The Book of Books: Hernando Colón s Libro de los Epítomes

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Matthew Driscoll


University of Copenhagen


DKK 4,200,000




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In the early 16th century, Hernando Colón, son of the navigator Christopher Columbus, set out to build a universal library, one containing “every book on every subject in every language”. In the end, his library comprised over 15000 printed volumes. To manage it all he designed a revolutionary system of cross-referenced catalogues or inventories. Most of these survive in the Biblioteca Colombina in Seville, but one, arguably the most important, the Libro de los epítomes, which contained summaries of the books in the collection, was presumed missing until identified recently in the Arnamagnæan Collection in Copenhagen. The aim of the Book of Books project is the production of a bilingual edition of the Libro, both in digital and print form, along with studies of its contents and history.


The recent discovery of the Libro de los epítomes has been hailed as one of the most exciting developments in early modern book history for decades. The edition and translation of the Libro will make this important book accessible to a wider audience, and the study of it will reveal much about the book trade in early modern Europe – what was available, where and for how much – and about how people in the first half of the 16th century read and understood books. Uncovering the book’s early history in Spain and the series of events which led to its incorporation into the Arnamagnæan Collection in Copenhagen will throw light on Hispano-Danish relations in the 16th and 17th centuries, an important but as yet understudied topic.


Attached to the project will be a research assistant to help with the transcription and translation of the Libro and the development of the electronic resource, and two postdoctoral researchers, one to assist with the work of editing and analysing the Libro, and the other to investigate Hispano-Danish relations in the 16th and 17th centuries. The project’s PI, Prof. Matthew Driscoll of the Arnamagnæan Institute, will be in charge of the editorial work, while Prof. Morten Heiberg of the Department of English, German and Romance Studies at KU will take responsibility for linking Colón’s library project to the broader currents of biblio- and socio-historical study in the early modern period. A number of international experts will assist with the work and serve on the project’s advisory board.

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