2nd Update: Halfway through the Data

Hi! It’s been quite a while since I wrote the first status update in week 2 in Spain. Since then, I finished up the last two weeks in Spain and miraculously got through the transcription of most of my material. I am however waiting on a CD of scans to be sent to me with more pages to transcribe. That has pages that I wanted to look at (wills, household goods, additional testimony), but didn’t have as much time because I wanted to concentrate on getting down the book inventories and information about when they died and where their books may have gone. It was a really sad to leave Pamplona, though I don’t miss the heat. I should be in Europe next year and I do hope that I get back.

After Pamplona, I headed to Edinburgh for a few days (not related to research) and then down to London. I was in London for two weeks with my parents. They went out and did touristy things during the day while I worked on my research the first week. I went through a few of the inventories to find out what kind of books were in them along with reading some articles. For the second week, I was at London Rare Books School (LRBS). LRBS runs a series of week-long courses relating to book history. I took two courses last year, but this year I took “The Book in the Renaissance.” While the period that I’m studying is really on the tail end of the Renaissance, the course was quite helpful because of what I learned about the inception and development of printing into a full-fledged business; because that’s what printing is—an economically driven activity. The key to a successful printer is to have a good distribution network to get their book out to booksellers because a printer in Venice can’t sell a 1,000 print run of a costly book solely in Venice. There are simply not enough people who are literate and can afford that kind of book. By having a good distribution network, publishers and printers can get to the customers in other areas of Europe. For example, printing didn’t develop as quickly in Rome because it did not have as good of trade links with the rest of Europe. Our tutor for the course said that if a book started in Venice, it could probably reach present day Germany before Rome.

This information about distribution is important to me in my project because I need to do my best to identify the books in the post-mortem inventories as accurately as possible. Due to this level of distribution, I can’t have a particular bias towards Spain. Many of the books so far have been printed in Spain, but plenty have been in Italy, the Holy Roman Empire, and the Low Countries (part of which were owned by Spain). The only point at which I’m tempted to have a bias geographically without any written proof is if I have maybe two editions of a particular book that it could be and one was printed in Pamplona. I think I have a little bit of leeway in that case since Pamplona is the closest center of printing!

Since LRBS, I have been working furiously to identify books. I started with roughly 2,000 items to identify. A daunting task to say the least. Now, after about 10 full days of work, I have made it through 1,129 items and I have about 940 left. The number of items may change slightly because of how I decide to divide up the entries. Sometimes if an entry mentions the first, second, and third parts of a book for example, I will split them up into three categories and other times leave them as one. It depends on the situation and how much information is available about the given book.

What is most frustrating is the difference in the amount of information given in the inventories. Some libraries were transcribed in such a way that it makes it very easy to identify the title, author, and maybe even the specific edition (printer, city, year, size). For others, all the information I’m given is a last name. I can rule out some books based on the death of the person, but if I don’t know the size of the book or the title, there is sometimes little I can do to pinpoint the title with accuracy. What’s really annoying is when I have a decent amount of information and still can’t find the book! For example, in the inventory of a countess, there is this description of a folio-sized book: “Yten la Monarchia de los Rusos Cronico Anonimo de los echos Politicos y militares de los Principes Sultanes de la cassa otomana por Juan de Orcolaga en un tomo.” For the life of me, I can’t figure out what the heck this is! I’ve used the Universal Short Title Catalog (USTC), my main place for looking for books; WorldCat, the unified catalog of most of the world’s libraries; and Google. I would bet money that I have seen the no results page on Google more than any other person in the US.

Other struggles of finding out what the books are include various orthographic barriers. Alternative spellings are common in older Spanish, so I do know to look out for those even if it does annoy me a bit. The more annoying part is that Latin titles are not written according to Latin spelling. When the inventories were created, it was one person dictating the titles to another person. So the person writing was spelling as they heard things. I also suspect that the person reading the titles was reading the spines of the book or just making a general description because books that are in Latin and have Latin titles are inventoried with a very direct word-for-word translation into Spanish of the title. This means that I need to undo that translation process. It does not make finding the books impossible, but it does make it a longer process which is annoying when time is now of the essence.

I’m not joking when I say time is of the essence. I need to finish those last 940 titles, do quite a bit of reading, create a website to display my data, analyze the data, find information about the major authors in the inventories and prominent genres, and write a paper about the three women’s inventories. It is all a bit daunting! I am excited to get all of it done. I will most likely be using the widget AwesomeTable through Google Sites for the website. It will make it possible for interested parties to easily search my data by several metrics. I am excited to read the very large amount of literature that I have yet to do. It will be a nice change of pace from researching the books. I would try to do both, but it’s very important for me to go through all of the inventories and identify the books the best I can. There’s simply no way around it.

Despite the challenges, it really is fun to uncover the different titles. Religious books make up the vast majority which really isn’t that surprising since most of the owners are priests. The lawyer I just finished was a bit dry since it was literally 200 law books all in Latin. The countess’ library is the most interesting because there is such a large sample (500+ books) about a variety of topics like navigation, shipbuilding, astrology, history, and horse veterinary advice. Her library is a bit weird to deal with because it’s absolutely her family’s library. I’m hoping that based on publication dates that some books will have to have been bought when she was a widow.

I will try to make my next post in a more timely fashion, hopefully when I am in the middle of reading, writing, and websiting!


  1. Leslie Cochrane says:

    What a fascinating project! It sounds like you have done a great deal of work. I was interested in the effects of distribution networks on the development of printing, too — I was just teaching in class about the effects of the development of printing on the standardization of language. I look forward to seeing your final project.