Dr. Livingstone's diary deciphered
June 3, 2012 8:41 AM   Subscribe

For more than two years, scholars and imaging scientists have been using advanced scanning techniques to recover the mostly illegible contents of an 1871 field diary kept by the British explorer David Livingstone in Africa. Low on paper and ink, the explorer had resorted to writing on newspaper sheets, with ink made from berries, and over time the original document had become almost impossible to read. Now the team has unveiled an online “multispectral critical edition” with images, transcriptions, and relevant notes, making Livingstone’s first-person account accessible again. They’ve also created a “Livingstone Spectral Images Archive” to give anyone who wants it direct access to the images, transcriptions, and metadata the project has created, no strings attached. Almost everything in both the edition and the archive comes with a Creative Commons license that allows the contents to be reused with attribution.

Previously. The challenges faced and techniques used on this project are quite similar to those used to decipher writing a thousand years older, the Archimedes Palimpsest.
posted by Horace Rumpole (11 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
Regarding the Archimedes Palimpsest, there's a great 15 minute talk by one of the team members, William Noel, talking about their process.
posted by gwint at 8:45 AM on June 3, 2012

I wonder how often these scientists muttered that famous phrase under their breath while figuring this stuff out.
posted by Stonestock Relentless at 8:47 AM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is outstanding. Not just great science being done to bring back one of the great lost texts of the past which has great historical significance, but also the project's availability under CC licensing, which will allow that history to become a living participant in the present.

Great work, and truly fascinating. Thanks so much for posting this!
posted by hippybear at 9:46 AM on June 3, 2012

...after expending so much time and expense to the effort, the scientists are disappointed to discover that Livingstone's journals contain nothing but the malaria-ravaged ramblings of a lunatic.
posted by Flashman at 9:47 AM on June 3, 2012

The fact that these are TIFF images makes them a bit inaccessible... only the computers in my office handle TIFFs direct from the browser without a big Save As / Plug-in missing mess.
posted by crapmatic at 10:21 AM on June 3, 2012

Right, but you don't need to see the TIFFs to be able to read the content.

Start here, you will have browser-viewable images coupled with transcription of the words.
posted by hippybear at 10:38 AM on June 3, 2012

Neat. Guess I better stop writing my memoirs with the blackberries in my back yard, though.
posted by michaelh at 11:50 AM on June 3, 2012

This is so way cool. A voice from the past, recovered.

Hope there's something of great interest in this.

MetaFilter: the malaria-ravaged ramblings of a lunatic
posted by BlueHorse at 1:16 PM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Flashman: Wait, are they, or did they find something cool?
posted by Canageek at 9:13 PM on June 3, 2012

Dr. Livingston, I exhume?
posted by twoleftfeet at 12:15 AM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is so awesome! SCIENCE! (missing the drlivingstoneipresume tag)
posted by biscotti at 4:48 AM on June 4, 2012

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