William Noel is a curator who believes museums should make their collections free and available on the Internet.

Why you should listen

William Noel is the Curator of Manuscripts and Rare Books at the Walters Art Museum. But for someone who spends the majority of his time analyzing ancient and medieval artifacts, he also embraces social media and stresses its value even for the oldest, most established academic and cultural institutions. Noel believes passionately that institutions should free their digital data.

Since 1999 Noel has spearheaded the conservation of a manuscript known as the Archimedes Palimpsest. The palimpsest is a unique Byzantine prayer book made up of parchments which contain hidden writings from three original previously-unknown texts: treatises written by Archimedes; works by the 4th-century B.C. Attic Orator Hyperides; and 3rd-century commentary on Aristotle’s Categories, by an unknown author. Using a powerful particle accelerator Noel and his team were able to uncover the hidden texts and publish all their images and findings on the Internet, available to anyone for free under a Creative Commons license.

Noel currently lives in Baltimore, Maryland, where he curates at the Walters, working to ensure that the public has free digital access to his collection.

Read more about William Noel in the TED Blog Q&A >>

What others say

“People go to the Louvre because they’ve seen the Mona Lisa; the reason people might not be going to your institution is because they don’t know what’s in it. Digitization is a way to address that issue.” — William Noel

William Noel’s TED talk

More news and ideas from William Noel


Favorites of 2012: Why the eff didn’t you watch these TED Talks?

December 28, 2012

[ted id=1461 width=560 height=315] 2012 was the year of radical openness at TED. In that spirit, while our office is closed for winter break, TED’s editorial staffers have selected their favorite talks of the year that, for a variety of reasons, didn’t get as many views as we would have hoped … giving you a […]

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The wide open future of the art museum: Q&A with William Noel

May 29, 2012

At TEDxSummit, Walters Art Museum curator William Noel gave this fascinating talk on revealing the lost codex of Archimedes. The TED Blog caught up with him to talk about the digital future of a traditionally closed institution: the art museum. As with the Archimedes codex, the Walters Art Museum’s online collection operates under the Creative […]

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