Through its faculty and library resources, the University of Pennsylvania has long been at the forefront of book history and material text research, especially in the early modern era. Building on this strength, the Kislak Center is actively becoming a node for provenance history research. This research is essential for understanding how texts moved through the early modern world, what kinds of books collectors and libraries of the period valued, and the nature of print and manuscript cultural production.
Born out of the CLIR Hidden Collections Project, Promoting Research through Rare Book Cataloging Partnerships (2011-2014), the Penn Provenance Project was created by the Kislak Center’s cataloging team which captured more than 11,000 images of provenance markings, bookstamps, and bindings. Dating largely from the early modern period, these invaluable witnesses to the history of book culture and circulation are available to the world through Flickr for viewing, comment, and identification. The Penn Provenance Project differs from many other provenance initiatives in that it places digital images of markings, stamps, and inscriptions alongside bibliographic information. This visual data allows researchers and the public to compare physical objects all around the world and will eventually enable scholars to survey the landscape of early modern book culture with ease and precision. There have been over one million page views of the site and the project has proved useful in identifying a number of previously unknown book owners. The global community for the site includes people from many backgrounds, including experts in paleography from Germany as well as non-academics.
The Kislak Center is now poised to develop the Penn Provenance Project well beyond the boundaries of our own collection in order to help identify and curate marks of ownership from book and manuscript holdings worldwide. A CLIR Postdoctoral Fellow in Data Curation for Early Modern Studies (soon to be hired) will serve as an integral part of the Penn Provenance Project team as it plans and executes the transition from Flickr. The CLIR fellow will also have responsibility of curating the data generated by the expanded project and ensuring that all data gathered and generated by the Penn Provenance Project and partners is available openly and linked with larger early modern data repositories.