Dissertations 1600-1855 in full text on the Internet

At Uppsala University Library a long term project is ongoing, which aims at cataloguing, scanning and OCR processing the Library’s collection of old dissertations, that is theses, submitted at the university of Uppsala 1600-1855.

So far a great part have been digitised and made accessible in the DiVA portal, Uppsala University’s repository for research publications. In this first stage of digital publication the emphasis is on the period 1778-1855. In this period a great part of the dissertations were written in Swedish, the other major part being in Latin.

The aim is to make the dissertations accessible as images and full text files in the DiVA system, and thereby also searchable and readable on the Internet. All in all there are about 12 000 dissertations of 20 pages each in average to be scanned – that is, approximately 240 000 pages or images. 

The reasons for the Library to start this project were several. Most importantly, older dissertations are valuable source material for historical research, and the Uppsala items are  frequently on loan.

Dissertations provide scholars in the field of History of Ideas and History of Science with a summary of the status of a certain subject matter in Sweden in various periods of time. The material is also frequently consulted by historians of other fields, such as history of literature and history of religion, and their language is studied by scholars of Classical languages and Scandinavian languages, for example. There is also a social dimension of the dissertations worthy of attention, as they mirror social networks in the educated stratum of Sweden in various periods of time.

In addition, Sweden has from time to time been one of the world’s leading nations of science within various fields, especially in the 18th century. Several distinguished scholars and scientists are of international repute, and many of those individuals either wrote or supervised a dissertation at Uppsala University. Occasionally a dissertation was preparatory to epoch–making works published later.

From a practical point of view it is a fact that there is a demand that the Library digitize its cultural heritage material. As regards the dissertations there is a suitable platform in which they can be published electronically: The DiVA publications system. In DiVA, the dissertations of our own time are published digitally.

The “Dissertations project” runs as a part of the everyday workflow at the Section for Early Printed Books and Special Collections, the Section for photographic services and the Electronic publishing centre. The work with the dissertations include: 

  1. Cataloguing according to modern standards in the national research libraries database LIBRIS
  2. Scanning
  3. OCR-processing of scanned images
  4. Uploading in the publication systems DiVA of the images and text files, where they connect with the LIBRIS catalogue posts. DiVA contents can be reached via an internet search.

The cataloguing of the physical items of the dissertations produces ca 25 new catalogue records every day and thus makes the physical items of the dissertations searchable via LIBRIS and the Internet. Until the dissertations are scanned as part of this project, scans can be ordered by ordinary routine from our Photographic services department.

The scanning will be carried out by various techniques depending on the format, binding and age of the dissertation. If the condition of the dissertation allows it, it will be scanned using a scan robot. In other cases they will be scanned manually. The images of the text pages will then be OCR-processed in order to create searchable full text files. These full text files will be of various quality depending on the age and the language of the text. OCR-processing dissertations in Swedish and Latin from ca 1800 onwards result in an OCR text of a high degree of accuracy, whereas older dissertations in Latin and in languages written in other alphabets will contain some inaccuracies.

Some examples: