Digital Image Archive of Medieval Music


Above: What DIAMM does: a video introduction

DIAMM has been funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and is currently supported by the Andrew W Mellon Foundation. It incorporates work from the Motet database compiled by Thomas Schmidt-Beste and funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft.

From its beginnings in 1998, the purpose of the Digital Image Archive of Medieval Music (DIAMM) was to obtain and archive digital images of European sources of medieval polyphonic music, captured directly from the original document. The purposes were (1) conservation and protection against loss, especially of vulnerable fragments, and (2) to enable libraries to supply the best possible quality of images to scholars. High-quality direct digital capture ensures a level of detail and colour accuracy that is not possible from scans of surrogates such as slides or glossy photographs. In particular, this type of imaging is crucial to detailed study. Normal single-shot digital photography usually captures at a maximum of 7-11 Megapixels. The imaging used by DIAMM captures at a maximum of 144 Megapixels. This extremely high resolution is necessary for digital restoration. Where there is damage that makes these sources difficult to read, detailed restoration of copies of the original images is possible, to improve legibility and scholarly access.

The project started as a collaboration between scholars at the University of Oxford and Royal Holloway, University of London, and is now based in Oxford in collaboration with the University Music Faculty and the Bodleian Library. DIAMM has created an electronic archive of more than 14,000 images, to assure their permanent preservation, and is able to present a significant number of them through this website to facilitate detailed study of this music and its sources.

The first three phases of work (digital capture and archiving) were funded by the Humanities Research Board (1998), and by Major Research Grants from the Arts and Humanities Research Board (1999 and 2001). The current phase of development of the project website to create an online research environment for the images is funded by the Andrew W Mellon Foundation.

The sources archived include all the currently known fragmentary sources of polyphony up to 1550 in the UK (almost all of these are available for study through this website); all the ‘complete’ manuscripts in the UK; a small number of important representative manuscripts from continental Europe; a significant portion of fragments from 1300-1450 from Belgium, France, Italy, Switzerland and Spain. Such a collection of images, created under strict protocols to ensure parity across such a varied collection, has never before been possible, and represents an extraordinary resource for study of the repertory as a whole. Although these manuscripts have been widely studied since their gradual discovery by scholars at various times over the past century, dealing with the repertory as a whole has been hampered by the very wide geographical spread of the manuscripts and the limitations of microfilm or older b/w photography. Fragments are far more numerous than complete sources, but most of them are the sole remaining representatives of lost manuscripts. Some are barely legible and hard to place and interpret. They amount to a rich but widely scattered resource that has been relatively neglected, partly because of difficulty of access, legibility and comparison of materials that are vulnerable to damage and loss.

The project has always aimed to improve its technical capability in line with developments in software and hardware. Equipment and software are constantly upgraded, and working policies are under review at all times to ensure the highest photographic quality and broadest application of technical advances to extract information from the images.

DIAMM has concentrated in the last five years on developing a carefully tested image capture and metadata standard. This has been in use for some time, and is proving extremely robust. In many cases imaging quality and metadata content is much higher than that delivered by many European institutions. In tandem with this, the licences written and used by DIAMM have been used as models for institutions wishing to embark on digitization.

DIAMM now offers its expertise and experience to institutions and individuals worldwide, enabling scholars to create collections based on their own research requirements without having to undertake digital photography themselves (see Services). The project manager and director is currently a consultant to the National Library of Ireland in their establishment of a program to digitize their entire holdings, and to the Israeli Antiquities Authority for the digitization of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Since many of the fragmentary sources are damaged or obscured in some way, DIAMM has developed restoration and editing techniques that can be applied to the digital image without any procedure on the original manuscript source, following digital capture. As a result, a number of new works have been discovered. Leaves which were considered to contain no music or to be unreadable have been restored to a state where their contents can be fully transcribed. This is a significant contribution to scholarship on sources in this period. In addition to large-scale restorations on full pages, unreadable notes or words on otherwise readable pages have been improved or revealed by restoration processes, to the point where new information has been provided about well-known sources.

As well as DIAMM’s restoration of images, revealing music where it was not previously legible, visits to and contacts with archives and other institutions have led to the discovery of a number of new sources. New sources are continually notified to DIAMM, and photographed for the archive wherever possible.

Controlling MS metadata has included correcting and updating existing catalogue entries for previously known sources (in particular where shelf marks have changed), and creating data for new discoveries.

The website represents the current development area for DIAMM. Better access, more scholarly tools, and better-quality images coupled with shorter download times are among our priorities. The metadata provided online is now no longer limited to those sources for which we can provide images, but embraces all know music manuscripts containing polyphony up to 1550. At present, the whole of RISM Series B IV and the Census Catalogue of Manuscript Sources of Polyphonic Music 1400-1550 are included in the online database.

The offline data content is much larger than that seen online. It includes music incipits and is searchable by text, composer, language, clef, voice-part, number of parts and many other parameters, all linked to both source descriptions and individual images. Development of the resource during 2007-2010 will make all this information available and searchable online.

If you have a ‘wish-list’ of website and manuscript study tools, or notes on usability of the resource, please contact us by e-mail. We welcome corrections to the data and additions to the bibliographies.