Digital Keys to Invisible Texts

Over the past three millennia, books and texts have been preserved in libraries and archives, but also been destroyed, as Richard Ovenden (Director of the Bodleian Library) writes in his book 'Burning the Books: A History of Knowledge Under Attack' (2020). The knowledge contained in these texts faces purposeful destruction and wilful neglect.

Even if we manage to preserve such texts, it can be a challenge to make the knowledge they contain accessible. Deep in the archives, we find documents and portions of texts that never made it into publication. Digital tools can be of help in revealing these secrets.

Often, we do not even realise how many cultural artefacts have been destroyed in the past. The study of ancient cultures is hindered by the incomplete survival of material artefacts, so we commonly underestimate the diversity of cultural production in historical societies. Digital tools, such as unseen species models applied in ecology, can help us gauge the loss of narratives from medieval Europe, such as the romances about King Arthur.

This Digital Hub event shows how digital tools can be employed to make invisible texts visible, from hidden modern manuscripts to lost medieval treasures.    


5:30pm: Introduction Richard Ovenden 

5:35pm: Lost and found: providing digital access to discarded drafts Dirk Van Hulle  

5:55pm: Forgotten books: the application of unseen species models to the survival of culture Mike Kestemont   

6:20pm: Q&A, followed by reception 

You are all very welcome! 



Richard Ovenden is Bodley’s Librarian. He is author of Burning the Books: A History of Knowledge under Attack (2020) and has published widely on the history of collecting, the history of photography and on professional concerns of the library, archive, and information world.

Dirk Van Hulle is Professor of Bibliography and Modern Book History at the University of Oxford. He directs the Oxford Centre for Textual Editing and Theory (OCTET) and the Beckett Digital Manuscript Project. His most recent book is Genetic Criticism: Tracing Creativity in Literature (OUP, 2022).

Mike Kestemont is Associate Research Professor in the Department of Literature at the University of Antwerp (Belgium). He specializes in computational text analysis for the Digital Humanities. Whereas his work has a strong focus on historical literature, his previous research has covered a wide range of topics in literary history, including classical, medieval, early modern and modernist texts. Together with Folgert Karsdorp and Allen Riddell he has written a textbook on data science for the Humanities. The persistence of cultural information over long stretches of time is his key research topic at the moment.