The New Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts

The Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts aggregates observations of premodern manuscripts drawn from over 12,000 auction and sales catalogs, inventories, catalogs from institutional and private collections, and other sources that document sales and locations of these books from around the world. Using 36 possible fields, entries in the Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts (SDBM) record data from observations made in these sources and assist researchers in locating and identifying particular manuscripts, establishing provenance, and aggregating descriptive information about specific classes or types of manuscripts.

The New Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts, in development since 2014, allows you -- the members of its user community -- to become active, contributing partners in its development. Users can add entries, comment on other users entries, aggregate entries to created “manuscript records,” and help us build an authority file of persons and institutions associated with the movement of manuscripts across time and place.

NEH Grant Awarded to Develop the New Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts

In 2014, the SDBM received a $300,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to support a 3-year project to develop the New SDBM into an online, user-built, community driven collaborative tool for researching the historic and current locations of the world's pre-modern manuscripts. On July 25, 2016, the beta version of the New SDBM was launched to use and test the new functionality in a live environment. In the third year of the grant, the project team will continue to develop the application to enhance the user experience and community engagement.

As of June 2017, the New SDBM is a robust, interactive resource for finding, indexing, and researching the world's manuscripts.


At the end of the project, the New SDBM will feature the following outcomes:

  • A mobile, open access, user-built, community-driven research tool for the history of manuscript transmission from production to present
  • A tool that will allow individuals and institutions to contribute data on the world's manuscripts in a linked data environment
  • A foundation for international networks of collaborations with institutional, regional, national, and international cataloging projects
  • An active and contributing user-community
  • Publicly available authority lists of booksellers, auction houses, collectors, authors, scribes, and artists, following standards set by the Virtual International Authority File (VIAF)
  • An example of the successful application of gaming technologies to develop user participation and contribution
  • Sets of data analyses providing insight into use, value, collection building, collection dispersals, among many other possible areas

Project Staff

Project Director
Lynn Ransom

Programmer Analyst
Benjamin Heller (2015- present)
Jeffrey Chiu (2014-2015)

Technical Director
Doug Emery

Project Coordinator
Emma Cawlfield

Barbara Brizdle Schoenberg

Advisory Committee

To help us reach our goals, the following members of the New SDBM Advisory Committee have provided strategic direction throughout the project.

  • Toby Burrows, Marie Curie International Incoming Fellow, Kings College London
  • Laura Cleaver, Ussher Lecturer in Medieval Art, Trinity College Dublin
  • Melissa Conway, Curator (Retired), Arcana Collection of Illuminated Manuscripts
  • Lisa Fagin Davis, Executive Director, Medieval Academy of America
  • Matthew J. Driscoll, Director, The Arnamagnaean Institute, University of Copenhagen
  • Christoph Flüeler, Director, e-codices, University of Fribourg
  • Seth van Hooland, Digital Information Chair, Université Libre de Bruxelles
  • Peter Kidd, Independent Scholar
  • William Stoneman, Curator of Manuscripts, Houghton Library, Harvard University
  • Joshua Westgard, Systems Librarian, University of Maryland Libraries
  • Hanno Wijsman, Ingenieur d'étude, Institut de recherche et d'histoire des textes (IRHT-CNRS) & Bibale

Ex-officio members

  • Lynn Ransom, Curator of Programs, The Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies
  • Doug Emery, Programmer, Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books & Manuscripts, Penn Libraries
  • Mitch Fraas, Curator of Special Collections, Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books & Manuscripts, Penn Libraries
  • Michael Gibney, Senior Developer, Library Technology Services, Penn Libraries
  • David McKnight, Director, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books & Manuscripts, Penn Libraries
  • Will Noel, Director, Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books & Manuscripts, and Founding Director of the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies, Penn Libraries
  • John Mark Ockerbloom, Digital Library Architect and Planner, Library Technology Services, Penn Libraries
  • Dot Porter, Curator, Digital Research Services, Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books & Manuscripts, Penn Libraries

Project Work Plan

Three-Year Outline of Major Activities and Milestones
Year One: Development of Tools (July 1, 2014–June 30, 2015)
  • Data-cleaning and reconciliation using OpenRefine
  • Create "Read Me" files to explain issues related to data and to standardize record citation requirements for researcher use and publication
  • Create new data model featuring a unique identification method for each manuscript represented to improve processing of linked entries
  • Develop a method to identify and label different transaction types (e.g. commercial sales, private sale or donation, institutional catalog entry, inventory, etc.)
Year Two: Alpha Release and Development (July 1, 2015–June 30, 2016)
  • Alpha release of the New SDBM for three months to our existing user-community for testing
  • Develop beta version based on results of alpha release
  • Present New SDBM at 2015 Schoenberg Symposium on Manuscript Studies in the Digital Age and at other professional meetings
  • Implement user levels (Open, Contributor, Editor, Admin)
Year Three: Full Implementation and Outreach (July 1, 2016–June 30, 2017)
  • Beta release of the New SDBM in July 2016
  • Develop partner projects
  • Develop advancement strategies for users and enhancements for user community
  • Develop linked data strategies and implement technologies
  • Full launch of the New SDBM in spring 2017

Questions or comments about the project? Feel free to contact us at sdbm@upenn.edu.