William Gerard Noel


William Gerard Noel, loving husband and father, librarian, scholar, curator, educator, careerlong innovator in the digital humanities, and Chestnut Hill resident since 2013, died April 29, 2024, following an accident in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Noel, 58, was the inaugural John T. Maltsberger III ’55 Associate University Librarian for Special Collections in the Princeton University Library. At the time of his death, he also held a faculty position at the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia. Before joining Princeton, Noel worked at the University of Pennsylvania Libraries, where he was Associate Vice Provost for External Partnerships, Director of the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, and Director of the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies. He also served as Chair of the Philadelphia Consortium of Special Collections Libraries from 2019-2022.

An authority on medieval manuscripts, Noel was a passionate advocate for using technology to expand access to rare book and manuscript collections that were otherwise not available to the general public. At the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Noel pioneered the free online presentation of machine-readable, digitized illuminated medieval and pre-modern manuscripts. His early and energizing leadership inspired others in his field to make vast amounts of cultural information and imagery available to the public for free. Widely known for his direction of the Archimedes Palimpsest Project, Noel was named a White House Champion of Change in 2013 in honor of his groundbreaking and inspiring advocacy for the use of open data for cultural heritage institutions.

Noel was born in Bradford, UK. He attended Marlborough College and Cambridge University. He first moved to the US to work at the J. Paul Getty Museum, then returned to Cambridge as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow for several years before moving back to the US to serve as the Curator of Manuscripts and Rare Books at the Walters. While an Englishman to his core, he chose to build a rich life in the US and became a proud citizen in 2017.

Noel was preceded in death by his parents Henry Methuen Noel Noel and Helen Elizabeth Anne (née Hutchison) Noel. He is survived by his wife, Lynn Ransom; their son, Henry Methuen Ransom Noel; his siblings Robert Montague Noel and Emma Margery (née Noel) Kennerley; and many loving nieces, nephews, cousins, in-laws, and friends.

Along with his great intellect and wide-ranging curiosity, Noel was known for his expansive and joyful spirit, his warmth and wicked sense of humor, his dazzling zest for living, and lifelong love of sailing. He relished making connections with and among the people in his life, and deeply valued his many friends and colleagues. 

Noel will be especially remembered for his delight in and profound love for his son, Henry, and his devotion to and admiration for his wife, Lynn.

A memorial service will be held on Friday, June 28, at 11 am at the Princeton University Chapel in Princeton, NJ.