Conducted under the supervision of Professor Alexandra Gillespie, the mad idea behind this research project first emerged at the IIIF 2015: Access to the World's Images conference in Ghent, Beligum. While demoing IIIF viewers at the conference, one of Professor Gillespie's undergraduate students suggested integrating the IIIF API into a game development engine and rendering medieval books in the same way that books appear in mainstream video games such as Bethesda Softworks’s The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. After an over-caffeinated night of brainstorming ideas in a chain of international e-mails spanning multiple time-zones, lo, Book of Fame was born!

INSPIRED BY Chaucer's House of FAME

Geoffrey Chaucer's The House of Fame serves as the thematic inspiration for the project's central conceit of gathering and compiling manuscript images within an interconnected virtual space that is capable of repackaging (and in some cases, even rewriting) old texts for the information age. The House of Fame is a medieval dream vision concerned with the processes of literary transmission and narrative authority which underlie the construction of literary fame. Waking within an ethereal temple of glass, Geoffrey encounters a brass tablet that is inscribed with the text of Virgil's Aeneid, and proceeds to summarize the tale for the audience while introducing narrative details borrowed from Homer and Ovid's accounts of the same story. Geoffrey is next treated to a veritable flight of fancy spanning the four sublunar spheres, tracing the path of literary transmission in reverse as he flies to the House of Fame, where texts receive their stamp of authority, and then to the House of Rumour, where these same texts are revealed to have been produced by the marriage of truths and falsehoods. Chaucer's suggestion that the processes of speaking, writing, and reading introduce the text into an imaginative space where it will be subject to alteration presents an ideal opportunity for thinking about the existence of texts on the web, which is yet another virtual space where old texts are repeatedly being recalled and repackaged to fit a variety of purposes.


The International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF) is an on-going initiative among the international scholarly community to standardize how online libraries organize and encode digital images, which includes two-dimensional artwork, photographs, and - most importantly for scholars of medieval literature such as ourselves - digitized medieval manuscripts. In addition to providing repositories with a compatibility model for the organization and distribution of images, the IIIF community offers a flexible application programming interface that can be plugged into web pages as well as dedicated image viewing software that allows scholars to create their own unique workspace for analyzing and comparing images stored in repositories around the world.

From a book history perspective, digital manuscript repositories aim to make manuscripts accessible for study while protecting the original artefact. As a consequence, the digital surrogate becomes the product that is widely transmitted, read, and annotated while the original book is left untouched. Similarly, the IIIF API uses a "shared canvas model" by which images and annotation metadata are displayed on separate layers of the same canvas. Unlike the open format of the metadata that allows users to contribute their own annotations to the server, image retrieval operates as a one-way process that sends a copy of the file to the viewer to serve as the base upon which metadata will be arranged. Despite efforts to segregate the digital surrogate from its accumulated metadata, these digital annotations will still be read in conversation with the glosses etched into the physical artefact, which poses a challenge to the assumed hierarchy between physical and digital text.

All information and images about the shared canvas model have been lifted from the IIIF web site,, for your viewing convenience.

However, even the most basic IIIF-compliant viewing programs are created with academics in mind and require some background in codicology or even programming to use all of their features. Rather than forcing casual users to adapt to a foreign and overly technical environment, our project proposes wrapping IIIF technology in an aesthetic that blends old and new: the familiar codex book rendered in an environment whose interface takes its cues from established video game conventions.