University of Virginia Library University of Virginia
Rare Materials Digital Services: : Collections

Literary Works
Emblem Books
Printed Hours
Travel Narratives
French Wars of Religion
Books for Women
French Language

Description of the Project – Phase I and II (new)

The Douglas H. Gordon Collection at the University of Virginia comprises some 1200 French books dating from the 16th through the 19th century.  Over 600 were printed before 1600, and many retain their original bindings.  Among those early volumes are literary works, devotional texts, pamphlets from the French wars of religion, travel narratives and works of philosophy, medicine, astronomy and architecture.  The Gordon Collection’s 16th-century titles provide a remarkable window on the French Renaissance and represent one of the great collections of early French printing.  The rarity of the books and their excellent condition, combined with the depth and range of the collection, make it a treasure for Renaissance scholars and book historians. 

 “The Renaissance in Print,” underway since 2003, seeks both to aid in preservation of and to provide access to these remarkable books by creating archival-quality facsimiles of the treasures of the collection and providing color digital facsimiles of the books on the project website.  By presenting the digital collection in a thematic interface, with accompanying reference materials, the Gordon Project seeks to expand the role of the rare books in both research and teaching. 

Underwritten by a gift from the Florence Gould Foundation, the first two-year phase of the project (April 2003 – April 2005) provided for the digitization of 85 books in the Gordon Collection.  Those works are now available online, accessible from an index or a thematically organized interface, and accompanied by an initial set of fifty introductions and reference entries. 

What we have accomplished thus far has shown us how “The Renaissance in Print” (Gordon Project) can be expanded and improved to maximize its utility as a reference and research tool.  The Florence Gould Foundation has provided additional support for the digitization (image format) of 100 more volumes from the collection over two years.  View the index of works already digitized and available online, or consult the list of books to be digitized in 2006-2007.

The National Endowment for the Humanities has recently awarded a Preservation and Access (Reference Materials) Grant to the University of Virginia French Department and the University of Virginia Library, for work on the two additional goals of the expanded Gordon Project: 

  • Continued development of informative resources to accompany the digital facsimiles of the Gordon books online.  Specifically, the second 2-year phase will add 100 reference entries to the project materials.  By focusing on the books and topics in the Gordon collection, the expanded reference materials will cover many essential elements of French Renaissance literature, history and culture. 
  • Creation of an extended set of metadata for each of the digitized Gordon books to facilitate study and research within the growing digital collection.  Because current OCR (Optical Character Recognition) is still far from producing a reliable, machine-readable text from early printed books, the availability of searchable metadata describing the book (physical features and content) represents an important research tool.  The metadata will be created and searched using the guidelines and software designed and currently being tested for the University of Virginia’s ambitious Digital Library Initiative.

The second phase of the project will more than double the digital collection, and the expanded reference materials (entries and searchable metadata) aim to significantly increase the utility of the Gordon Collection resources for both research and instruction.

--Mary McKinley and Karen James, University of Virginia French Department

--Bradley Daigle and Christina Deane, Rare Materials Digital Services, U.Va. Library

Questions?   Comments?   Suggestions?   Requests?

Please submit any questions, comments, or suggestions regarding this site’s content to:

Karen James, Gordon Project Director (

Questions regarding technical issues or use of the materials on this site should be directed to Rare Materials Digital Services (

  • If you wish to request materials for use in a publication, please apply for permission from the Director of Special Collections (


Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this website do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.