Online originals

22/01/2003

This week sees the launch of an online palaeography course, which harnesses the power of electronic media to bring the glory of Cambridge manuscript collections to students learning how to read 16th and 17th century handwriting.

The new resource which is provided by CERES, the Cambridge English Renaissance Electronic Service, is designed to supplement traditional teaching methods used in the University English Faculty's MPhil course. Dr Andrew Zurcher, one of CERES editors, says it will solve a long-standing problem in the teaching of palaeography.

'Students need exposure to manuscripts but it is often difficult for beginners to gain access to them; archivists are rightly protective of their precious and fragile treasures. By creating an online archive of images, students can have instant access to handwriting of different periods and styles,' explains Dr Zurcher.

Although designed primarily for Cambridge English students, the resource will be of use to scholars in other fields such as history, and the editors will be promoting the service worldwide through the CERES network.

CERES was started in October 1996 in response to the developing importance of electronic media in literary research. Aimed at those working in the area of English Renaissance literature and its environs, it offered its members a Starter Guide to help them get more from the internet, and a regular email newsletter, CERES Harvest, which reports and reviews electronic resources for research in the Renaissance, as well as relaying calls for papers and conference programmes.

The CERES website was developed to support the email service, but has gradually expanded to offer unique facilities and content. It provides ready access to CERES; work so far, through an archive of recent back issues and of less recent digests, along with their Starter Guide. There is also a page of Links to some of the best online services.

In the last two years the main development has been the introduction of COPIA, or CERES Online Publications Interactive. This includes research projects aiming to publish new material online. The first was 'Aeneas and Isabella', which undertakes a new attribution of two poems to Isabella Whitney, and includes editions of the poems. The second project was 'Sidneiana', a collection of manuscript resources relating to Sir Philip Sidney and his circle.

The most recent CERES project is 'Hap Hazard', a collection of transcribed manuscript materials relating to Edmund Spenser. All these projects aim to expand, both under the efforts of their originators, and with the help of new collaborators.

'The future looks interesting. We want COPIA to expand, and to find new projects initiated by new people,'says Dr Raphael Lyne, who emphasises the support that CERES received in setting up the new course.

'The handwriting project was almost entirely funded by a grant from CARET, the Centre for Applied Research in Educational Technologies, from HEFCE funds to support the development of innovative educational technology projects. Staff at CARET also helped us solve some of the thornier technical problems, and gave advice and resources at critical stages. The resource, like the rest of the CERES site, is hosted on the Faculty of English website and Faculty staff assisted on server and software issues,' says Dr Lyne.

The CERES editors are Dr Gavin Alexander, an Assistant University Lecturer in the Faculty of English and a Fellow of Christ's College; Dr Raphael Lyne, a Fellow of New Hall and a University Lecturer in the Faculty of English; and Dr Andrew Zurcher, a Junior Research Fellow at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge.

Reproduced courtesy University of Cambridge Press Office

To read more information, click here.

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The University of Cambridge is acknowledged as one of the world's leading higher education and research institutions. The University was instrumental in the formation of the Cambridge Network and its Vice- Chancellor, Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz is also the President of the Cambridge Network.

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