The Book of Books: Hernando Colón's Libro de los epítomes.
One of the more astonishing bibliographical undertakings of the early modern age was the project by Hernando Colón (1488-1539), son of the famous navigator Christopher Columbus, to build a universal library, one which would contain “every book on every subject and in every language, from within Christendom and without”. At the time of his death, his library in Seville comprised over 15000 volumes, and was probably the largest collection of printed books in the world at the time.
To manage it all, Colón designed a revolutionary system for storing, sorting and distilling these materials, an information-crunching engine of great power. In addition to an Abecedarium, an index of authors, titles and incipits in alphabetical order, and a Registrum, an accessions list ordered by number, Colón conceived four types of inventories or indices, all carefully cross-referenced: a list of authors (autores), a book of sciences (ciencias), that is, subjects, a book of materials (materiales), what we would now call keywords, and finally a book of epitomes (epítomes), which was to contain detailed summaries of the contents of each of the books in the collection. All of these survive in the Biblioteca Colombina in Seville, apart from El libro de los epítomes, which was presumed missing until identified recently among the manuscripts in the Arnamagnæan Collection in Copenhagen.
The rediscovery of the Libro de los epítomes has been hailed as one of the most exciting developments in early modern book history for decades. With funding from the Carlsberg Foundation and a private donor, the “Book of Books” project, based at the University of Copenhagen's Department of Nordic Studies and Linguistics (NorS) in collaboartion with the Department of English, Germanic and Romance Studies (EnGeRom), is conducting research into the Libro's contents, origin and subsequent history, and producing a digital transcription of the Libro de los epítomes, which will serve as the basis for a bilingual (Latin-English) critical edition of the text in print form. The work of the project will also contribute significantly to a virtual reconstruction of Hernando Colón's universal library.
Read more about the project here.