Free and Easy: The Appearance of Truly Useful Cultural Heritage Data

William Noel pointing to a presentation projection on a whiteboard.

William Noel at the Center for Humanities at Temple

“My mission is to bring art and people together, for learning, discovery, and enjoyment.” –William Noel

On Thursday, April 25th, the Center for Humanities at Temple hosted William Noel,  internationally renowned expert in the application of digital technologies to manuscript studies.   Dr. Noel is currently director of the Special Collections Center, and Founding Director of the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.  His presentation,  “Free and Easy: The Appearance of Truly Useful Cultural Heritage Data”, covered the restoration and digitization of the Archimedes Palimpsest, a project that he led while at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore.  Dr. Noel concluded with a discussion of the reasons why a “free and easy” approach is best for digitization of cultural materials.  (Eureka!)

What is the Archimedes Palimpsest?

The codex Archimedes Palimpsest: book opened to middle with darkened, spotty pages and worn blackened edges

Upon initial examination, what is now known as the Archimedes Palimpsest, appears to be a medieval prayer book, dating from 1229, written by the scribe Johannes Myronas in Jerusalem. Back then, parchment was expensive, and therefore was sometimes “recycled.”  To make this prayer book, the scribe scraped off old mathematical text from some parchment  and wrote new text on top, making the book a palimpsest.  From then until 1906, this prayer book was used in liturgical services, and suffered numerous abuses, most notably dripping candle wax, mold, missing pages, and images painted over text as late as the 1930s.  In 1906 the Danish philologist Johan Heiberg discovered the manuscript in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Istanbul, and identified the hidden text as Archimedes.  He photographed every page, and with the help of only a magnifying glass, transcribed and published the underlying text that he could perceive.

The twentieth century was no kinder to manuscripts than the middle ages, and from about 1930 to 1991, the Archimedes Palimpsest was either lost or gone from public view until 1998, when an anonymous collector bought the manuscript at an auction at Christie’s in New York.  This collector brought it to William Noel at the Walters Museum in Baltimore for preservation and digitization, for the world to study and enjoy.

Why is the Archimedes Palimpsest important?

Bust of Archimedes of Syracuse

Archimedes (c.287BC-212BC), brilliant scientist, inventor, mathematician, and engineer of ancient Greece, worked extensively in geometry, calculating the value of pi, the circle, the sphere, and cylinder.  He developed a theory of buoyancy called the Archimedes Principle.   Of the nine known treatises by Archimedes in Greek, hidden within the Archimedes Palimpsest are seven.  Of these seven, The Stomachion and The Method are the only known copies in the world.  Archimedes’ treatise On Floating Bodies contained here is the unique source in the original Greek.  These Archimedes texts predate any other surviving Archimedes manuscripts by 400 years.

“Best of all is to win.  But if you cannot win, then fight for a noble cause…” – Hyperides

Extensive sections of previously lost speeches by the 4th century Greek orator Hyperides, the largest discovery of new Hyperides text in over a century, also reside hidden in the Archimedes Palimpsest.  Hyperides spoke at public meetings on topics of Athenian court cases as well as politics and democracy.  Previous texts of Hyperides are gleaned only from fragments of papyri.

Other texts hidden beneath the prayerbook are a Commentary on Aristotles Catergories, two Byzantine liturgical manuscripts, and two unidentified manuscripts.


Cross section of parchment from the Archimedes PalimpsestConservation and restoration of the Archimedes Palimpsest is an enormous and ongoing task.  Progress is slow and the work is meticulous and painstaking.  To prepare the manuscript for imaging, the codex had to be taken apart because the hidden text continued under the folds of the parchment in the spine of the book.  Because some of the glue was from the late 20th century, it was particularly difficult to remove.  It took 4 years just to take off the glue!   Next, the parchment was analyzed chemically to determine the condition of the collagen, the main component of parchment.  Here you see an image of an enlargement of a cross-section sample of the parchment, the size of a pinhead, from  the Archimedes Palimpsest.  The Archimedes text is the dark stain at the top of the parchment.  In this sample, the collagen is sound.  But where the manuscript has mold, the collagen is breaking down and disintegrating.

 Imaging and Digitization

Archimedes Palimpsest with multi-spectral imaging

Modern technology allows us to view the underlying text of the Archimedes Palimpsest through various techniques.  One technique is multi-spectral imaging.  In ultraviolet light, both the overlying and underlying texts are visible.  Ink blocks ultraviolet light, but the parchment flouresces, causing another light source.  There is then, two light sources, one going into the page, and one coming from the page going out, which allows us to see the underlying text.  When the images are merged together, the underlying text becomes red, and enlarging the image allows the underlying text to be legible. The only way to access the text underneath the gold-leaf illustrations added to the codex in the twentieth century, was to use the particle accelerator at Stanford University.  Ink used for the Archimedes manuscript contained a high amount of iron, which could be recognized and captured only by the strongest xrays such as those generated by the particle accelerator. In the following image, an abstraction of an object or a boat in the sea, one can see that Archimedes considered the world to be round.

X-ray of a diagram from the manuscript.


Principles of Digitizating Cultural Artifacts

William Noel explained the basic principles that formed the foundation for the many decisions made during the Archimedes Palimpsest project.   His principles are based on ethical considerations, digital use and sustainability, and economic value for the institution undertaking the project.  Taking the example of the Mona Lisa, Noel explained that thousands of people visit the Louvre every year to see the Mona Lisa, even though they already know what the painting looks like.  In fact, the reason that the Mona Lisa has so many visitors is precisely because so many know the painting already and want to see the original.  Therefore, making digital images as broadly available and usable as possible to the largest audience benefits the institution in name recognition, visitors, and financially.  The Walters Museum in Baltimore has already benefited this way because many of their medieval manuscripts are so freely available, and that they appear at the head of results in Google image searches.  Thus, the Walters Museum gains name recognition, prestige, and popularity.

The sustainability of the data benefits from Noel’s philosophy of wide availability and use. As he explains, data from digitized cultural documents must be:

1. well documented
2.  free
3.  just take it
4.  just use it

The data from the Archimedes Palimpsest is licensed in the Creative Commons, and images also appear on Flickr.  As a result, the data from the Archimedes Project is preserved, not only at the Walters Museum, but at Stanford, and at other universities as well.

Noel also explained the importance of presenting such data as data, pure and simple, allowing others to create interfaces for study and exhibition.  Why?  Because interfaces have a shelf-life of only about three years, but the pure data can be used and re-used.  Noel said that too often institutions are busy creating “boutiquey” interfaces for their digitized data, that these institutions are presenting “apple pie” to the researchers, when simply presenting the raw data in many cases would be more helpful.  In addition, Noel gave an amusing way to think about data.  Dr. Noel says that data should be:


The criteria for data to be sustainable is that it should be cheap to maintain, in an interface that should last, and be simple, not relational.  By complete, Dr. Noel explained that images must be presented at full resolution (with derivatives as an option), with all descriptive metadata and all technical metadata.  And to make the data known, a discovery layer for human readers should be developed.  Raw xml can be presented that is machine readable, with a style sheet that combines images with the xml, to give a traditional type of presentation.

Dr. Noel ended the presentation discussing new ways for social media to further scholarship and knowledge.  For example, jokes are often hidden within medieval manuscripts.  If a scholar finds a joke in a manuscript, they tweet it!  The Penn Provenance Project uses social media to help identify the provenance, or historic background of the ownership of precious books and manuscripts by crowdsourcing.  Scholars writing blogs about the images are important, too.  Another project,, will, in the next few years, make manuscripts texts searchable.

Using these techniques, we can all share in William Noel’s mission, “to bring art and people together for learning, discovery, and enjoyment.” 

William Noel posing with a group at the Center for Humanities at Temple.

William Noel answering questions at the Center for Humanities at Temple.

For more information see:

The Archimedes Palimpsest; 2004; 2 May 2013 <>

Archimedes Palimpsest.  2 May 2013 <>

Archimedes.  Works.  New York; Dover, 195-?.

Noel, William. Revealing the Lost Codex of Archimedes; TED: Ideas Worth Spreading; Apr 2012; 2 May 2013 <>

“Archimedes.” Encyclopaedia Britannica.  Encyclopaedia Britannica Online Academic Edition.  Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc., 2013.  Web. 02 May 2013. <>.

Krock, Lexi.  Inside the Archimedes Palimpsest; NOVA; 09.30.03; 2 May 2013 <>

Netz, Reviel and William Noel.  The Archimedes Codex: How a Medieval Prayer Book is Revealing the True Genius of Antiquity’s Greatest Scientist.  Philadelphia; Da Capo, 2007.

 -Anne Harlow, May 2 2013.

Father Paul Washington: A Community Champion to Celebrate

The Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection will honor Father Paul Washington’s legacy as a leader in the vanguard of social justice at an upcoming exhibit in April that will showcase artifacts from the Paul M. Washington Papers.  Father Washington was the rector of the Episcopal Church of the Advocate at 18th and Diamond Streets in Philadelphia for twenty-five years (1962-1987) and a leader in the local community.  Location, directions and hours can be found at:

Father Paul Washington standing outdoors as the press record him.

A few highlights of his involvement in social justice include: the promotion of the Black Power movement by hosting the National Black Power Convention (1968), facilitating the ordination of eleven women into the Episcopal Church (1974), and serving on the Philadelphia Special Investigation Commission of the eviction attack (bombing) by the Philadelphia Police on the MOVE household (1986).

At the core of the collection are Father Washington’s extensive correspondence, sermons, and speeches covering over five decades.  In addition, photographs, news clippings, and journal articles provide information to supplement the Washington papers.

The FBI kept a file on Father Washington because of his civil rights activism and involvement in the Black Power Movement during the 1960’s.  Access to the file was gained through the Freedom of Information Act.  It is another valuable source of information available in the Paul M. Washington Papers.

Campaign 2012! All the Info You Need to Vote is Right Here!

A red, white and blue button with stars that says "vote". We created Voter Information –2012 Election Guide to give voters at Temple quality information on the upcoming presidential election. If you are a first-time voter, you can find information in the guide about polling locations and voter registration. To stay informed on daily campaign developments, to read public statements made by candidates, and to see what is being said about candidates, you can read the RSS feeds from fact checkers, reporters, polls, and bloggers. If you are curious about the history and political theory behind presidential elections the United States, you can find information about these subjects on the guide and through links to other research guides. Checking this guide regularly will keep you informed before you head to the polls in November.

“Philadelphia: Where to Turn?” Information Guide

Love Park sculpture in front of fountain in downtown Philadelphia.Philly Goes to College Logo.Coalition Against Hunger Logo.

The “Philadelphia:  Where to Turn?” information guide provides information on services to help our city’s residents.  The guide lists where to find food assistance programs, shelters, and health services, as well as information on job-skills development, educational programs, and community centers, addressing the needs of many Philadelphians. The resources in the guide range from municipal and state programs to programs sponsored by non-profit organizations. These resources were selected for the free or low-cost quality services they provide. “Philadelphia: Where to turn?” also provides information on volunteering opportunities in the city. The guide will continue to grow as new services become available.

 “Philadelphia: Where to turn?” provides access to information on services available to Philadelphia residents who are in need of assistance. You can use this guide to find:

  • Food assistance
  • Shelter/housing
  • Health services
  • Educational opportunities (G.E.D., adult education, etc.)
  • Job training and employment opportunities
  • Legal help
  • Resources for New Americans (E.S.L.,citizenship test preparation, etc.)
  • Volunteer opportunities
  • Community centers
Temple University Libraries would like to thank our library intern, Joseph Schaffner, for creating this guide.

2011-2012 Library Prize Winners!

Here are the winners of this year’s Library Prize for Undergraduate Research and the Library Prize for Undergraduate Research on Sustainability & the Environment.
Please join us on Tuesday, May 1 at 4 PM in the Paley Lecture Hall for the Awards Ceremony. The winners and their faculty sponsors will discuss the prize-winning papers. Refreshments provided.

Library Prize for Undergraduate Research

  • Summer Beckley, “A Crisis of Identity: Advertising & the British Ministry of Information’s Propaganda Posters of World War II”
    History 4997, Advisor: Richard Immerman
  • Afrora Muca, “From Classroom to Battlefield: The Role of Students in the Closing of Carlisle Indian Industrial School, 1918”
    History 4997, Advisor: Andrew Isenberg
  • Eugene Tsvilik, “No Enemies to the Left: The Communist Party of the United States and Crises of International Communism, 1956-1968”
    History 4997, Advisor: Petra Goedde

Library Prize for Undergraduate Research on Sustainability & the Environment

  • Anthony Shields, Jenna Fink, Hasan Malik, Nicola Horscroft
    “The treatment of drinking water using polymeric sorbents”
    Engineering 4296
    Faculty: Huichun (Judy) Zhang
  • Brian Davidson, Fiona Farrelly, Thomson Liang, Melissa MacKinnon
    “Sustainable and efficient rope pump”
    Engineering 4296
    Faculty: Robert J. Ryan
  • (Honorable Mention)
    Rachel Maddaluna
    “Mitigation of climate change and species loss through avoided deforestation”
    Biology 4391
    Faculty: Brent Sewall

—Fred Rowland

Architects of Piety: The Interview

In 2011 Temple University religion professor Vasiliki Limberis published Architects of Piety: The Cappadocian Fathers and the Cult of the Martyrs (Oxford University Press). In this new work, she provides a novel interpretation of the lives and works of Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzus. Though they are mainly known as the principle architects of the Christian Trinitarian doctrine, Professor Limbers shows that the “cult of the martyrs” was central to the theology, worship, practice, and organization of Christianity in fourth century Cappadocia. The Architects of Piety opens up an exciting new line of research into the world of early Christianity. On January 18, Professor Limberis stopped by my office to discuss her new book.

iTunes U link (for downloads)

Subscribe to this podcast series

—Fred Rowland

Easier Access to the Chronicle of Higher Ed – on iPads Too

The Chronicle of Higher Education is the primary industry newspaper for the field of higher education. It is regular reading for both faculty and administrators – and graduate students. The Temple University Libraries purchases an annual site license to the Chronicle of Higher Education. That means any member of the Temple University community may access the full-text of every Chronicle article – and has access to the full-text of every archived article. Getting access from remote locations is now even easier. The Chronicle will recognize your Temple University email account and allow full-text access to all the content. In order for this to work you simply need to register as a Chronicle user with your Temple University email account. Once you have an account you should consider registering for the Academe Today daily newsletter that will give you access to the latest Chronicle articles. Please know that if you already have a Chronicle account you can simply add your Temple email to the existing account by editing your profile. Establishing a completely new one is not necessary. If you own an iPad and prefer reading your newspapers and magazines on it, you can now download an app for reading the Chronicle. The app is free to all Temple University community members. If you have any questions about obtaining access to the Chronicle of Higher Education as a member of the Temple University community contact Steven Bell for assistance.

Do You Know the Top Two Complaints About Paley?

As the library staff member who receives all the suggestions and complaints that come from members of the Temple University community I can answer this question. Perhaps you already knew the answer: 1) Noise 2) Food Despite the efforts of the library staff to create an environment that is welcoming to all students, we are occasionally challenged to meet everyone’s needs. Whether it’s two students talking in one of the quiet zones, students getting a little too loud in the noise-tolerant zones, students talking on cellphones, a food mess left on a study table or a student eating a food truck meal that for one reason or another is distracting to other students, we continue to experience situations that leave someone dissatisfied with their Paley Library experience. In recent months we’ve been asked to create very strict, zero tolerance rules about both noise and food. One student even asked us to hire a security guard to force students to be quiet. We believe that strict rules about food and noise are difficult if not impossible to enforce in a building of Paley’s size, and we want to treat students as responsible adults. Sign stating top two library complaints are noise and food odors, to be respectful of others, and keep the library clean, (linked to larger version).
All that said, we do need to create a better environment in Paley Library, and to do so we need the help of everyone who uses this great community resource. In an effort to remind all those who use Paley Library about the top two complaints we have designed a small card with this information, and have placed these cards throughout the Paley Library. You will see them on desks, carrels and computer workstations. It’s just a reminder. We know the vast majority of those who use the Library are considerate of their fellow library users. Sometimes we could all use a reminder that this is Your Library and together it is Our library. Paley belongs to all of us. Let’s make it the best Library possible so that everyone has a great experience each and every time they are here. If you have any ideas to share about improving Paley Library, be it noise and food issues or any other situation, please leave a comment.

A Million e-Books Added to Summon, Our New Search Engine

Summon, our new search engine, is now being previewed in its Beta version on the Libraries homepage. We are very pleased to announce that the Summon search now includes the public domain books offered by the Hathi Trust in full-text online format. These are books digitized by Google and numerous research library partners.

Hathi Trust, a non-profit cooperative centered at the University of Michigan, claims more than 2.3 million volumes are being served. That works out to about 910,000 titles at the moment, give or take. By the end of the year, we expect that total could reach 1 million titles all available 24/.7 in full-text online.

These Hathi Trust titles are for the most part in addition to the over 517,000 full-text online e-books which the Temple University Libraries already offered within the online catalog and Summon.


A great many of the Hathi Trust works date from 1923 or before. All books published prior to 1923 are now in the public domain and no longer prohibited from free reproduction by original copyright. However, there are tens of thousands of later works included because they are government documents or were found to be in public domain. Most are in English, but over 200,000 foreign language titles are included as well.

At present, Hathi Trust titles can be retrieved through Summon by author or title. For example, search Summon using the keywords Russell Conwell and limit the content type to ebook. Now you can read original works by Dr. Conwell, the founder of Temple University, or early biographies of the man.

Later this year Hathi and Summon promise to add full-text keyword searching to deliver a Google-like experience.

Please try Summon and let us know how it works for you.

– Jonathan LeBreton, Senior Associate University Librarian