Collaboration with OBNS

We are excited to be collaborating with the Old Books New Science (OBNS) Lab led by Prof. Alexandra Gillespie from the University of Toronto. Our innovative partnership aims to use micro-CT technology to non-destructively scan medieval books. The aim is to unveil internal structures within these books (e.g. sewing, substrate attachment, repair work) to infer the origin and evolution of the manuscript over time. The density contrasts measured by the micro-CT will also give an indication of the construction materials of the book (e.g. wooden boards, textiles, adhesives, paper, parchment, gallotannic ink, metal compounds and pigments).

To date, we have been working together to develop a strategy for scanning precious books. As a preliminary test to see the potential of the micro-CT, a modern Indonesian pothi book was scanned. Beautiful images of the internal structure of the book were revealed – you can see the cell walls of the bamboo in both the leaves and covers, and the string emerging.

Modern Indonesian pothi book
Custom book cradle made by Dr. Alice Sharp (Image courtesy of OBNS)

Our next endeavor was to scan a 17th century book from the Thomas Fisher Rare Book library. A prototype cradle designed by Dr. Alice Sharp from OBNS was fabricated and used successfully in trial runs. A high-resolution scan of the book spine was conducted. The scan revealed the denser, metallic ink used in the writing and illustrations of the book, and the sewing structure of the spine.

17th century book (MSS 01106) from the Thomas Fisher Rare Book library

We are very excited about these early and promising results! Recently, our collaborative project titled “Quantitative Book Science: Material and Structural Analysis of Premodern Manuscripts Using μCT” has been approved for XSeed funding – a program designed to catalyze multi-disciplinary research between different faculties at the University of Toronto.  We are very excited and look forward to working with Prof. Gillespie and her group!