Prototype 3D Book Viewer

The “Book of Fame” prototype is a Unity-based viewing application that uses the International Image Interoperability Framework’s (IIIF) application programming interface (API) to display high-resolution manuscript images in the form of a fully rendered, three-dimensional virtual book. Our project aims to enhance access to digital manuscript repositories while presenting literary scholars with a new way to interact with their research materials.

Taking the manuscript’s codicological description as its structural base, our program models and compiles gatherings of blank leaves which are then textured with image files retrieved from the library’s server. Pages are layered with IIIF-served metadata containing area definitions, annotations, and textual transcriptions that the user can manipulate using a gamified user interface. For example, the “lens of authority” tool allows the user to raise a magnifying glass to the page and reveal a plain-text transcription of its writing. Both the image files and metadata are wrapped up in a custom binding inspired by real medieval artifacts, mirroring the medieval process of rebinding old manuscripts within a digital environment.

What research questions does the "Book of Fame" prototype illuminate and investigate?
Bibliographers have faced a conundrum in the sudden emergence and popularization of the eBook, where the disembodiment of the text from its physical binding has dismissed its life as a physical artifact and flattened the experience of reading to fit the confines of a computer screen. Yet the act of reading a book cannot be reduced to a visual recognition of words upon a surface: readers track their progress by feeling a gradual accumulation of turned pages, they perceive a tangible relationship between the text on the verso and the recto of a leaf, and they pen referential notes within the printed margins - all of which are contained by the physical binding of the book that marks the tangible bounds of the reading experience. By seeking to use video game technology to undo the flattening of books within the digital age, our research project asks users to consider the difference between experiencing artefacts in three dimensions as opposed to only two.

Expand the scope of IIIF technologies
By implementing IIIF technology into a video game development engine and binding manuscript images into a virtual book, “Book of Fame” presents these artefacts within a controlled environment that is governed by conventions that are familiar to anyone who has ever held a book or played a video game. Such a virtual environment also bypasses logistical problems like library access and copyright laws, providing users with a simple and direct means of interacting with the artefacts contained within digital repositories. Recapturing the lost dimensions of digitized manuscripts “Book of Fame” restores features of the physical book that have been ignored within the traditional e-publishing model to the detriment of manuscript scholarship. Some of these features include the size of the object, its codicological composition, texture, binding and evidence of rebinding, wear sustained throughout its provenance, the recto page’s direct relationship to its verso, paper type and quality, watermarks and other details that only reveal themselves in certain circumstances (such as beneath infrared lighting).

Recreating artefacts that (can) no longer exist
Studying the provenance of older books often reveals that such books have at some point had their leaves separated, traded, and rebound. In particular, medieval books are found to have taken a number of different forms throughout their lifetimes. An advantage of the virtual environment is the ability to gather manuscript leaves from different libraries and shuffle them into different orders, recreating prior forms of a book or proposing new ones altogether - as in the study of The Canterbury Tales, whose known fragments can accommodate multiple coherent orders. Using “Book of Fame,” such research can be conducted without ever disturbing the priceless physical artefact.

Open up new ways in which glosses, annotations, and metadata can interact
By integrating IIIF’s access to the world’s images into the controlled environment of a video game development engine, “Book of Fame” allows scholars to manipulate and set three levels of annotations in conversation with one another: (1) glosses inscribed on the physical text and present on the scanned digital image, (2) annotations by contemporary scholars hosted on the library’s server, and (3) local annotations provided by the user for personal reference which do not alter the original manuscript or its digital surrogate.