Ten Thousand Treasures

The World Digital Library – a website of world cultural treasures offered free of charge in seven languages to anyone on the planet with access to the Internet – has put up its 10,000th offering.

It was part of a package, actually – a group of rare manuscripts from the collections of the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, which has been a contributor the WDL since 2010.

Rare manuscript from the Walters Art Museum, now on World Digital Library

Rare manuscript from the Walters Art Museum, now on World Digital Library

If you’re not careful, you can easily become addicted to the World Digital Library.  The wondrous focal point for manuscripts, maps and atlases, books, prints and photographs, films, sound recordings, and other cultural treasures was launched in 2009 with just a few hundred items and has been adding content and bringing new libraries and museums on board ever since.  The site was the brainchild of Librarian of Congress James H. Billington, and was made a reality with the cooperation of the Library and UNESCO.

All items on the WDL site are presented in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish. Using a drop-down menu on the homepage – which looks like a huge map of the world – you can choose the language you’d like to use for your explorations, then go browsing within the WDL by a number of selection methods including place, time, topic, type of item or the institution that holds the original.

The Walters contributions include an early 16th-century Gospel manuscript from Ethiopia, written in Amharic and in Geez, the ancient liturgical language of Ethiopia; a manuscript containing a richly illuminated Ottonian Gospel book fragment believed to have been made at the monastery of Corvey in western Germany during the mid-to-late 10th century; and a menologion, or church calendar, in Greek, created in Byzantium circa 1025-1041.

Other items recently added to the World Digital Library include block-print books from China’s Song Dynasty, Islamic manuscripts in Arabic, Persian, and Ottoman Turkish, early 20th-century historical documents from the League of Nations, and codices once found in the legendary library of King Matthias Corvinus of Hungary.

One of my favorite offerings in the WDL is the full digitized set of books titled “Description of Egypt” that Napoleon ordered created when he invaded that nation; they contain gorgeous, detailed illustration plates showing Egypt’s flora, fauna and amazing antiquities.

Another is this rare gem of Americana.

What treasures have you found in the World Digital Library?


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