Now is a great time to be a medievalist. More and more beautiful, high-resolution, images of medieval manuscripts are appearing online.
However, it can be difficult to a) find these images, b) know whether you are allowed to use them, and c) know where you stand when it comes to reproducing them in open access publications (where the licence often states that content can be adapted and shared freely). Therefore, with significant help from my friend and colleague Kate Thomas (For the Wynn) and the insights given to me by others on Twitter, I’ve put together a list of collections which have a researcher-friendly policies regarding downloading and sharing manuscript images. I’ve decided to focus this post on collections that include material from the medieval and early modern period, but many (most?) of them also extend beyond that timeframe. Please contact me with recommendations, if you have further examples of repositories that have put their images in the public domain.
Edit: many manuscripts are digitised and uploaded as part of image viewers, where the user can pan around the image and even zoom to a very high resolution. However, the image is often either a) downloadable only as a thumbnail to medium size image via a button above the viewer, or b) when you right click to save the image, it grabs a low-res image of whatever part of the image you are viewing at the time. These images will be useless for publication. Undoubtedly these viewers have their uses, and a low resolution image can be used fruitfully on blogs/Twitter/other online publications – so I have included them below. However, I have begun to indicate below where high resolution images are easily downloadable, as this is important to those hoping to publish with these images.
The British Library, Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts. This collection is available via a Public Domain Mark which indicates that there are no copyright restrictions on reproduction, adaptation, republication or sharing of the content available from the site. The full reuse information is here. [high resolution]
The Walters Manuscript and Rare Book Collection. All of these images are released for free under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license for anyone who wants to use them. The Walters’ Flickr page also makes images available under a ShareAlike 2.0 licence. Both of these licences allow free sharing and adaptation of the image, on the understanding that it will be credited appropriately (which all good medievalists should aspire to!) This collection is remarkable for its illuminated and illustrated Islamic manuscripts (9th-19th centuries), found here. [high resolution]
The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. Splendid illuminated manuscripts from the museum’s collection. Images may be used for non-commercial research purposes, with appropriate credit. However, the downloadable version of each image is low-resolution and high resolution images need to be ordered, and fees might apply. See here for policy.
Getty Collection. Thousands of images are available to download and reuse under the Getty’s ‘Open Content Program‘. Where this is the case, the words ‘This image is available for download, without charge, under the Getty’s Open Content Program.’ appear directly under the image. this as is the case with this stunning image from an 11th century sacramentary. [high resolution]
Wellcome Images. Hundreds of thousands of images are made available here under a CC-BY licence. I don’t find this website particularly easy to use, but it presents a wonderful collection of manuscripts relating to wellbeing and medicine. Once you do navigate to the image that you want to use, the high-resolution version is available to download and reuse in publications as you wish. [high resolution]
Wellcome Arabic Manuscripts. Comprises around 1000 manuscript books and fragments relating to the history of medicine. ‘The core of these collections relates to the great heritage of classical medicine, preserved, enlarged and commentated on throughout the Islamic world, stretching from Southern Spain to South and South-east Asia.’ Images and metadata can be used free of charge under the Creative Commons 2.0 (UK and Ireland). [high resolution]