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Archivests Reconstruct Historical Document

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Researchers from UCL and London Metropolitan Archives have digitally reconstructed one of the most important historical documents from Northern Ireland, making it readable for the first time in over 200 years.

The “Great Parchment Book of the Honourable the Irish Society” contains key data about land-owners and the population of the Irish province of Ulster and the city of Londonderry in the mid-17th century, at a time of social, religious, and political upheaval. Unfortunately, it was severely damaged in a fire at London’s Guildhall in 1786, and was so left so fragile that its contents were inaccessible. A cutting-edge digital imaging project began in 2010 to conserve and virtually restore it, with archivists, conservators, imaging scientists, historians, computer scientists, and digital humanities experts working together. This project digitally reconstructed the severely fire damaged parchment, using low cost methods to digitise and create a 3D reconstruction of the text, and then using advanced computer graphics procedures to virtually flatten the document, and recreate images of the text prior to damage, making it finally readable.

Edward Montgomery, Secretary of The Honourable The Irish Society, said in November 2016: “We are delighted that The Honourable The Irish Society has been part of a major collaborative project to bring The Great Parchment Book, one of its most historic documents, ‘back to life’. The Book is a marvellous testament to history and provides a detailed account from 1639 of the City of London’s role in the Plantation of Ulster and its administration. It is a valuable tool for anyone interested in their ancestral history within Ulster and an excellent teaching aid for those exploring early modern Ireland.”

The contents of the Great Parchment Book are now available freely to family historians, genealogists and researchers at http://www.greatparchmentbook.org/, and the paper that describes the technical process is now published with Oxford University Press at https://academic.oup.com/dsh/article/2670757/Digitally-reconstructing-the-Great-Parchment-Book.

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