excellent piece of
work! It's good to see high-quality digital images used so the small
details can be examined'; `One of the best temporary exhibitions
I have seen at this museum'; `Excellent to see something from our
school, Stonyhurst College'; `A fascinating insight into medieval
Europe; a well-presented exhibition'; `Superb in every aspect. A
real eye opener to medieval life'; `Fantastic exhibition! Many
congratulations from a small visitor'; `Merci pour cet excellent
rappel de notre histoire commune'; `Very interesting, shows our
past very well'; `The most beautiful exhibition of manuscripts.
The explanation of how they were made ... very clear and explicit';
`Very interesting and informative exhibition, the manuscripts are truly
amazing'; `Liked the Kiosque Interactive and would
recommend it to anyone else'. (S2)
Further commercial impact arose from a Knowledge Transfer Partnership,
part-funded by the UK government and part by commercial partner Tribal
PLC, which funded development of the interactive exhibition display
software (Kiosque), subsequently adopted for the Paris exhibition.
Sheffield University HEIF funding supported development by student SME
epiGenesys (aided by gaming company ZOOtech PLC) of an interactive
children's game for the Armouries exhibition, using images from the
Kiosque allowed Royal Armouries visitors to compare and leaf
through whole manuscripts, hear stories, and follow customised pathways
through related material. The Capturing the Castle game proved
hugely popular with visitors of all ages. Medieval music performed by Paul
Bracken (University of Nottingham) provided the soundtrack. This
multi-modal approach made the exhibition accessible to the widest possible
audience and enhanced understanding of a range of aspects of the
Musée national de l'Armée, Paris (2010). The success of the Royal
Armouries exhibition prompted France's sister museum to commission a
similar event. At the Invalides, the two Besançon volumes performed the
`real manuscript' role played at Leeds by Stonyhurst ms. 1, complemented
by two `sister' volumes lent by France's Bibliothèque Nationale. The
manuscripts' illustrations were matched, this time, to arms and armour
from the French national collection. The footprint design ensured that all
80,000 visitors to the Musée passed through our exhibition; some spent 2-3
hours exploring the cases and engaging with Kiosque. A colourful
display of painters' pigments and of gilders' and parchmenters' tools was
lent by Le Scriptorial (Avranches, Normandy). (S4) A special issue
of Art de l'enluminure magazine provided a colourful catalogue.
This popular publication enjoys consistently high circulation amongst
devotees of medieval manuscript culture and art history. The
exhibition-based issue included a commissioned piece by Ainsworth, `Jean
Froissart et la Guerre de Cent Ans' (pp. 2-13). (S3).
Evaluation of Impact. The Invalides exhibition was formally
evaluated by an AHRC graduate research assistant. Comments returned ranged
from: `I now understand the Hundred Years' War much better than I did',
to: `Wonderfully entertaining, a great introduction to manuscript
culture and to the political and military history of the later Middle
The Invalides exhibition impacted in turn on the design of a third
international exhibition, on Froissart's contemporary Gaston Fébus, count
of Béarn (Musée du Moyen Age, Hôtel de Cluny, Paris; Musée national du
Château de Pau, 2011-2012) which attracted some 100,000 international
visitors; the catalogue included an essay commissioned from Peter
Ainsworth, the only one from an international contributor (S4).
Heritage preservation and enhanced public access
Ainsworth's Leverhulme Fellowship also generated heritage conservation
impacts. Pigments used for decorating vellum manuscripts are damaged by
prolonged exposure to UV/natural light, reducing time available for
display during exhibitions, even under subdued lighting. Digital
surrogates can be used without restriction.
Access to cultural heritage, and public engagement with it, were
significantly enhanced. French provincial libraries rarely have space to
showcase treasures. Kiosque allowed visitors to large exhibitions
(Leeds and Paris) and local libraries (Aix-en-Provence, Marseilles,
Avignon and Stonyhurst College) to view high-resolution surrogates from
multiple perspectives; to compare them with other digitised manuscripts;
and to do so in high definition with strong lighting. Furthermore, whereas
wealthier institutions (e.g. the British Library) display manuscripts
fixed, showing single spreads of verso and following recto pages (but
little else), Kiosque allowed our exhibition and library partners
to make the content of entire manuscripts visible.
Sources to corroborate the impact
S1. The Managing Director of Scriptura Ltd in a letter dated October 2012
confirms that the Leverhulme and AHRC projects played a major role in
establishing Scriptura Ltd as an SME with a secure financial and business
base; Scriptura's work was showcased at conferences and workshops in
Europe, the UK, Canada and the USA, and in two international exhibitions.
S2. Visitors Book, Royal Armouries exhibition, corroborates visitor
feedback. Copy held on file.
S3. Exhibition catalogue: Art de l'Enluminure, no 31,
Arts et Métiers, Editions Faton (Paris, 2009).
The catalogue for the Paris exhibition confirms the central role of the Chronicles
in the exhibition and Ainsworth's commissioned essay.
S4. Exhibition catalogue: Gaston Fébus. Prince Soleil 1331-1391.
Musée de Cluny — musée national du Moyen Age, Paris, 30 novembre 2011 - 5
mars 2012, Musée national du Château de Pau, 17 mars - 17 juin 2012.
Editions de la Réunion des Musées Nationaux — Grand Palais (Paris, 2011),
Catalogue for the 2011-12 exhibition on Gaston Fébus, lord of Béarn. Musée
national du Moyen Age (Hôtel de Cluny, Paris) and Musée national du
Château de Pau, October 2011 - June 2012. ISBN 978-2-7118-5877-4.