The digitization and enhanced cataloguing of the 206 incunabula held at the Monastery of Santa Scolastica in Subiaco have been conceived as part of a pilot module-based project focused mainly on the small collections found in public or ecclesiastical institutions or belonging to private individuals, which frequently contain rare material and are often difficult to access. In terms of issues of security, conservation and use, such collections often require special attention.

The project is coordinated and directed by the National Central Library in Rome (‘Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Roma’ or BNCR), in partnership with the Consortium of European Research Libraries (CERL), and with the Benedictine monastery of Santa Scolastica in Subiaco. It is generously funded by the Polonsky Foundation, as part of their programme to support the preservation and dissemination of cultural heritage and free access to knowledge.

The project took as its starting point the eleven libraries which belong to the so-called category of ‘Monumenti Nazionali’ which comprises the suppressed abbeys and monasteries taken over by the Italian State at the end of the 19th century following the laws of expropriation and now overseen by the Ministry of Cultural Affairs and Tourism (MiBACT). They include the Abbey of S. Giustina; the Abbey of Praglia; the Abbey of Montecassino; the Charterhouse of Trisulti; the Abbey of Farfa; the Abbey of S. Nilo in Grottaferrata; the Monastery of S. Scolastica in Subiaco; the Abbey of Casamari; the Badia of Cava dei Tirreni; the Oratory of the Gerolamini in Naples.

The library of the Benedictine monastery of Santa Scolastica was singled out as the first such collection to be included in the project since it was here in the period between 1464 and 1467 that two German printers, Conrad Sweynheym and Arnold Pannartz, introduced the Ars artificialiter scribendi to Italy and produced what were the first Italian incunabula.

The research model guiding the project looks at multiple aspects of the 15th-century books which are its object – as material artefacts and as texts - and not only the books in themselves but all the documents which relate to them and to the collections where they are found - catalogues and inventories, manuscript copies used as copy-texts for printed editions, archival records.

The data relating to the collection at Subiaco have been added to national and international databases. Bibliographical descriptions and numbers of copies have been integrated into the Italian union catalogue SBN-Libro Antico - which in turn is included in the Heritage of the Printed Book Database (HPB) run by CERL - and the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue (ISTC). The analytical description of provenance and other copy-specific information for each copy has been added to the database Material Evidence in Incunabula (MEI), which reconstructs the history of individual copies of incunabula found in collections across the world, while the analysis of textual content has been added to TEXT-inc, a corpus of texts printed in the 15th century. Illustrations are recorded in 15cILLUSTRATION, while the watermarks found in the incunabula printed by Sweynheym and Pannartz in Subiaco and also subsequently in Rome have been captured using multispectral imaging to facilitate further research on these early specimens.

The project has its own dedicated website, which connects the digital reproductions of the 206 incunabula, hosted in the digital repository of BNCR, with other relevant material such as printer’s manuscript copies, catalogues, etc., as well as with their descriptions in ISTC, GW, MEI, TEXT-inc, 15cILLUSTRATION, OPAC SBN, OPAC-BVE, for a comprehensive approach to editions and copies. Links to the digital versions can also be found in all the databases associated with the project, with the possibility of adding further links.

Moreover, the website includes several other digital outputs, such as a video on the invention of printing and the history of its introduction at Subiaco and another on the transmission of knowledge from manuscript to print; a video-story on the eleven libraries of the ‘Monumenti nazionali’, and blogs written by the researchers who have worked on the project.