Digitizing

The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM) is a world leader in digitizing ancient manuscripts. We use specialized equipment and an exacting image-quality protocol to digitize the entire codex. While digitizing, CSNTM has three priorities:

  1. Maintain the condition of the codex
  2. Photograph the entire page
  3. Produce aesthetically-pleasing images

Equipment

CSNTM primarily uses 50-megapixel Canon cameras mounted on a customized Graz Traveller's Conservation Copy Stand. This equipment is specially designed for digitally preserving fragile materials that require careful handling on location. In 2018, CSNTM acquired Multispectral Imaging (MSI) technology from MegaVision and has adapted the Graz system to make this technology portable as well.

Method

Before photographing, the “vital statistics” of each manuscript are recorded. This information includes the manuscript’s shelf number, physical dimensions, material (papyrus, parchment, or paper), estimated date, and other significant data.

The digitization process is completed by two-person teams. One team member supports the manuscript and places it in the right position for proper support and digitization. The second person operates the computer and camera and is responsible for making sure that the images meet CSNTM's image quality standards. The teams minimize the physical movement of the manuscript by digitizing the front of each leaf before turning the manuscript once to digitize the back of each leaf. 

Using White Gloves

Modern archival standards prefer that manuscripts be handled with clean hands rather than with white gloves. Handling manuscripts without gloves increases tactile sensation and decreases the risk of snagging already-damaged pages. These protocols vary from one institution to another. In every case, CSNTM staff members comply with the handling requirements of the institution, submitting the handling and photographic process to inspection at every point. Click here to learn more about the use of white gloves.

Standards

In the short history of CSNTM, our technique, protocols, and standards have evolved. Upgrades in equipment and technology, as well as increased experience in manuscript digitization, have enhanced our ability to create higher quality images than were originally possible. For example:

  • While our first images included both visible pages simultaneously, since 2004 CSNTM has digitized each page individually.
  • Greater attention is paid to uniform margins, more parallel edges, and closer cropping.
  • Black or black and white backgrounds are utilized depending on the item being digitized.
  • A 3:2 top-to-bottom ratio is used to contrast the typical 2:3 ratio of the text to the page. This creates a consistent, balanced look for each image. 
  • All manuscripts are digitized completely including spine, cover, additional matter, et al.—creating a full archival copy. 
  • A complete list of metadata is compiled and provided for each manuscript. 

CSNTM strives to take photographs that are both readable and attractive, but we never sacrifice the protection and preservation of the manuscript.