HMML receives $1.4 million from National Endowment for the Humanities

The Hill Museum & Manuscript Library at St. John’s University in Collegeville has received $1,408,474 in grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities to support its mission to preserve and share the world’s handwritten heritage.

Father Najeeb Michaeel, OP, (left) and Benedictine Father Columba Stewart examine manuscripts for digitization at Centre Numérique des Manuscrits Orientaux in Qarah Qūsh, Iraq. Father Najeeb is now the Archbishop of Mosul; because of continued instability in the region CNMO and its remaining manuscripts have been forced to move to Erbil, Iraq. (photo by Wayne Torborg)

The grant will fund a three-year project to catalog 53,000 digitized manuscripts and create an online database of authors and titles originating from under-represented or little-known literary traditions.

“Our agency is proud to be a leading funder of this vital project,” NEH chairman Jon Parrish Peede said in a news release. “Generations of international scholarship will spring from this meticulous cataloging initiative.”

Of the total amount, $1,208,474 is an outright grant, and $200,000 must be matched by funds raised by HMML.

Across the Middle East, Africa and Europe, there are Christian and Islamic handwritten books and scrolls previously unknown, inaccessible and endangered by weather, war and civil unrest, according to HMML. In many cases, these documents are the only surviving records of local cultures that existed in the past, and HMML has been working for years to photograph and digitize them. The grant funds will be used to support the work of seven catalogers and metadata experts to make the manuscripts available online to scholars all over the world.

“Cataloging is an essential step in preserving cultural heritage,” said Benedictine Father Columba Stewart, executive director of HMML. “If a manuscript is digitized and preserved but not findable and accessible to the world, it cannot be read, studied or appreciated. We are deeply grateful to NEH for recognizing the value of this work and for supporting our efforts to shine a light on these remarkable and significant manuscript traditions.”

All manuscripts cataloged under this project will be made accessible on HMML’s online “Reading Room” at

The grant will also empower HMML to develop vHMML Data, a new database of author names and titles related to manuscript traditions not currently represented in standard reference tools such as the Library of Congress database of authorities. vHMML Data will be freely accessible online for use by other libraries and projects. The project will be led by Daniel Gullo, HMML’s coordinator of digital humanities projects.

Two technicians from the Digital Center for Eastern Manuscripts project, trained by HMML, photograph a manuscript in Northern Iraq. (photo courtesy of HMML)

“I am very proud that HMML, in partnership with NEH, is taking the initiative to digitally preserve and make accessible to scholars — and to all of us — the heritage of humankind as represented in Christian and Islamic manuscripts,” said Lyndel King, chair of HMML’s board of overseers. “It is so important, particularly in our perilous contemporary times, that we understand our history. HMMLS’s work, enabled by this NEH grant, gives us access to some of humanity’s most important written traditions.”

Established in 1965, HMML is a global cultural organization whose mission is to preserve and share the world’s manuscript heritage. It has formed partnerships with over 580 libraries and archives worldwide. HMML has three areas of focus: digital preservation of rare and endangered manuscripts; cataloging and sharing the manuscripts online; and fostering research and education about the cultures that produced them. In 2019, NEH named Father Stewart the Jefferson Lecturer, the highest honor bestowed by the federal government in the humanities.

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Author: The Central Minnesota Catholic

The Central Minnesota Catholic is the magazine for the Diocese of St. Cloud.

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