laddmm's blog

A 15th c. Ethiopian prayer book - now on Flickr!

Pages 4 and 5 of the prayer book, with an illumination of Jesus Christ on the left and the first page of text on the right

About a month ago, I put scans of our Ethiopian prayer book online as a new digital collection(you can read all about it below). But now I am excited to announce that we have also added every page of the book to our Flickr account, so if Flickr's your thing be sure to have a look!

Also, I'm still searching for a scholar of the Ge'ez language who can tell me what is actually written in the book, so if you know someone...

The following was originally part of a blog post on the Walter Havighurst Special Collections website:

In 1987, the assistant to the head of Special Collections & Archives, Frances McClure, came back from Kenya with a prayer book she had purchased. She was told it was originally owned by Woldge Georgis, son of Tewoderas who briefly ruled over Ethiopia 1413-1414. It is handwritten and illustrated on animal skin, bound in a wood cover, and was originally kept in a leather satchel. The language it is written in, Ge'ez, is a Semitic language that is no longer spoken but is still used in the liturgy of some Ethiopian churches.

Beyond this, there is little we can say about it, other than that it is a beautifully constructed book, with some amazing artwork. And now we are happy to announce that it is viewable online in its entirety! The entire prayer book may be viewed here, and I encourage you all to take some time to explore the book - I doubt you've seen anything like it before!

The prayer book closed, and the leather satchel it was stored in.

Making a Book into a Video

Crucial Perimeter 1 by Islam Aly

Crucial Perimeter 1 by Islam Aly

With the new school year beginning, we are excited to roll out our Fall 2015 exhibit: The Creative Codex: Books as Art in the Walter Havighurst Special Collections! Curated by Preservation Librarian Ashley Jones and Curator of Special Collections Carly Sentieri, it is a visually enthralling exhibit focusing on the physical book itself as a work of art. However, displaying these materials which focus not on printed content but on the objects themselves raises a unique challenge in how to display artist's books behind glass. To address this challenge, Ashley and I decided to create a three-dimensional image of one of books which could be used as part of the exhibit. The item we chose was Islam Aly's Crucial Perimeter 1, Ashley's favorite book in the exhibit. After a bit of research, we went with Autodesk's 123D Catch as a free option for rendering a 3D object out of a series of photographs.

Ashley Jones preparing the book to be suspended with fishing wire for the photo shoot.

Ashley Jones preparing the book to be suspended with fishing wire for the photo shoot

The first question was how to capture the book at every angle. Given that its spine is designed to bend like a Slinky, we had to make sure it was at the same curve for every shot at every angle. We settled on suspending it from the ceiling to be able to photograph it at every angle without having to adjust it. After creating secure bindings to ensure no excessive strain was being placed on the book, we used fishing line to hang the book.

The book hanging from the ceiling in Preservation, ready to be photographed

The book hanging from the ceiling in Preservation, ready to be photographed

Once suspended, I was able to photograph the book at every angle. In the end, it took 70 photos to create the 3D rendering. Overall, 123D Catch does a pretty impressive job of automatically stitching the individual photos together into a 3D model, but sometimes it needed help. Given the symmetry of the book, sometimes it struggled to understand which side was which. Also, while I thought to scatter some materials on the floor below the book to help identify the angles of the photos, I didn't plan for how to manage the repetitive ceiling patterns, which resulted in the photos from below the book being the most problematic in stitching together.

Manual stitching in 123D Catch

Manual stiching in 123D Catch

But when all was said and done, we were able to create a nice little 3D digital version of the artist's book. 123D Catch was able to then turn this into a YouTube video which we now have running on a screen as part of the exhibit and which you watch in King 321 or on YouTube The edges are a little rough, which I would have liked to be able to clean up more but Autodesk's 3D object editor Meshmixer was unable to process the object and in the end we had to accept the version 123D Catch rendered. But we're still pretty happy with the job it does showing the viewer how Aly created such a fascinating object. The Creative Codex is on display in King 321 until December 11, 2015. A reception will be held Thursday, October 22, from 4-6 PM in King 320. A tour of the exhibit will be included, as well as a guest lecture by Diane Stemper, a local artist whose works are featured in the exhibit.

Marcus Ladd

Special Collections Digital Librarian

Shakespeare Folio Reboot

The Droeshout portrait of William Shakespeare used on the title page of the First Folio

It's April 23rd, and that means a very Happy Shakespeare Day to everyone!

As part of the celebrations commemorating the 399th anniversary of his death (we thought about putting this off another year but just couldn't wait), we are very pleased to announce a complete reboot of our digital folios collection. This new collection includes every page from all four Folios of the Bard's work as well as miscellanea found with the collection, and can be found at

As some of you might recall, our set of folios was first digitized in 2008 and we were among the earliest to make the Shakespeare Folios available in full online. However, given a combination of technical issues and evolving standards & technology, it was decided that all four folios be re-digitized and a new collection launched.

The digitization itself took place this January, when our Graduate Assistant Dana Bogart and I reshot each folio using an Atiz Bookdrive stand with a pair of Nikon EOS 6D cameras we had just acquired late last year. Each folio was completed in a single session of approximately 3-4 hours.

Some were easier than others, with the First Folio being particularly difficult to capture due to the tightness of the binding. Our copy of the First Folio also has had some missing pages supplied in facsimile, most notably the entirety of Twelfth Night. These replacements run much closer to the inner margin making it very difficult to get a good shot. Another interesting and unique aspect of our particular set of folios is the handwritten notes found in some of them, particularly the Second Folio which features in some plays a meticulous comparison to the First Folio.

In addition to the folios themselves, some clippings about these particular copies of the folios (as well as others for comparison) are included as part of the collection. These were a much simpler scanning prospect using a regular desktop flatbed scanner. Once the photos were taken, I cropped and organized the images into individual plays to be added to the digital collection.

Note how close the printing is to the inner margin, as well as the expanded page that was created when these pages were inserted.

In addition to images with better technology, relaunching the collection has allowed us to move it fully into our current CONTENTdm 6 instance, which includes a more easily navigable interface, allowing the user to zoom in and navigate around each page within the viewport on the page. A "Page-Flip View" is also included as part of CONTENTdm, which simulates the effect of holding the book open and turning the pages.

A comparison of the old (left) and new (right) collection interfaces.

With the help of the clippings found with the folios, our own department records, and the 2003 census of First Folios by Anthony James West, I was able to gather some information about the provenance of these particular copies. According to West's The Shakespeare First Folio: A New Worldwide Census of First Folios, our First Folio was first sold by the bookseller Henry George Bohn to Chandos Leigh (1791-185), who passed it down to his son William Henry Leigh (1824-1850). The so-called 'Lord Leigh set' of Folios was sold to Frederick S. Peck by Gabriel Wells in 1927. It was then purchased by Dr. O. O. Fisher in 1947. Fisher was a Miami University alumnus (Class of '09) and avid book collector, who donated all four folios to Miami University. All but our Third Folio come from the Lord Leigh set and include the bookplates of Leigh and Peck. Our Third Folio holds the bookplate of John Gribbel. It is interesting to note that, according to West's census, a First Folio with the Gribbel bookplate was also sold in 1947.

The works of William Shakespeare are among the most (if they are not the most) famous, influential, and beautiful works of the English language, and even the folios themselves represent a unique point in history. The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare writes:

The folio as a format was reserved for only the most expensive and prestigious volumes by the leading theologians, philosophers and historians of the day. A folio devoted to plays was unprecedented. The printing of the 907-page First Folio began early in 1622 and took nearly two years to complete...The first folio was so successful and demand apparently so great that a second edition was required within less than a decade. The Second Folio was a carefully corrected page-for-page reprint of the first that made hundreds of minor changes in the text, the majority of which have been accepted by modern editors.


The First Folio of Shakespeare's works is one of only five books to have ever been recorded in a worldwide census (interestingly, we have another one of the five in our collection: Audubon's Birds of America). But though the First Folio is the most famous and prized of the four, the Third Folio is arguably the rarest - it is said that most unsold copies were destroyed during the Great Fire of London in 1666. Regardless, all four are incredible works of art and we are truly privileged here at Miami to have them. It has been a pleasure and honor to work with them.

Happy browsing.

Marcus Ladd
Special Collections Digital Librarian

Forever Friends: Jack White and Special Collections

Miami University News: Class of 1958 alumnus honors mother’s legacy with bequest to Miami University Libraries

Costumed as a conductor for the Bicentennial, 1976

Costumed as a conductor for the Bicentennial, 1976


One of the pleasures of working in Special Collections is having the opportunity to meet individuals who share our passion for libraries, history, literature, the book and other forms of the written record, and the sheer joy that research and discovery can bring. Sometimes those people are faculty members, or researchers from out of town, or donors of beloved books or papers. Sometimes they’re students, encountering these joys for the first time. Looking in their eyes, you see the familiar gleam of excitement. Once in a great while it’s someone who fits all of those categories. Such an individual is John H. (Jack) White, Jr. Originally from Cincinnati, Jack attended Miami when the library was the Alumni Library (now Alumni Hall), and there was no Special Collections department. But his history professor, W.E. Smith, and Ned King, the Librarian, shared a special treasure with him: the Covington Collection, full of wonderful early books on the Old Northwest Territory, and off-limits to most students. Apparently they saw the future historian in Jack, and he has never forgotten the thrill of delving into those volumes, now one of the mainstay collections in the Walter Havighurst Special Collections.

Jack at DKE House 1956 enhanced

Jack at DKE House 1956


Jack graduated from Miami in 1958 with a degree in European history and obtained a job at the Smithsonian Institute, where he found himself curating transportation artifacts and materials. His love of history, combined with a knowledge of machinery and a fascination with the details of transportation, led to his nationally-acknowledged expertise and the authorship of a number of books and articles about railroads, steamboats, and the human drive to travel farther, faster, cheaper and more comfortably. His many awards include an honorary doctorate awarded by Miami in 1996. Later this month he travels to St. Louis, where he will receive the Captain Donald T. Wright Award for his distinguished contributions to river-related literature from the Herman T. Pott National Inland Waterways Library. When Jack retired from the Smithsonian in 1990 he chose to live in Oxford. Returning as an adjunct professor in the History Department at Miami, he also began a long relationship with Special Collections. That relationship has been marked by Jack’s continual generosity, including the establishment of an endowment to honor Janet Stuckey on her retirement in 2011 (the Stuckey Fund) , and most recently through the establishment of a very generous bequest to Special Collections. But Jack’s support of Special Collections has gone far beyond his financial gifts, as appreciated and as important as those are. Jack has been a constant and vocal supporter of Special Collections at the university and in the community. He has beat bushes for us. He has drummed up interest. He has sounded our trumpets. It seems only right that we recognize him and forever connect him with Special Collections. On Tuesday, March 17, we will celebrate our spring exhibit, The Ready Ones, with a reception from 4 to 6 p.m. At the beginning of that program Dean Jerome Conley will name the Special Collections exhibit gallery in honor of Jack and (at his request) his mother, Christine S. White. It was she who insisted he attend Miami, he says. Without her he wouldn’t have had the remarkable life he has. And we wouldn’t have Jack in our lives. We hope you’ll join us in recognizing Jack’s many contributions to Special Collections, as well as his mother’s gift of her son to Miami, the Smithsonian, the history of transportation, and us. It just wouldn’t be as much fun without you, Jack.

Elizabeth Brice

Assistant Dean for Technical Services & Special Collections


Railroad Hall, Museum of History and Technology, 1964

Railroad Hall, Museum of History and Technology, 1964

A New Department Head for the New Year

from East of the Sun and West of the Moon by Kay Nielsen, 1922, in the King Collection of Juvenile Literature.
from East of the Sun and West of the Moon by Kay Nielsen, 1922, in the King Collection of Juvenile Literature.

Happy New Year everyone, from all of us in Special Collections. We are looking forward to an exciting new year, full of changes.

First of all, we are welcoming a new Head of Special Collections & Archives, William M. Modrow. Bill comes to us from Florida State University and brings rich experience in instruction and outreach as well as rare books. You’ll be getting to know Bill virtually on these pages in the coming months, but I hope you’ll have the opportunity to meet him face to face as well. I know he’ll bring some great direction to the department.

Of course, change can be bittersweet. We had to say goodbye to Kim Tully last month when she left to accept a position at Temple University. We thank Kim for all she did while she was here and wish her well in her new job. We know she’ll do great things for Temple.

We are in the process of searching for Kim’s replacement, so we’ll be welcoming another librarian in the spring.

Speaking of spring, our spring semester exhibit will be curated by Katie Wills, a Miami history graduate student, who is producing a fascinating exhibit as part of her thesis. The Ready Ones: American Children, World War II, and Propaganda will be available in the Special Collections exhibit gallery from Monday, January 26 through May 15, 2015.

We're also delighted to have a new graduate assistant for spring semester. Dana Bogart, also a history grad student, will be completing her master's in May. Dana started working with us in December and is already proving herself an asset to the department.

Check back with us here for more on the exhibit, the spring exhibit reception, and some other changes coming later this year.

Meanwhile, stay warm, everyone, and best wishes for a happy, healthy 2015!

Elizabeth Brice
Assistant Dean for Technical Services & Special Collections

AP Story on the Myaamia Collection!

The Walter Havighurst Special Collections staff is pleased to announce the latest additions to the Myaamia Collection Online, eight original land grants from 1823 and 1843 to the Miami Tribe by Presidents Monroe and Tyler and Lafontaine's 1846 addition to the town of Huntington, Indiana.

Land Grant to Jean Baptiste Richardville
Front of 3rd land grant to John Baptiste Richardville in 1843
The land grants were also featured in an Associated Press story on Sunday, December 15th, and the story can be found in news sources across the country! As with the original annuity rolls in the Myaamia Collection Online, each land grant is accompanied by a transcription. We invite you all to explore these fascinating historical documents.