Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts

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Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts
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About the SDBM

Drawn from over 12,000 auction and sales catalogues, inventories, catalogues from institutional and private collections, and other sources that document sales and locations of manuscript books, the SDBM assists in locating and identifying particular manuscripts, establishing provenance, and aggregating descriptive information about specific classes or types of manuscripts. With thirty-six searchable fields, the SDBM provides broad searching through a range of discrete descriptive properties (see Field Definitions under Help in the left sidebar). Multiple references to the same manuscript are cross-referenced to facilitate the tracking of individual manuscripts. Every effort is made to match records so that the trail of ownership of a given manuscript can be traced from the earliest recorded owner to the present day. The Schoenberg Database is a work in progress, with new material added regularly. Penn Libraries Overseer and rare book enthusiast Lawrence J. Schoenberg, C'53, WG'56, began this project with the intent that it should become an online community resource. To this end, we welcome the input of users regarding all aspects of the database.

History of the Schoenberg-Penn Partnership

In 1997, Larry Schoenberg set out to build a database that would enable researchers to track and identify the world's manuscript books produced before 1600. Larry's primary goal was to provide online access to information on manuscripts. He began with a Microsoft Excel file that was eventually converted in 1999 to a Microsoft Access database. As the database grew, so did its user-base among manuscript scholars and aficionados who worked from copies supplied to them by Larry himself. Its increasing reputation as a research aid in manuscript studies necessitated a move to make it more easily accessible to a wider audience. As a dedicated Penn alumnus, Larry looked toward his alma mater. In 2005, the Schoenberg Center for Electronic Text and Image (SCETI) began hosting the database, where it remains today, freely accessible to all.

Over the years, the database grew through the efforts of Larry and his wife Barbara Brizdle, also a Penn Libraries Overseer. They have been assisted throughout this time by a number of researchers positioned in New York and several European cities. In 2007, the SDBM incorporated the data from the Jordanus Database of Scientific Manuscripts begun by Menso Folkerts of Institut für Geschichte der Naturwissenschaften at the University of Munich, raising the number of records to over 125,000.

With the growth of the database, the demands of managing researchers on two continents, and the mounting interest in adding more records to the database, the Schoenbergs and Penn Libraries began a partnership in June 2007 that enabled SCETI to hire new staff to manage, edit, and contribute new records to the database. In addition to their financial support, both Larry and Barbara continue to be involved in its all of its operations, from oversight to data entry and research. The Penn Libraries and SCETI provide professional expertise in the areas of information management, bibliographic standards, and web technologies.

The goals of the partnership are:
  • To transform the Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts into a comprehensive, online electronic resource for the study, identification, ownership, and transmission of medieval and early Renaissance manuscripts.
  • To build the database to its estimated potential of 250,000 records.
  • To expand the scope of the database so that it can serve as a "union catalog" of medieval and early modern manuscripts through collaboration and partnerships with other institutions and initiatives.