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Time machine Digitising Venice’s huge archives

Making old manuscripts available to researchers around the world is a big challenge. Swiss researchers are developing new tools to help scan and read the archives from Venice’s history. (RTS/

Because of the amount of material, finding a document in the State Archives of Venice can be like looking for the needle in the hay stack. That’s about to change thanks to a partnership between the University of Venice and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne, EPFL. The project is called Venice Time Machine.

First the EPFL researchers have to find a way to scan the fragile documents - and quickly. There are a billion pages in total. Then words and sentences are isolated using a special algorithm. The hardest part is to get the computer to read handwritten words in languages that have changed over the centuries.

In the end, researchers and history fans will only have to click on a name or word inside a historic text to find other related documents. The goal is to have the Venice Time Machine up and running in ten years. Not long - when compared with the one thousand years of history contained in the Venice archives.

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