Make incunabula searchable
Error rate of around 1 percent?
Can letters and books of more than 500 years old be made digitally accessible like the contemporary letter?
Yes, that is what we have been working on for over 20 years. Especially since this is crucial for science and research. Now, making incunabula would not be that difficult, if you wouldn’t pay attention to the error rate. The error rate defines the quality of the search.
We are proud to say that we only have one margin of error!
What are “incunabula”
The term ‘incunable’ was coined around 1640 by the Westphagal scholar Bernhard von Mallinckrodt. Incunable is the anglicised form of incunabulum, reconstructed singular of Latin incunabula, which meant “swaddling clothes”, or “cradle”.
- Metaphorically this could and can refer to “the earliest stages or first traces in the development of anything” – as in the first steps of printing.
- Incunabs were printed from 1450 to December 31st 1500.
- The books of the period after 1500 are said to be post-incunabula.
What are the characteristics of incunabula
- Typical of this pressure, for example, are the upper case letters:
The corresponding figures are not printed, but are, as it were, drawn in.
- Incunabula are usually block books:
Books that are not printed with loose cast or cut letters, but in the form of pages made in one piece.
- The language of the incunabula is mostly Latin.
- In the early period of the incunabula there is no title sheet, a similar sheet stands at the end of the book. There is a colofon, a short notice in which the printer mentions his name, along with the place and year of the book.
The oldest incunable is a Bible, the so-called Gutenberg Bible, also called the forty-two-line Bible, after the number of lines.
In the mid-15th century, the number of publication editions did not exceed 300 copies.
Characteristic of the incunable period is that each printer cut and poured his own letters; the printing has a strong individual character.
The quality of the incunabula
In order to make the incunabtable searchable, a prerequisite is that the letters are in the best possible condition. We use a special software program for this purpose; a text enhancement program in which we can apply image filters. These image filters are stored in a profile. This way we achieve an optimal quality of these pages. It greatly improves quality and searchability (OCR). Some old texts have a recognition of more than 99%!