With just the tap of a finger, some of the University’s greatest ancient documents are now viewable by anyone.

In late December, the University Library released its famous Epistles of St. Paul papyrus, the earliest known copy of the Letters of St. Paul, to the general public in the form of an app available for download at the Apple App Store. The papyrus, which was once only available to a limited audience, is now accessible by iPhone or iPad and offers an interactive viewing experience.

The 30-leaf papyrus — which was purchased by the University in the 1930s — can now be downloaded, flipped through and translated on the Apple devices.

Arthur Verhoogt, an associate professor of papyrology and Greek, developed the free app, PictureIt:EP, with the help of the University’s 3D Lab in the Digital Media Commons at the Duderstadt Center. Verhoogt, who is the acting archivist for the University Papyrology Collection, said the app is useful for academics and interested individuals.

“For scholars like myself it is very important to be able to see the papyrus in its book form, to be able to flip the page and things like that,” Verhoogt said. “More importantly, for the general audience it’s an opportunity to touch this ancient papyrus and flip through it.”

“That’s not something that can happen with these precious artifacts in the real world,” he added.

The app provides line-by-line translations as users drag a finger over the papyrus. Annotations about peculiarities as well as the variations between the papyrus and the common version are also easily accessible.

3D Lab manager Eric Maslowski said the innovative technology shows the ancient documents in a new way.

“I’ve seen quite a few other iBooks out there, a few that deal with other languages, but many of them don’t have a very nice interface for translation,” Maslowski said. “No one else is really doing this, where they are showing this rare collection in new ways.”

Although the content of the papyrus can be found online, actual images have not been available until the release of this app. Verhoogt said similar texts are often not available on the Internet because of differing attitudes on copyright.

He said his colleagues have expressed enthusiasm about the technological advancement and have shown interest in putting other text collections in the same format.

“The University of Michigan and its library is very much at the forefront of making things available,” Verhoogt said. “It is our hope that this will show people what can be done and that perhaps other collections might be more open and follow the Michigan example.”

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