How to search for manuscripts in Oliver   Leave a comment

Having something you want to share with others is pointless without the means whereby those others might find what you want to share. Hence the necessity of cataloging, and hence the importance of the catalog’s ease of use. In the previous post I highlighted that there are (digital) heaps and piles of manuscripts available at HMML that are still to be cataloged, and other catalogers and I are working to lessen their number, but in the meantime, especially since I have recently received some queries about how to use HMML’s online catalog to find manuscripts (enquirers, you know who you are!), here are a few tips about how to do it. (NB: The catalog name is written in all caps on HMML’s website, but I’ve just used “Oliver” here.)

If you go here (or click “Research / Search HMML Resources” from the banner of any HMML page), you will find three options for searching the catalog: Keyword Search, Traditional Search, and Text Search. I shall deal with each of these in turn, mainly with an eye toward eastern Christian manuscripts, but there are also on HMML’s site general remarks about using the catalog.

The Keyword Search is the newest way to get into Oliver. It’s a Google-like search that will go through all the text of the catalog database (yes, that’s a lot of data). First, note that there are a few guidelines: read them. It’s Unicode compliant, so try out some terms in Arabic, Armenian, Syriac, or Gǝʿǝz (but note that there is little in Fidäl in Oliver for now; see more on Ethiopian manuscripts below). The results appear as in the screen capture below, with individual manuscripts in their own clickable block. The search term appears in red on the results page and then with yellow highlighting once you click on a particular manuscript and come to the actual Oliver record. Don’t use the forward and back arrows on your browser to navigate between the search results and the individual records, but rather the navigation buttons at the top of the search page. I should point out, too, that the data available for this kind of search is somewhat behind the pace of the data available to the other searches.

The so-called Traditional Search, from the perspective of eastern Christian manuscripts, is probably most useful as a direct line to information about EMML manuscripts, which are generally cited and discussed by their EMML number, not by their location and shelfmark. So if I’m reading the latest issue of Aethiopica and see a reference to EMML 246, I can easily go here, enter 246 in the bottom section et voilà, there is the record. It should be pointed out that the Oliver records for EMML manuscripts are based on the printed catalogs by William Macomber and Getatchew Haile, but they often contain less information than is in those catalogs. (A desideratum is to re-enter the Gǝʿǝz names and titles in these EMML records in Fidäl, a mammoth undertaking very susceptible to typographic errors.)

This kind of search may also be used, however, to get a glimpse of all the manuscripts of a particular collection, if you know the city. For example, if we choose Istanbul from the City drop-down menu, and then choose Armenian Patriarchate of Istanbul, Balat from the Library drop-down menu, and leave Shelfmark blank, we get the following:

All the items in the list are, of course, clickable to go to the individual manuscript.

The Text Search can be very useful for going directly to particular manuscripts (other than EMML) or for doing broader searches for author or title; but in the latter case, the Keyword Search may also serve well. One of my own frequent uses of the Text Search is to enter the HMML Project Number, which in the case of the eastern Christian material photographed since 2003 consists of an acronym (some more perspicuous than others) and a five-digit number; this number sometimes, but certainly not always, equals the shelfmark. (These acronyms are handy to use and, since HMML is where most of these manuscripts are the easiest to access, this means of reference will perhaps become standard in some cases, as it has for the EMML collection.) If I see a reference to Mardin 130, for example, perhaps in Vööbus’ Handschriftliche Überlieferung der Mēmrē-Dichtung des Jaʿqōb von Serūg, and if I know that the manuscripts he cites as “Mardin” are in the Church of the Forty Martyrs (= CFMM) collection, I can enter CFMM 00130 in the Project Number box of this search page and go straight to the appropriate catalog record.

As with most digital projects, Oliver is ever-evolving (nice alliteration in that phrase with the liquids and v’s!), hence the caveat about it on the main search page: “Oliver is a work in progress and new records are added frequently. HMML welcomes corrections from users. Include the source number and the name of the field that needs correction and send to HMML.”

I hope these tips for using Oliver are helpful and lead to easier searching and researching. On any of these things comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome, either below or in an email to me, especially after some hands-on use of the catalog. (Obviously, use good sense in determining what kind of remarks or questions should go below and what kind should be sent privately.)

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