The Electronic Beowulf Project won the 1994/5 Library Association / Mecklermedia Award for Innovation Through Information Technology.
Beowulf, the first great English literary masterpiece, is known only from a single eleventh century manuscript, which was badly damaged by fire in 1731. Transcriptions made in the late-eighteenth century show that many hundreds of words and letters then visible along the charred edges subsequently crumbled away. To halt this process each leaf was mounted in a paper frame in 1845. Scholarly discussion of the date, provenance and creation of the poem continue around the world, and researchers regularly require access to the manuscript. Taking Beowulf out of its display case for study not only raises conservation issues, however, it also makes it unavailable for the many visitors who come to the Library expecting to see this most fundamental of literary treasures on display. Digitisation of the whole manuscript offered a solution to these problems, as well as providing new insights.



"The Electronic Beowulf Project" has assembled a huge database of digital images of the Beowulf manuscript and related manuscripts and printed texts. The archive already includes fiber-optic readings of hidden letters and ultraviolet readings of erased text in the early 11th-century manuscript; full electronic facsimiles of the indispensable 18th-century transcripts of the manuscript; and selections from important 19th-century collations, editions, and translations. Major additions will include images of contemporary manuscript illuminations and material culture, and links with the Toronto Dictionary of Old English project and with the comprehensive Anglo-Saxon bibliographies of the Old English Newsletter.

The project has been developed by The Library with two leading American Anglo-Saxon experts, Kevin Kiernan of the University of Kentucky and Paul Szarmach of the Medieval Institute, Western Michigan University. Professor Kiernan is editing the electronic archive and is producing a CD-ROM electronic facsimile that will draw together in an easy-to-use package all the different types of image being collected.


Grendel, in addition to being the main monster in Beowulf, is also the Group for Research in Electronically Networked Digital Libraries.

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A series of images, from black-and-white to color to ultraviolet, illustrates some of the illuminating virtues of an electronic facsimile.

Further Information

The test image files now on the Internet were mounted to coincide with the publication by the Association of Research Libraries of a paper, Digital Preservation, Restoration, and Dissemination of Medieval Manuscripts, by Kevin S. Kiernan describing the project. The image files have been mounted on two sites, one at the University of Kentucky and another in The British Library. These images are for personal use only, and may not be reproduced in any form without the permission of the British Library.

Professor Kiernan's paper is also published in Scholarly Publishing on the Electronic Networks: Proceedings of the Third Symposium, eds. A. Okerson and D. Mogge, published by the Association of Research Libraries, Office of Scientific and Academic Publishing, 21 Dupont Circle, Washington DC 20036, USA. For the current status of the project see Kiernan, "The Electronic Beowulf," Computers in Libraries (February 1995), 14-15. For additional information you may contact

Copyright © 1995, The British Library Board