Cushing Library Participates in Mellon Foundation Grant to University

Marketing and Communications | October 17, 2012

Texas A&M University has received a two-year development grant for $734,000 from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for the university’s Early Modern OCR Project (eMOP), an interdisciplinary effort created to develop new methods and tools to improve the digitization, transcription and preservation of early modern texts. Headed by Dr. Laura Mandell, director of the Initiative for Digital Humanities, Media and Culture (IDHMC) in the College of Liberal Arts, the team of collaborators and principal investigators consists of Dr. Richard Furuta, professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering; Dr. Ricardo Gutierrez-Osuna, associate professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering; Dr. Todd Samuelson, Rare Books and Manuscripts curator and Mr. Anton duPlessis, Mexican Colonial curator, both of Cushing Memorial Library and Archives.

“We’re pleased to share the knowledge and technological skills of our curators with the interdisciplinary team on this major digitization project,” David Carlson, dean of the University Libraries, said. “It will benefit the broader scholarly community and advance the future of humanities scholarship.”

Early printing technology with its peculiar fonts and characters is difficult for Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software to discern and make readable for digital output, according to Samuelson. “This challenging, complex task is particularly well suited to the University Libraries with its commitment to scholarly access and expertise in the book arts,” he said.

Known for its collections in printing history, Cushing Library sponsors an annual Book History Workshop directed by Samuelson. Under his supervision, participants are introduced to elements of early book production such as casting and setting type. Drawing upon his knowledge of type and older fonts, Samuelson will create a database of typefaces commonly used in early modern English books. A tool for searching the database will also be developed by Cushing staff.

While Samuelson develops the database, duPlessis will be working with Cobre, a corrective tool used in another Cushing initiative, the Primeros Libros project. Led by Cushing, this project aims to digitize the first books printed in the Americas in collaboration with other institutions.

“Incorporating Cobre in the eMOP project will allow specialists to annotate and correct images to overcome misidentification of fonts, poorly scanned pages and other errors,” duPlessis said. “Digitizing early texts is a delicate and very exacting task. Ensuring scholarly accuracy is paramount in this project.”