Conservation and Digitization: A Technologizing of the Book as an Object

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Alberto Campagnolo

Alberto Campagnolo, PhD

Library of Congress
@acampagnolo
Speaker Website
MITH Conference Room
Tuesday, November 1, 2016
12:30 pm

Books are primarily physical objects composed of leaves combined in sections, used as writing supports, and bound together. An increasing number of libraries, archives, and other memory institutions are investing considerable amount of money and resources in the digitization of cultural heritage; however, these efforts focus on the text, seldom covering also what material information can be recorded through photographic means. In addition, conservation is commonly considered as a discipline that is complementary—but for the most part separate—to digitization efforts, and little attention is generally given to the ways in which digitization, intended in its amplest meaning, can inform and help conservators in their day-to-day duties.

Specialized digitization efforts, such as multispectral imaging, can help us glean a considerable amount of information on the materiality of our documentary cultural heritage, allowing us to see what would otherwise be invisible to us. This information, beyond recovering the deleted texts from palimpsest membranes, can prove invaluable to conservators and their understanding of the object without interfering with its integrity. Data gathered in this manner, for example, informs conservation treatment procedures and decisions regarding the amount of light exposure a document can ‘safely’ handle

There has been considerable research on individual components—such as paper, parchment, decoration—but only little attention has traditionally been given to the book as a composite artefact. Bookbinding structures are recognised as an important source of information on the material context of books and their material culture, however, analysis in this field is still rather under-developed and tentative, mostly because limited efforts have been made so far to establish standardized analysis methodology and terminology, and to include structural information within databases to build large enough bookbinding datasets. As a product of my doctoral research I have developed an automated visualization tool producing schematic diagrams of bookbinding structures. This tool mimics the kind of drawings conservators often sketch to better understand and communicate the objects they work with, and can help recording data on the material formation of books, and communicating it with the community of scholars, other conservators, and the general public. In turn, the automated drawings can also be used as a visual data proofing tool, and as a way to test the effectiveness of description schemas.

This seminar will showcase, through some practical examples, the ways in which data gathered through digitization means can prove meaningful and useful to conservation professionals.

Alberto Campagnolo trained as a book conservator (in Spoleto, Italy) and has worked in that capacity in various institutions, including the London Metropolitan Archives, St. Catherine’s Monastery (Egypt), and the Vatican Library.

He studied Conservation of Library Materials at Ca’ Foscari University Venice, and holds an MA in Digital Culture and Technology from King’s College London. He pursued a PhD on an automated visualization of historical bookbinding structures at the Ligatus Research Centre (University of the Arts, London).

In July 2016, he has been appointed as CLIR/DLF Postdoctoral Fellow in Data Curation for Medieval Studies at the Library of Congress (Washington, DC).

Alberto has served on the Digital Medievalist board since 2014, first as Deputy Director, and as Director since 2015.

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All talks free and open to the public. Attendees are welcome to bring their own lunches.

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