||The recent work of the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) in developing an XML standard for manuscript description has provided an opportunity to explore methods of making such information more widely available through a web-based system. The emergence of native XML databases as a viable storage mechanism has made web delivery of XML-encoded material easier and more efficient.
The presentation discusses a prototype system developed as part of a research project carried out at the University of Copenhagen's ArnamagnŠan Institute in the summer of 2005. The ArnamagnŠan Manuscript Collection, which derives its name from the Icelandic scholar and antiquarian ┴rni Magn˙sson (1663-1730), comprises the single most important collection of early Nordic manuscripts in the world, in all some 3000 items, the bulk of them Icelandic. The collection is divided between sister institutes in Copenhagen and ReykjavÝk.
In 1997, representatives of the two ArnamagnŠan institutes began looking into the possibility of reuniting the two halves of the collection virtually, in particular through the development of a searchable web-based catalogue. From January 1999 through June 2001, the ArnamagnŠan Institute in Copenhagen participated in the MASTER project, an EU-funded project whose goal was to define and implement a general purpose standard for the description of manuscript materials using XML. Since then, encoding work has proceeded apace at both institutes, if at times only slowly, and there are now at least minimal records for the entire collection. There has not, however, until now, been a suitable system for searching and browsing these records, and the goal of the research project was to create a such a system.
Using PHP and the eXist native XML database, a three-tier web database application was developed. Users are provided with a facility for executing queries on the database through a web form designed to allow complex query formulation involving many different criteria. The web system is multi-lingual and places an emphasis on usability, standards-compliance and the use of open-source software.
The realisation of this resource demonstrates a method by which other institutions may undertake similar projects involving XML-encoded source material. Because the manuscript records are encoded in standardised TEI XML and have a known and consistent structure, the potential exists for integrating records from this project with those from other collections, thereby creating a larger and more complete catalogue. Indeed, this could easily be the first step toward a (virtual) union catalogue of manuscripts in European repositories. And by allowing users to combine many different search criteria, it also has the potential to change the way people do research into manuscripts. The presentation will comprise a demonstration of the web resource, including examples of XML source material, the eXist database system, application code, and the web interface.