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The France and England project: Medieval Manuscripts between 700 and 1200

Thanks to the patronage of The Polonsky Foundation, the Bibliothèque nationale de France and the British Library have engaged in a partnership which aims to digitise, scientifically catalogue and showcase an outstanding collection of 800 medieval manuscripts produced between the 8th and 12th centuries.

The Project

The programme titled “England and France, 700–1200: medieval manuscripts from the BnF and the British Library”, includes eight hundred manuscripts preserved in equal parts by the BnF and the British Library. These two libraries hold two of the largest collections of medieval manuscripts in the world.

The manuscripts have been selected for their historical significance in terms of relations between France and England during the Middle Ages. They are also of unique artistic, historical or literary interest. Produced between the eighth and the end of the twelfth century, they cover a wide range of subjects, illustrating intellectual production during the early middle ages and the Roman period. Among these manuscripts are a few precious, sumptuously illuminated examples such as the Benedictional of Winchester around the year 1000, the Bible de Chartres around 1140 or the Great Canterbury Anglo-Catalan Psalter produced circa 1200.

With this corpus being of undisputable scientific interest, the programme is also characterised by several manuscript recovery operations: digitisation, online dissemination, restoration, scientific description and even mediation.

One of the components of the programme includes the digitisation of all eight hundred manuscripts and their online publication on the BnF and the British Library’s digital libraries, Gallica and Digitised Manuscripts.

The other aspect focuses on showcasing these manuscripts on two websites:

- This website provides access to all of the project’s 800 manuscripts. Created by the BnF based on the “Gallica marque blanche” (Gallica white label) infrastructure, using the International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF) standard and Mirador viewer, the manuscripts held by the BnF and the British Library can be viewed and compared side by side within the same digital library or annotated. Web users are guided in their exploration through accessing “themes”, “authors”, “places” and “centuries".

- The website Medieval England and France, 700–1200, which is aimed at a wide public audience, has been created by the British Library to highlight a selection of the project’s manuscripts within their historical and cultural context.



The Partners

The Bibliothèque nationale de France

The Bibliothèque nationale de France holds more than 40 million documents, including 14 million books and printed material, manuscripts, maps, plans, photographs, coins, audiovisual documents, gathered over the past five centuries through legal deposit and a proactive acquisition policy. As a guardian of the transmission of this heritage to future generations, the BnF also ensures the preservation and restoration of items in its safekeeping. Gallica, the digital library of the BnF and its partners, provides online access to nearly 5 million documents. As a place of excellence and research, that is open to everyone, the Library is committed to the dissemination of its invaluable collections to all audiences through a cultural programme of exhibitions, visits, workshops and colloquia, at its sites and online.

The British Library

The British Library was created as part of the British Museum in 1753. In 1973, the British Library was separated from the Museum and is today one of the largest libraries in the world. Its mission is to make the UK’s intellectual heritage accessible to everyone. Its collections span almost three millennia and come from every continent. Numbering over 160 million items, they include books, archives, manuscripts, newspapers, journals, maps, photographs, stamps, prints, databases, music scores and sound recordings. Collecting and protecting the nation’s intellectual and cultural heritage and sharing it with a wide audience – researchers, businesses, students and the general public – underpins everything the Library does.

The Polonsky Foundation

The Polonsky Foundation is a UK-registered charity which primarily supports cultural heritage and research. Its principal activities include the digitisation of significant collections at leading libraries (the British Library; the Bibliothèque Nationale de France; the Bodleian Library, Oxford; Cambridge University Library; the New York Public Library; the Library of Congress; the Vatican Library); support for “Theatre for a New Audience” at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center in Brooklyn, New York; and post-doctoral fellowships at The Polonsky Academy for the Advanced Study of the Humanities and Social Sciences at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute.

Its founder and chairman, Dr Leonard S. Polonsky, was named a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) for charitable services in 2013.

«This project brings together riches of the Bibliothèque nationale de France and the British Library, and makes them available to researchers and the wider public in innovative and attractive ways. Our Foundation is privileged to support this collaboration, which continues the cultural exchange and profound mutual influence that characterises the history of these two nations over many centuries».

Dr Leonard S. and Marc Polonsky, The Polonsky Foundation