Tag Archives: Primeros Libros

Pre-Mod Pre-Med: Typhus, Bloodletting, and Sasparilla

Francisco Bravo’s "Opera Medicinalia" (1570).
Francisco Bravo’s “Opera Medicinalia” (1570).

With the Dell Medical School’s inaugural class set to arrive in 2016, it’s only fitting that one of our most innovative archiving projects should get a notable addition from the field of medicine.

The international partners of the digital Primeros Libros project have incorporated the first medical text printed in the New World, Francisco Bravo’s Opera Medicinalia.

Woodcut engraving of Smilax aspera from "Opera Medicinalia."
Woodcut engraving of Smilax aspera from “Opera Medicinalia.”

The volume — which was printed in 1570, thirty short years after the arrival of the first printing press in the western hemisphere — is composed of four treatises, covering medical topics such as epidemiology (an entire treatise on “tabardete,” thought to be an antecedent of typhus), archaic treatments (bloodletting) and medicinal herbs (the last chapter focuses on Smilax aspera or Sasparilla root, which was prevalent in Mexico and North America), and features remarkable engravings, including a rudimentary diagram of the human circulatory system.

Engraving of the venal system from "Opera Medicinalia."
Engraving of the venal system from “Opera Medicinalia.”

The digital iteration of Opera Medicinalia resulted from the only known copy of the original printing still in existence, housed in La Biblioteca José María Lafragua at the Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla in Mexico.

The Primeros Libros project — of which the University of Texas Libraries and Benson Latin American Collection are founding members — seeks to digitize the first books published in the Americas, focusing initially on works published in Mexico in the 16th century. Each participating member library is entitled to a full set of the digitized exemplars of all partners as part of the project’s innovative preservation and access strategy. The project inventory currently includes over 349 exemplars — contributed by 21 partner institutions — of the 136 titles that are known to have survived to the present day.

The National Institutes of Health’s blog at the U. S. National Library of Medicine has more information on the history and importance of this volume.

Primeros Libros Adds On


Illustration on the properties of numbers from the Sumario Compendioso (1556), the first math text published in the Americas.

The Primeros Libros project is thrilled to announce the incorporation of two new partner institutions: the Biblioteca General Histórica at Spain’s prestigious University of Salamanca, and Mexico’s Biblioteca Francisco de Burgoa at the Beinto Juárez Autonomous University of Oaxaca. These two new additions bring the total number of Primeros Libros partner institutions to 17.

The Primeros Libros project, of which the University of Texas Libraries and Benson Latin American Collection are founding members, seeks to digitize the first books published in the Americas, focusing initially on works published in Mexico in the 16th century. Each participating member library is entitled to a full set of the digitized exemplars of all partners as part of the project’s innovative preservation and access strategy. The project inventory currently includes 248 exemplars.

The University of Salamanca will bring 11 exemplars to the project, including five titles not previously covered by the project. One of these is the Sumario Compendioso de las Cuentas de Plata y Oro que en los reinos del Perú son necesarias a los mercaderes y a todo género de tratantes. Published in Mexico City in 1556. The Sumario Compendioso is the first non-religous text produced in the Americas and the first scientific text published outside of Europe. It was written primarily for merchants and miners involved in the silver and gold trade out of Mexico and Peru as a practical guide to help them manage their transactions, a sort of early precursor to the calculator. The Sumario contains tables that made it easier for merchants to get numerical values without having to do extensive calculations by hand, but there are also sections on algebra and quadratic equations.

The addition of the University of Salamanca’s digitized version of the Sumario Compendioso to the Primeros Libros project is also important in terms of the repatriation of cultural patrimony to Mexico, one of the key goals of the project, since there are only three known surviving copies of the book in the world, none of which is in Mexico (the Salamanca copy, one at the British Library, and one at the Huntington Library in Los Angeles). All seven Primeros Libros partner institutions in Mexico will now be able to feature this digital copy of the Sumario Compendioso as part of their local collections.

The Biblioteca Burgoa brings nine additional exemplars to the project. One of these, the Institución, modo de rezar y milagros e indulgencias del Rosario de la Virgen María, represents the only copy of this work in the project to date.

On September 19 and 20, the Biblioteca Burgoa will be hosting the annual Primeros Libros Partner Meeting in Oaxaca. The program for the Oaxaca meeting includes presentations by Benson-LLILAS Digital Curation Coordinator Kent Norsworthy and University of Texas at Austin School of Music professor Dr. Lorenzo Candelaria.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la caneck, caneck….

The Last Lonestar Showdown

On Thursday of last week, college football fans around Texas and many from around the nation gathered around the flat screen to watch the final episode in the third longest running rivalry in college football.  After this season, the two teams are unlikely to encounter each other again in the regular season as the Aggies head toward the Southeastern Conference and the Longhorns lock up annually with their heartland foes.

But even as the sports scene in Texas changes fundamentally, so much remains the same.   The University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University remain the two flagship institutions of our state, and when it comes to teaching, learning and research, the two schools remain ever so closely aligned.

And our libraries are united in their determination to advance the core educational missions of the two universities.  The University of Texas System and the Texas A&M University System have united to fund and operate a common storage facility on property owned by Texas A&M.  There all the universities in both systems will be able to preserve their print copies in a shared resources in common facility that will ensure the preservation of the “long tail” of scholarly research while freeing up valuable central library space on every campus.  Full sets of journals now accessed electronically—such as JSTOR—will have their archive print instantiation in Bryan, Texas.

At the same time, the two flagships continue to work together to harness the power of digital technologies in support of research.  Combining their own powerful (but separate distinct) holdings of first century books from Mexico with other examples from Mexican partners, Spain, Brown University, Tulane, Harvard and elsewhere, the Los Primeros Libros project will eventually  enable scholars around the globe to access and study all of the 200+ surviving examples of printing in the Western Hemisphere.

So, as both schools rewrite the lyrics to their fight songs, where each disparages the other in the early stanzas, the librarians will resume the collaboration that makes their combined collections one of the state’s most important assets.

Hook ‘em /  Gig ‘em


What Can Brown Do For You?

From "Arte de la lengua mexicana y castellana" by Alonso de Molina,Published: 1576, from the Benson Latin American Collection

In the case of original Latin American research materials, quite a lot, actually.

The John Carter Brown Library at Brown University has signed on to the Primeros Libros project – a consortia-driven effort to capture and preserve as many of the “first books” of the New World, those printed in Mexico before 1601. Brown becomes the project’s biggest contributor bringing an additional 70 volumes to the collection, joining the Benson Latin American Collection, Biblioteca Histórica José María Lafragua at the Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla and the Cushing Memorial Library and Archives at Texas A&M University, among others.

The digital preservation of these historic cultural documents not only benefits Latin American study abroad, but it means that long-since scattered cultural artifacts of Mexico can return home for use the country’s own scholars and researchers.

Find more information on the project and its players here.