The Schoenberg Center for Electronic Text and Image celebrates 25 years

The Penn Libraries’ digitized collections of primary sources give people all over the world the opportunity to page through medieval manuscripts, experience the remarkable voice of 20th century singer Marian Anderson, understand the early history of the University of Pennsylvania, and so much more. Materials like these are available online thanks to the hard work of the Schoenberg Center for Electronic Text and Image (SCETI).

15th century illustration of a person atop a stone tower overseeing a landscape.
Illustration from “La Voie de Povreté ou de Richesse,” by Jacques Bruyant from the 15th century. (Image: Penn Libraries News)

Thanks to a generous gift from Lawrence J. Schoenberg, multiple grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and Council on Library and Information Resources, and private donations, SCETI has spent the past 25 years digitizing collections from the Penn Libraries, partnering cultural institutions, and private collections, and making them widely available online.

“Larry was an inveterate collector of medieval and renaissance manuscripts,” says Barbara Brizdle, Schoenberg’s surviving spouse and a member of the Penn Libraries Board of Advisors. “He was passionate about preserving their content and sharing their knowledge with others. In providing the seed money for SCETI, Larry was able to set in motion Penn’s leadership role in the digitization of cultural and historical knowledge, thus making their content available to scholars worldwide. I am so pleased that SCETI has enabled the Penn Libraries to share their vast collections, as well as those of others, with a broader audience.”

When SCETI was founded in the mid-1990s, the field of digital humanities was still fairly new. “Larry Schoenberg was one of the great visionaries of the 20th century in terms of the potential of digitization and the digital humanities,” says David McKnight, who led the Center from 2006 to 2012. Efforts to curate, digitize, and make available materials in these early years required experimentation and innovation. “We had student workers bring in these big folios and put them on the scanning bed, lower the camera, and put it in position,” he explains, describing a painstaking process that required four minutes to digitize a single page. “And when I think of those days compared to what we’re doing now, it’s amazing.”

This story is by Rebecca Ortenberg. Read more at Penn Libraries News.