Thursday, 26 December 2013

Mapping Books: The Dispersal of the Medieval Libraries of Great Britain

I just found this interesting blog-post by Mitch Fraas:
http://mappingbooks.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/the-dispersal-of-medieval-libraries-of.html

An excerpt is below, but the full post is worth reading.

[...]
As of last week, the MLGB3's online database  included over 6,000 records for books and manuscripts owned by medieval libraries. In order to look at them in aggregate I used the ever-helpful wget utility to pull down each record in order. I was left with a gigantic mess of html with the useful data hidden within it. After extensive cleanup and parsing of the data I was able to throw the location names of the original medieval libraries as well as current owners against David Zwiefelhofer's geocoding service (which I believe uses the Yahoo API) to get longitudes and latitudes. This didn't go entirely smoothly as the names of ruined monasteries tend not to register very well in geo databases. Fortunately, there are a wealth of wikipedia entries providing detailed long./lat. information on a wide range of English historical sites and I was able to fill in the blanks.

Libraries in Medieval Great Britain (MLGB3)
Current Locations of Books from the MLGB3


Worldwide Current Location of Books in MLGB3
What most struck me from this preliminary view (I'll wait until the final MLGB3 release to make sure) is how much less movement there was than I expected. That is, if books owned by medieval libraries are any indication, the cultural patrimony of Great Britain has not moved far from its home. Over 93% (5900/6316) books from the MLGB3 data show up as being currently held in Great Britain leaving just 416 in other locations. This visualization of course elides the many movements of books between when they were cataloged or inventoried in the medieval period and when they reached their current place of residence. That being said, I wonder how a similar map of the dispersal of French or German monastic libraries would look? Are 93% still in their country of origin (loosely defined)? I doubt it.

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