Tratado breve de medicina, y de todas las enfermedades. Farfán, Agustín, 1532-1604. 1592. Benson Latin American Collection.

A 16th Century Digital Library

Read, hot & digitized: Librarians and the digital scholarship they love — In this series, librarians from UTL’s Arts, Humanities and Global Studies Engagement Team briefly present, explore and critique existing examples of digital scholarship. 

“It is astonishing how common this illness is, how it afflicts and torments so many with such grave accidents, that when a man or a woman barely turns 20-years-old they start complaining of melancholy and heartache. Some go about full of fears and shocks, and it is fixated in their imagination that they are about to perish. Others say that a who-knows-what climbs up from their spleen and their belly to their heart, shredding it to pieces.”

Such are the symptoms of depression as described in the first Spanish-language medicine book ever printed in the Americas (Mexico City, 1592), written by Agustín de Farfán. Even though the ailment has not changed, the way we access Farfán’s book has come a long way, from the extremely rare copy of an early American imprint, available in a handful of specialized libraries around the world, to the digital images easily discoverable through Primeros Libros.

What started in 2010 as a joint endeavor by two Texas university libraries and three libraries in the Mexican state of Puebla, is now a collaborative project in which 25 institutions, from California to Massachusetts, from Chile to Spain, have joined forces to digitize the books produced during the first century of the printing press in the Americas, up to 1601.

Primeros Libros is now an outstanding example of international library collaboration.

The goal is to provide digital access to a corpus of 136 titles published in the Viceroyalty of the New Spain (Mexico), where the printing press was established in the year 1539, and 20 titles published in the Viceroyalty of Peru, where the first master printer arrived in 1580.

Users of Primeros Libros might renew their appetite for browsing leisurely in a digital library of very rare books. They could look for the word agua in various indigenous languages, or visit the last pages of the naval engineering book by Diego García de Palacio in search of zingladura (spoiler: it means a day’s travel by ship). Aristotelian logics might be too intricate, at least compared with the modest joy of finding an acrostic poem at the end of Alonso de la Vera Cruz’s Dialectica Resolutio cum Textu Aristotelis.

A page of Alonso de Molina’s Spanish-Nahuatl dictionary. Printed in 1555, this is the first work of lexicography published in the Americas. It contains marginal annotations in Otomí, another language common in Central Mexico. This copy is part of the Joaquín García Icazbalceta Collection, held at the Benson Latin American Collection.
A page of Alonso de Molina’s Spanish-Nahuatl dictionary. Printed in 1555, this is the first work of lexicography published in the Americas. It contains marginal annotations in Otomí, another language common in Central Mexico. This copy is part of the Joaquín García Icazbalceta Collection, held at the Benson Latin American Collection.

When two or more member libraries own the same title, all copies are digitized and shared on-line, so that researchers can trace ownership, find missing pages, study pen facsimiles, and compare marginal annotations.

Although many a curious thing awaits the casual visitor to Primeros Libros, serious scholarship can be undertaken through this site.

The cross and the sword—religious zeal and military subjugation—were the tools of colonization of the Spanish empire. Primeros Libros is an invaluable resource for understanding the dissemination of the Catholic faith during a period of tremendously violent cultural clashes. To convert the native population, friars became linguists who learned and codified the most widely spoken indigenous languages.

Many titles in Primeros Libros, alongside catechism books that offer the basics of Catholicism, are grammars and dictionaries intended to help missionaries learn the native tongues so that they could preach and pray in the language of the natives.

This formidable linguistic enterprise was undertaken by friars with the aid of natives, not only as speakers of their languages, but also as interpreters and teachers—among the indigenous nobility, some youth were taught Latin and Spanish, and later participated in the elaboration of grammars and dictionaries. Linguistics, anthropology, history of the book, religious studies, philosophy, and history of science—these are some of the disciplinary perspectives enhanced by the Primeros Libros project.

Primeros Libros is a work in progress in which some institutions, already on board with the partnership, are in the process of digitizing their copies. Therefore, not all of the known titles in this corpus are already accessible online. The site will be greatly enriched when the first books printed in Peru become available. Even though the site is not always user-friendly, the inconveniences are minimal compared to the potential for research and education contained in this digital library.

 

Page from Instrucción Náutica, by Diego García de Palacio, printed in the New Spain in 1587. This copy belongs to the Universidad of Salamanca, in Spain.
Page from Instrucción Náutica, by Diego García de Palacio, printed in the New Spain in 1587. This copy belongs to the Universidad of Salamanca, in Spain.

 

fixDubai Road

Book Finding in the Arab World

UT Libraries’ Global Studies liaisons regularly travel internationally in order to maintain their expertise as librarians, establish and nurture international networks and productive collaborations, and acquire unique materials that distinguish UT Libraries’ collections and make them a destination for researchers from around the world. In March of last year, I traveled to the United Arab Emirates and Oman for materials acquisitions and networking on behalf of the UT Libraries. Dubai, UAE, served as my home base as I made trips to Abu Dhabi and Ajman, UAE, and to Salalah, Oman.

Dale with David Hirsch, formerly the Middle Eastern Studies Librarian at UCLA and now the Chief Adviser for the Muhammad bin Rashid National Library in Dubai
Dale with David Hirsch, formerly the Middle Eastern Studies Librarian at UCLA and now the Chief Adviser for the Muhammad bin Rashid National Library in Dubai.
Science fiction panel at the Emirates Airlines Literature Festival in Dubai.
Science fiction panel at the Emirates Airlines Literature Festival in Dubai.

In Dubai, I attended the Emirates Airlines Literature Festival where I was able to acquire a number of children and young adult books, as well as special editions on Shaykh Zayed, a leader in the UAE who was being celebrated in 2018. David Hirsch, formerly the Middle Eastern Studies Librarian at UCLA and now the Chief Adviser for the Muhammad bin Rashid National Library in Dubai, joined me at the festival and introduced me to local presses and booksellers. I also had the pleasure of attending a panel on Arabic Science Fiction featuring Ahmed Saadawi, the author of Frankenstein in Baghdad, winner of the International Prize in Arabic Fiction 2014 and short-listed for the Man Booker international prize this year; and Nora al Noman, a young adult science fiction author.

Entry at the Zayed University Library.
Entry at the Zayed University Library.
Dale with Riham al-Khafagi and Ahmed Salem of Zayed University.
Dale with Riham al-Khafagi and Ahmed Salem of Zayed University.

In addition, I was able to meet with new colleagues at Zayed University, one of the UAE’s top institutions of higher education. Riham al-Khafagi and Ahmed Salem were kind enough to give me a tour of the university, including its library, and sit down with me to discuss the unique challenges facing a top research university in the Middle East. In particular, we spoke about electronic resources, open access, print collection consortia in the Middle East and Middle Eastern Studies contexts, and censorship, all of which are current and pressing concerns shared by universities across the Middle East.

Dale with Ginny Danielson, Director of the NYU Abu Dhabi Library.
Dale with Ginny Danielson, Director of the NYU Abu Dhabi Library.
Dale with Brad Bauer, Special Collections librarian at the NYU Abu Dhabi library.
Dale with Brad Bauer, Special Collections librarian at the NYU Abu Dhabi library.
The Abu Dhabi Library at New York University.
The Abu Dhabi Library at New York University.

Following my visit to Zayed University, I took a day to drive down to Abu Dhabi and visit with colleagues at NYU Abu Dhabi. Justin Parrott, Middle East Studies Librarian for the NYU Abu Dhabi Library, kindly gave me a tour of the library and introduced me to his colleagues. I met with Ginny Danielson, Director of the NYU Abu Dhabi library, with whom I discussed the challenges of keeping up with local publishing and literature. I also met with Brad Bauer, Special Collections librarian, who told me a bit about the history of their young but growing Special Collections. I was particularly interested in their local photography and maps collections. The current exhibitions were of Shakespeare in translation, which was fascinating to see. Much of my conversation with Justin, however, had to do with being a Middle East subject specialist at, essentially, a small liberal arts college in the Middle East. I had time as well to meet with faculty members Masha Kirasirova and Maurice Pomerantz in Middle Eastern Studies, and to learn more about the programs on offer at NYU Abu Dhabi that may be of interest to UT Austin students and researchers.

Dale Correa with Dr. Al Awaid
Dale Correa with Dr. Al Awaid

I was also fortunate enough to visit Salalah, Oman, during my trip. There, I met with Ali Bakhit Salim Al Awaid, the library director at Dhofar University Library. Dhofar University aims to be the leading science and technology university in Oman, although they also have strengths in English language education and law. Mr. Al Awaid and I spoke about the library’s collections, services, and areas of development, as well as the possibilities for an Interlibrary Loan cooperation. I also met with Khalid Mashikhi, the dean of the Arts and Humanities college, who was eager to discuss potential collaborations of benefit to both UT and Dhofar University student bodies. Dhofar University is a promising location for UT Arabic students to study Arabic and subjects relevant to their majors in the Arabic language. The U.S government Critical Language Scholarship program already relies on Salalah as one of their primary Arabic program sites.

Arabic children's books.

Arabic fantasy literature.

I spent my last days in Dubai visiting local booksellers to collect young adult and science fiction. I found works in this genre from all over the Middle East, but I was particularly pleased to invest in titles from local authors. Gulf publishing is still developing, and it is difficult to track, but more and more I am finding materials more than worthy of adding to UT Libraries’ distinctive collections. This focus on youth literature and science fiction introduced me to a number of local authors and artists who might otherwise not normally make it onto the shelves of a research library in the U.S. I am sincerely grateful to the UT Libraries and CMES for supporting my travel to the UAE and Oman to purchase these materials, learn more about publishing, research, teaching, and technology in the area, and establish contacts on behalf of UT.