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People at the University of Turin (and at the University of Pisa, and at the University of Mississippi, among other places) are digitizing the Vercelli Book, and the beta version is now on-line.  The Vercelli Book is the Old English manuscript that contains, among other things, the poem known as “The Dream of the Rood” — “A Vision of the True Cross” would be a more accurate title, in my opinion, but custom is custom.

Seriously, folks, I would have given my eye-teeth for something like this back when I was studying Old English in graduate school.  And the on-line grammars, and the on-line dictionaries . . . I counted myself fortunate, in those days, that I was able to convince my parents that copies of Bosworth-Toller (the big fat dictionary for Old English) and Cleasby-Vigfusson (the equivalent for Old Icelandic) made excellent Christmas and birthday presents.  Given their size and weight, they also made excellent doorstops.

Why are Italian universities spearheading the Vercelli digitization project?  Well . . . the Vercelli Book is called the Vercelli Book because it lives in the library of the cathedral in Vercelli, Italy.  How a collection of Old English poetry ended up in Italy nobody is certain, but it’s been there since the 11th century at least.  (Things became unsettled, to put it mildly, in England during the latter part of the 11th century; it’s possible the manuscript left home at that time.  But nobody knows for sure.)

We’ve come a long way since the days when putting together a grammar or a dictionary or a variorum edition meant working with stacks and stacks of index cards.  God, I love technology.