Digitizing the Greenleaf Library

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The Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections and Digital Collections are working on an ambitious plan to digitize about 300 of the most interesting books in Northwestern’s Greenleaf Library. This collection was acquired by Northwestern in 1870 from the estate of a deputy minister in the Prussian Ministry of Religion and Education, Johannes Schulze, thanks to a gift of real estate by university trustee Luther L. Greenleaf.

The books being digitized are all 16th century imprints, and include many important monuments from the early history of printing: the first printed version of the works by classical Greek historian Herodotus, published by Aldus Manutius in Venice in 1502; a 1528 work on the human body by Willibald Pirckheimer with woodcuts by Albrecht Dürer, printed in Nuremberg; a 1529 edition of Galen as translated by Erasmus of Rotterdam and printed in Basel by Andreas Cratander; the first publication of the complete known works of Archimedes, again in the original Greek, published in Basel in 1544; finally a beautiful 1552 edition of Boccaccio’s Decameron from Venice, with full-page woodcuts at the beginning of each of the ten days.

The books are being digitized in high resolution and in full color. In most cases, the text is also being captured by sophisticated optical character recognition software acquired from ABBYY in Moscow, a recognized leader in OCR technology—also for Latin and ancient Greek. Once completed, these “new” 16th-century e-books will be accessible through the Northwestern Books site at http://books.northwestern.edu/ and, of course, also linked to from their NUsearch record.

Read more on the history of the Greenleaf Library and listen to an audio introduction to the Library’s 2007 exhibit of the Greenleaf Library, “An Admirable Nucleus”. Finally, a text introduction to the 2007 exhibit is available here.