HMML partners with National Archives of Malta to digitize collection in Mdina

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October 23, 2007

The Malta Study Center of the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library announces that it will resume manuscript preservation work in Malta.

On Oct. 23, Dr. Theresa M. Vann, The Joseph S. Micallef Curator of the Malta Study Center, will sign a contract with Mr. Charles J. Farrugia, national archivist of Malta, to digitize the Magna Curia Castellaniae collection held in the Banca Giuratale, Mdina. The event will be under the patronage of the Hon. Dr. Louis Galea, minister of Education, Youth and Employment.

The Magna Curia Castellaniae is the archives of the central law court of the Knights of Malta. This court had jurisdiction over civil and criminal cases on the islands of Malta and Gozo. The archives consist of 1,411 volumes plus various registers and indexes, dating from 1543 until 1798. They are a tremendous source of information for the social and economic history of the Maltese people under the administration of the Knights of Malta.

The Malta Study Center of the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library has already microfilmed the Archives of the Knights of Malta, held in the National Library of Malta. The archives date back to the 12th century, and are an important source for the history of crusading warfare and Mediterranean culture.

In 1988, the Library wanted to microfilm the Magna Curia Castellaniae as part of the project, but the archives were housed in a different place and the estimated costs were too high.

“Now the time is right,” said Vann. “We have just successfully completed an NEH Challenge Grant to endow the Center, which means that we can budget for on-going preservation work. HMML has switched to digital technology, which is more economical and gives faster results than microfilming. Malta has a very rich archival heritage, which comparatively few people outside the country know about. I hope that this is just the start, and that more opportunities will occur to both preserve and provide access to Malta’s history.”

The Knights of Malta, a religious military order also known as the Knights of the Hospital or the Knights of St. John, were founded in Jerusalem ca. 1107. Originally, the order ran a hospital for pilgrims to the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, but during the 12th century it also assumed responsibility for the defense of the crusader kingdoms in the east. After the fall of the last crusader kingdom in 1291, the Order moved its hospital and its central convent to Rhodes, and then to Malta, which it defended against an Ottoman siege in 1565. Napoleon took Malta from the Knights in 1798. The Order is still in existence today, but only as a hospitaller organization. The British took Malta in 1800, and installed a governor there in 1814. They separated the records of the Magna Curia Castellaniae from the rest of the archives of the Knights of Malta and kept them in the Courts of Justice. The historical legal archives were transferred to the Banca Giuratale by 1986.

Farrugia also sees this agreement as a great achievement for the Maltese archives sector. “The agreement comes at a time when the National Archives of Malta is actively participating in digitization initiatives taken by various European institutions. It is a challenging time. Technology is providing us with new answers that are beneficial both for the preservation of archival holdings and to enhance access to our patrons” said Farrugia.

The Hill Museum & Manuscript Library is also currently digitizing the archives of the Rome Priory of the Knights of Malta, and it is engaged in several manuscript digitization projects among Christian communities in the Middle East.

HMML was founded 40 years ago in response to the devastating loss of manuscripts and books during two World Wars. It is the only institution in the world exclusively dedicated to the photographic preservation and study of manuscripts, particularly in locations where war, theft or physical conditions pose a threat. Since its inception, HMML has built the largest collection of manuscript images in the world, having photographed almost 100,000 manuscripts totaling more than 30 million pages.

For more information about HMML and its Malta Study Center, please contact Theresa Vann, Ph.D., The Joseph S. Micallef Curator of the Malta Study Center at the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library, at 320-363-3993, or by e-mail at tvann@csbsju.edu.  For further information about the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library or Vivarium, visit www.hmml.org.