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Scholar discusses efforts to recover ancient text

Monday, February 20, 2012

FREDERICK, Md.—Digital recovery of ancient and medieval texts that were previously unknown is the topic of a lecture March 1 at 7 p.m. in the Marx Center at Hood College.

The lecture is part of the College's annual Center for the Humanities spring colloquium series, which is funded in part by a National Endowment for the Humanities Challenge Grant.

Will Noel, curator of manuscripts and rare books at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, will give a talk, "Archimedes and Friends: the Digital Recovery of Ancient Texts." The lecture will focus his groundbreaking work to restore the original writings of the Archimedes Palimpsest, a 13th century Byzantine prayer book of extraordinary importance to the history of science, as well as the impact of the digitization of medieval manuscripts on the study of history and literature before 1500.

Since 1998 the manuscript, which when exposed to the digitization process was discovered to contain erased texts by Archimedes and other ancient philosophers and orators, has been the subject of conservation, imaging and scholarship at the museum. The project has shed new light on Archimedes, regarded as one of the leading scientists of classical antiquity, and has revealed texts from the ancient world, some of which do not exist anywhere else.

Noel earned a doctoral degree from Cambridge University. He served as director of studies in the history of art at the university's Downing College, and as assistant curator of manuscripts at The J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. He has taught and lectured widely, and serves on the faculty of the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia and at The Johns Hopkins University. He is the author or co-author of three scholarly books and a popular account of the Archimedes project.

Future colloquium events include a lecture April 3 by April Oettinger of Goucher College and Paul Dowling of Liber Antiquus Rare Books, who will speak about Renaissance "guide books" to ancient Rome; a lecture April 9 by Juniper Ellis, professor of English at Loyola University Maryland, who will speak about the unique history of the modern tattoo; and, in conjunction with Frederick Reads, a lecture April 19 by Rebecca Skloot, award-winning author of "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks."

This year's colloquium, themed "The Book: From Print to the Digital Age," explores the past, present and future of the book, along with the numerous cultural changes it has weathered during its 2,000-year history. From the print traditions of medieval Europe to the impact of today's digital technologies on human communication, the colloquium will examine whether the age of the printed book is coming to an end.

The lecture is co-sponsored with the department of art and archaeology.

For more information, contact Rebecca Prime, Ph.D., Sophia M. Libman NEH Professor of the Humanities, at prime@hood.edu.