The KRC Digital Image Archive

This major project involves the conversion of the University's photographic archives of Middle Eastern art and archaeology into a modern digital resource. Of central importance to this project is the development of a tailor-made database to allow for the storage and delivery of the tens of thousands of images which make up the archives. The development of this system has been undertaken by Daniel Burt, the centre's Computing Officer, who has over 15 years' experience in developing data management systems in both academic and commercial environments. The advantage of developing an in-house system is that it can focus on the needs of the centre, whilst also encompassing the needs of future University initiatives, such as the work being done on a centralised image repository.

The digitisation project involves scanning tens of thousands of slides and prints, and entering detailed descriptions of their subjects into the database to create a world-leading digital archive of Islamic and Middle Eastern art and material culture that will allow users to exchange information, share knowledge, and further develop the archive itself.

"What is especially exciting is how it is enabling us to look afresh at the way we teach" explained Professor Johns. "Instead of pulling out a carousel-full of slides, delivering a lecture and putting them back again until next year, we can now make the images permanently available through the web to our students for independent study and for revision."

The 'Book of Curiosities' Project

In June 2002, the Bodleian Library acquired a unique manuscript of a hitherto unknown Arabic cosmographical treatise, the Kitāb Gharāʾib al-funūn wa-mulaḥ al-ʿuyūn, loosely translated as 'The Book of Curiosities of the Sciences and Marvels for the Eyes'. The manuscript is a copy, probably made in Egypt in the late 12th or early 13th century, of an anonymous work compiled in Egypt between 1020 and 1050. It is extraordinarily important for the history of science, especially for astronomy and cartography, and contains an unparalleled series of diagrams of the heavens and maps of the earth.

The acquisition of the Book of Curiosities was made possible by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and generous donations from the National Arts Collections Fund, the Friends of the Bodleian, Saudi Aramco, several Oxford colleges, and private individuals.

These grants and donations, along with the Arts & Humanities Research Council, have also funded the project to prepare a full study of the treatise, including an edition of the Arabic text and English translation, and to disseminate the results as widely as possible through the internet, exhibitions, and an outreach programme. The newly established Khalili Research Centre for the Art & Material Culture of the Middle East provided a home for the execution of the project.