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Digital Technology Takes On The Ancient World

July 2007
Digital Technology Takes On The Ancient World

Given the advantages of digitization, it was just a matter of time before this phenomenon spread to the world of scholarship. Google has embarked on an ambitious plan to digitize 800,000 books and manuscripts at Mysore University, where many of the ancient Sanskrit and Kannada documents encompass subjects as varied as science, ayurveda, mathematics, astrology, politics and economics. Google is scanning these and 700,000 other books for free, and the material will become available through its search engine. Some palm leaf manuscripts go back as far as the 4th century B.C. Arthashastra, the famous political treatise by Kautilya (a k a Chanakya), is one of the oldest tracts at the university.

Meanwhile, a Bangalore-based nonprofit organization named Indic has also been involved in digitization. With the support of India's National Mission for Manuscripts (NAMAMI), a team of six experts travel around the country in a van "equipped with the latest scan station and cabin control software" and a "state-of-the-art security system comprising biometrics." Interestingly, this project also got its start in Mysore. Much care has to be used to do this sophisticated work, since the manuscripts in this collection (estimated at 5 million across the nation) are old and fragile. To facilitate the process, the government has set up 24 Manuscript Resource Centers (MRCs). The digitized content, after scanning, is transmitted via satellite to Bangalore—Delhi and Chennai also have base stations—and then forwarded to the National Manuscripts Library.

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