Pietro Mellini’s Inventory in Verse, 1681: A Digital Facsimile with Translation and Commentary, is a digital publication that began as a research project focused on Pietro Mellini’s Inventory in Verse, a previously unpublished and highly unique, hybrid manuscript that is preserved in the Getty Research Institute’s (GRI) special collections. Also known as the Digital Mellini Project, Pietro Mellini’s Inventory in Verse, 1681 is a digital resource that explores Web 2.0 methods of social information gathering and sharing to create a new kind of living, collaborative publication that offers expanded opportunities for research and communication. The Digital Mellini Project comprises essays apropos to the Inventory, a transcription and translation of the inventory text, and preserved scholarly dialogue (e.g. textual annotations and comments) that augments readers’ experiences. In allegiance with the burgeoning movement amongst galleries, libraries, archives, and museums towards publishing, researching, and collaborating in digital environments, the Digital Mellini Project was built in an open source environment, is free online, and is open content.
When endeavoring to bridge the divide between pre-digital and digital era scholarship, it is essential to confront long-standing challenges while also setting standards for the future. In both content and concept, the collaborative Digital Mellini team does just that by digitally publishing a 17th century manuscript using Web 2.0 technologies; Digital Mellini addresses persistent art historical research challenges and questions that have carried over into the digital age: questions of how texts are related to the various roles of artworks and how much a text can reveal about the art and culture of its period, and challenges of establishing best practices for fruitful collaboration. Keeping these questions in mind, the project team set out to achieve three goals: first, to make this innovative resource widely available to researchers in art history and other humanitarian disciplines; second, to explore new methods and tools for digital publication with other art historians; and third, to develop a model for building collaborative digital publications that incorporate facsimiles of historical texts, annotation of texts and images, and forums for scholarly communication and knowledge sharing.
Using digital technologies and strategies (i.e. linking to relevant databases and using controlled vocabularies for metadata, such as the Getty’s Union List of Artist Names) to create a new network of knowledge, the Digital Mellini Project team achieved these projected goals, charting a new direction for art history and humanities scholarship. Digital Mellini demonstrates an efficient use of technology as a tool of dissemination for primary source materials (which are, in the project’s unique case, the 17th century manuscript and the “pop-up” dialogue of the scholarly team who studied it). Furthermore, by providing a comprehensive bibliography and a citation button, and a downloadable PDF-version of the manuscript and its transcriptions and translations for classroom use, the Digital Mellini Project exemplifies a comprehensive digital resource—one that makes previously inaccessible content and its scholarly context accessible, both online and offline. Ultimately, the Digital Mellini Project is a case study in creating digital tools for cultural heritage research and scholarship—one that, while prioritizing accessibility, aims to efficiently and appropriately expedite the process of art history and humanities scholarship “catching up” to the digital age.