In recent times, interdisciplinary approaches have gained widespread popularity for reinvigorating scientific fields that have struggled with conventional methodologies. This is particularly evident in the humanities, where the advent of digitisation and digital databases has transformed many traditional cultural institutions, making their cultural heritage available for study and use.

Over the past decade, there has been substantial growth in interdisciplinary cooperation between humanities fields, including philology, art history, monument preservation and restoration, and experts from the natural and computer sciences.  The methods linked with IT technologies, alongside recent developments in research and analysis, provide a range of tools and analytical skills that can be used for the in situ study and analysis of historic manuscript heritage monuments.

This approach offers a fresh outlook for the philological examination of various manuscript artefacts, particularly those that are damaged or poorly preserved, parchment codices, palimpsests with multiple manuscript layers, and those possessing multiple images. The assessment of the constituent material of a manuscript artefact, including ink composition, pigments, binder, chemical and multispectral analysis, is increasingly being employed to authenticate its historical and textual reliability. Based on this data, the impartial examination of a variety of textual and documentary sources is embarking on a new phase and gaining popularity among historians and philologists. Additionally, scrutinising the composition of the monument being studied enhances its dating accuracy and facilitates a more exact categorisation. The ultimate goal of this new kind of teamwork is to bring the totality of all interdisciplinary research together, highlighting the interrelationship of the data from the different patterns of analysis and thus arriving at new knowledge about already known, or newly studied, sites.

In recent times, there has been a growing focus among libraries and museums on the medieval manuscript legacy and its digital interpretation. Nonetheless, a majority of institutions encounter a lack of trained experts skilled in digital capture and in the handling of damaged or poorly conserved parchment codices palimpsests. The project is of value as it allows PhD, Masters, and undergraduate students from University of Library Studies and Information Technologies (ULSIT) to participate in research activities. This provides them with the opportunity to gain experience and knowledge in working with multispectral imaging, chemical, microbiological, and DNA analysis, as well as database compilation. Such experiences enable the preparation of staff that can meet international standards for libraries and museums.

The changing frontiers of political and economic integration, as well as shifts in traditional geopolitical thinking, are driving the relevance of written heritage. This changing landscape affects the scope and content of heritage, necessitating new criteria for authenticity and shifting methods of research, preservation, conservation, use, and management.

The introduction of modern methods and tools for researching the manuscript monuments in Bulgarian libraries has resulted in a number of challenges for philologists in Bulgaria. On the one hand, these issues stem from the insufficient use of state-of-the-art techniques for examining and digitising the cultural heritage manuscripts housed in Bulgarian (and other) libraries. This is largely due to scholars' inadequate training in contemporary analytical methods and the unavailability of suitable laboratory equipment. On the other hand, these problems are also influenced by monument-specific challenges such as the preservation level, dating, graphical and font presentation, orthography, and other similar factors.

Through the use of multispectral imaging and non-invasive interdisciplinary research methods, it is possible to resolve issues concerning the dating of the monument from material data, identification of the region in which it was created, and restoration of damaged text or images when the condition of the monument is poor. Additionally, the digitisation of palimpsest manuscript layers and the creation of a database based on both quantitative and qualitative criteria, obtained through interdisciplinary means, is an important element in the study of Bulgaria's cultural heritage manuscripts. However, quantitative and qualitative criteria in this field are currently lacking or very poorly covered.

Finally, the overall quality and international reputation of the publications, as well as the integration of the Bulgarian scholarly community in a global context, will be enhanced by the implementation of an interdisciplinary approach to the study of manuscript monuments.

The main objective of the project is to establish a team equipped to deal with manuscript monuments, using the most advanced non-invasive methods and techniques, and making use of leading European and global expertise, in order to carry out in-depth study, interpretation and reinterpretation of the monuments of the Bulgarian manuscript heritage, in a precise manner, taking into account proper chronological parallels and readings, examining the cultural and historical context, and creating conditions for comparative analysis of the data resulting from the application of such research methods.

The project argues that the outcomes of the intricate interdisciplinary technique utilised in exploring the medieval manuscript legacy can assist in solving complicated inquiries pertaining to the dating, geographical provenance, and history of the monument. To achieve this, the interdisciplinary method of investigation will be outlined, including multispectral digitization, computer image processing, hyperspectral and spectroscopic analysis (XRF, FTIR, Raman, UV-vis) of the constituent material of the manuscripts (e.g. parchment, inks, pigments, colourants, etc.), enabling identification of the main characteristics of the manuscripts. By utilizing paleographic, orthographic, and linguistic analyses, supplemented by microbiological testing (including DNA and metagenome analysis) of both the parchment and its surface microbiota (including viruses and bacteria) in specific cases, one can acquire accurate and duplicated results..

The project's objective is to acquire knowledge about the experiences of leading institutions such as the CIMA laboratory, European scientific, educational and cultural institutes, and apply them to solve complex historical, philological and other tasks. Additionally, the project aims to train specialists to work with the technique and analyse data in the fields. Scientific tasks encompass Computer Vision, material chemistry, philological readings of text, and codicological feature descriptions of manuscripts using multispectral images from the accessible CIMA database. Additionally, scientific investigations include digital processing, spectroscopic and philological analyses, visualization, documentation, and classification of manuscript monuments and palimpsests situated in Bulgarian libraries.

The project will create a teaching laboratory and database to meet the educational and research requirements at ULSIT.

These skills will serve as the foundation for a pertinent training module that will be available to undergraduate, masters, and PhD students at UniBIT and other universities.

The project establishes opportunities for scholars, master's and PhD students to travel and learn, while also promoting the integration of handwritten heritage into the training of professionals from various fields, such as IT and chemistry. This not only extends their understanding but also supports the conservation of cultural heritage.


The Centre of Image and Material Analysis in Cultural Heritage

The Centre of Image and Material Analysis in Cultural Heritage (CIMA) is an interuniversity research institution which was established at the beginning of 2014 in the framework of the HRSM-project “Analysis and Conservation of Cultural Heritage – Modern Imaging and Material Analysis Methods for the Visualization, Documentation and Classification of Historical Written Material (Manuscripts)”. Specialized on research in the fields of imaging, image enhancement and analysis as well as the non-invasive chemical analysis of the materials used for the production of historical objects, CIMA represents a unique facility with an interdisciplinary approach to the investigation of cultural heritage.

The Centre brought together the expertise of different disciplines from several Viennese universities: Philology (University of Vienna), Computer Science (Vienna University of Technology), Chemistry and Material Science (Vienna Academy of Fine Arts) and Restoration/Conservation (Danube University Krems). Since the partners involved can already look back on several years of successful cooperation in the relevant field, the main idea behind the foundation of CIMA was to prolong and intensify this cooperation by establishing a central laboratory offering its services to universities, libraries, museums, exhibitions, etc.

Presently the focus of CIMA is on manuscripts. The manuscripts originate from the Middle Ages and are written in different languages and scripts. During the first three-year period mainly Slavic, Greek and Latin parchment manuscripts and palimpsests from the Austrian National Library and various Austrian monasteries dating from the 8th until the 14th century are being analyzed. Apart from richly decorated codices, the experts of the CIMA are focusing primarily on poorly preserved objects and manuscripts containing overwritten text (palimpsests) that pose particular challenges to the philological decipherment.

CIMA experts have vast experience in leading and running cultural heritage projects and play an important role in various national and international activities.

Major research areas are: Multispectral imaging, image enhancement; material analysis via non-invasive, non-destructive methods (XRF, rFTIR, Raman); philological analysis (decipherment) and interpretation of the manuscript data.

Using modern technologies, the activities of CIMA aim at the acquisition of new and improved data about historical sources, on the one hand, and at the improvement of the equipment and the methods of their investigation, on the other. In the course of the project a common database will be implemented which contains the information gained from the imaging, image enhancement, chemical and philological investigations. The final objective of the research is to compare the data gained, to reveal correlations within data stemming from multiple modalities and, in general, to make new scholarly and scientific findings.

CIMA's website