About Us

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, 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 Margaret Bent (University of Oxford) and Andrew Wathey (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 45,000 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). A further phase of development of the project website to create an online research environment for the images was funded by the Andrew W Mellon Foundation. Recent collaborations include the AHRC-funded Tudor Partbooks project, which added images of all extant Tudor Partbooks to the collection.

The sources archived include all the currently known sources of polyphony up to 1550 in the UK (almost all sources up to 1450 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 emergence 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.

From the outset DIAMM has developed a carefully tested image capture and metadata standard. This is proving extremely robust. In many cases imaging quality and metadata content is much higher than that delivered by many leading institutions.

DIAMM 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). Julia Craig-McFeely has been 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 digital recovery and editing techniques that can be applied to the digital image without any impact on the original manuscript source, following digital capture. As a result, a number of new works have been discovered and whole manuscripts have been reconstructed. 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 digital recovery 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 includes the most complete listing of medieval and early modern manuscripts of western polyphony. It was redeveloped during 2015-16 in order to take advantage of recent improvements in web-delivery of resources of this type, and to improve access to the more granular content that is currently not searchable. This work was funded by the John Fell OUP research fund.

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.