Lines of investigation

Full TEI transcription of the Libro

AM 377 fol., El libro de los epitomes, f. 14v, showing extensive revisions by Hernando Colón.

AM 377 fol., El libro de los epitomes, f. 14v, showing extensive revisions by Hernando Colón.

One of the aims of the project is to produce a digital transcription of the Libro, encoded in accordance with the Text Encoding Initiative's (TEI) P5 encoding guidelines. TEI encoding is a well-established standard, widely used in the humanities both for long-term preservation of data and for easy interoperability. The resulting XML files can include multiple layers of markup and metadata.

The initial release of the transcription will contain the entire text of the Libro, and encode the basic structures of both the text (for example, its division into epitomes) and the manuscript (for example, its division into pages and lines). All additions, deletions, corrections and marginal annotations will be included. The transcription will include any deleted text which is still readable, and wherever possible all intermediate stages of correction and textual revision will be represented.

This initial release is intended to serve as the basis for a critical edition of the Libro, and as a preliminary stage for further study of the text. Successive releases will refine the encoding, revise inaccuracies and add metadata as provided by (or needed for) ongoing research.

The epitomised texts

The Libro de los epítomes contains abstracts of roughly 2000 texts spanning  a variety of subjects: from theology, mathematics, medicine and jurisprudence to poetry and astrology. As part of the work of identification of these texts, we are also assigning to each of them a main subject area and keywords, which will allow us to conduct quantitative analysis into what types of texts were epitomised. Combined with further analysis on the length, the textual structure and the different phases of composition of the individual abstracts, this data will shed light on specific interests of the scholars who composed the epitomes – the sumistas – their composition strategies and the relative importance of various subjects or topics within the library. 

Colón's library as a community of reading 

The sumistas of the Libro de los epítomes carefully registered information on, among other things, the literary genre, contents, structure and significance of each work summarised. This process required not only a shared set of writing skills, but also common approaches to reading that allowed them to locate, analyse, organise and convey all the relevant information for their summaries. An important goal of the project is to identify and describe these approaches to reading by analysing features such as linguistic layers, strategies of composition, intertextuality, hierarchies of information and textual layouts. This will allow us to understand how the community of sumistas employed innovative models of reading that had long-lasting impact in western literacy.

The materiality of the Libro

The Libro de los epítomes is an imposing folio manuscript comprising in its present state nearly one thousand leaves. Analysis of its material features, such as the paper used, its quire structure, its binding and its script, indicates that it was the product of the work of several people over a long period of time, spanning several years. The manuscript is acephalous, beginning in the middle of epitome 140, and there are three major lacunae in the text. While we can be reasonably sure that the missing text must originally have been there, these losses appear to have occurred quite early on in the life of the volume, and were then replaced with blank leaves: among other things, the paper used in the manuscript contains dozens of different types of watermarks, which afford us a better understanding of the different phases of its production. The processes of copying, revising and correcting the manuscript are also particularly interesting: they can be reconstructed in detail by comparing evidence of the work of the various hands found in the manuscript itself, alongside the accounts given on these matters by Juan Pérez, Colón's librarian, in his Memoria

Toward a virtual reconstruction of Colón's Library

Around one third of the library left by Hernando Colón at the time of his death, consisting of over 15,000 titles, survives today in what is known as the Biblioteca Colombina. Books missing from the library, usually containing unmistakable proof of Colón's ownership (catalogue numbers, purchase notes, annotations by him or other people working in the library), have been and continue to be identified in public and private libraries all over the world. Apart from the copies once owned by Colón that still survive (what we call “physical copies”), his catalogues and registers also provide data on thousands of copies which we know he owned but we are not able to locate today (called “historical copies). Some of these may be lost forever, while others may yet be identified in the future. But either way, these books are listed and described by Colón in great detail, and provide valuable historical evidence for the reconstruction of his library. Such a reconstruction was begun in the 1970s by a team of distinguished scholars led by professors Tomás Marín Martínez (1919-1995), Klaus Wagner (1937-2000) and José Manuel Ruíz Asencio (b. 1939), leading to the publication, in the early 1990s, of the first two volumes of the Catálogo concordado de la Biblioteca de Hernando Colón, which began a reconstruction of the library following the order of the topographical index (the so-called Registrum B). More than thirty years later, while the methodology followed by Marín Martínez, Wagner and Ruíz Asencio remains valid, more advanced digital tools and more established networks of collaboration between libraries and institutions all over the world allow us to re-imagine the possibility of reconstructing Colón's library virtually, bringing together copies which are both physical, found at the Colombina or elsewhere, and historical. 

The BoB database

The Book of Books database (= BoB) is a resource developed within the project and created, hosted and maintained by the Consortium of European Research Libraries (CERL), which allows the virtual reconstruction of Colón's library and can be browsed and searched using bibliographical information such as author, title, date and place of publication, text type and other parameters. For historical copies, i.e. copies which are known to have been owned by Colón but are neither in the Biblioteca Colombina nor identified in other private and public libraries, the database can link to other copies of the same book currently held in libraries and institutions around the world, where these exist.

Digital transcription of the Abecedarium B

Since the publication in 1993 of the first two volumes of the Catálogo concordado, several individuals and research groups, mostly in Spain, have kept working in the footsteps of that team of scholars, led by Tomás Marín Martînez, Klaus Wagner, José Manuel Ruiz Asencio. The librarians of the Biblioteca Colombina themselves have been working for many years on the completion of the Catálogo concordado for the first 4231 Registrum B entries of Colón's library. The reconstruction of such a colossal collection is obviously an endeavour that requires many years of work and can benefit from the contribution of different people. In addition to the creation of the "Book of Books" database, which is described below, the "Book of Books" project is also committed to producing a full transcription of the Abecedarium B, the complete alphabetical index of the library's holdings, which not only provides authors, titles and incipits of all the works included in the library, but also cross-references to their Registrum B, Materias and Epítomes numbers, as well as, in many cases, imprint information, details on the language and  form of the texts and so on. The Abecedarium B is currently being transcribed in full; once the transcription work is finished, the results will be uploaded to the BoB database and shared online. This work will provide, for the first time, not only a full list of all the texts which were epitomised (many of which are missing both from the fair copy of the Libro in Copenhagen and from the rough copies (borradores ) still in Seville, but also the basis for a full reconstruction of Colón's library. 

FILOL – Finding the lost library

The EU-funded project “Finding the lost library: Hernando Colón's dispersed books worldwide (FILOL), also based at the Arnamagnæan Institute in Copenhagen, aims to track down the dispersed books from Colón’s library. Hernando Colón strove to establish a universal library in Seville, one containing “every book on every subject and in every language, from within Christendom and without”. It was not only a repository of printed books, but also a myriad of more ephemeral works such as pamphlets, broadsides and almanacs, making it an unparalleled historical resource. The collection was largely dispersed following Colón's death, however, much of it sold off by antiquarian booksellers. The aim of the FILOL project is to locate as much of this missing material as possible and make it accessible in the “Book of Books database. FILOL will cross-reference all of the library’s original catalogues and employ a novel research method involving the bibliographic tools used by the antiquarian book market itself, facilitating the tracking of early printed books and ephemera.

Hernando Colón: Collector, reader and writer  

Hernando Colón was not only a dedicated book collector, he was also a reader and a writer. The relationship between these three aspects is particularly relevant for an appreciation of his cultural personalty and how it developed in the culturally rich landscape of 16th-century Spain. It is also crucial to an understanding of his idea of using the epitomes as one of the bibliographical tools for managing his library. The “Book of Books project is therefore engaged in the collection and  examination of examples of books annotated by Colón, and whether or how these annotations relate to specific epitomes in the Libro or to writings in other projects in which he was involved. The study of his handwriting, and of its evolution over time, of his use of sources, of the different typologies of manuscript notes found in his books, writing style, writing habits and occasions for writing are all part of this line of investigation. 

From Spain to Denmark and Spanish-Danish relations

The investigation of how the Libro de los epítomes found its way to Denmark involves exploring its provenance and tracing its ownership history. This line of inquiry includes examining the cultural, political and economic factors that facilitated the transmission of manuscripts and books across borders and the role of aristocratic networks in acquiring and circulating rare and valuable texts. We hope here to shed light on the complex social, cultural and historical contexts in which manuscripts and books were acquired and disseminated. By examining historical archives, library catalogues and diplomatic correspondence, among other things, the project sheds light on the function of connections and social networks of influential individuals in the preservation and transmission of manuscripts and books over time. This will also deepen our understanding of the motivations and interests of the nobility in collecting rare books, as well as the cultural and intellectual impact of these collections on the societies in which they were situated. Another important and related line of inquiry is the analysis the political and cultural context in which these manuscripts arrived in Denmark. This includes studying the geopolitical and economic factors as well as the cross-cultural exchanges that influenced the building of the first Spanish collections in Denmark.