Digitization of pre-1700 books steps up as more libraries join the Early European Books program
August 11, 2011 (Ann Arbor, MI) — Early European Books, ProQuest’s program to digitize the archives of landmark European libraries, has taken another leap forward with its latest release, expanding the number and range of rare early modern books available through the online service. Debuting now are the first installment of digitized books from the National Library of the Netherlands and further content from the National Central Library of Florence. The number of digitized books — now more than 6,500 — will grow rapidly throughout the balance of 2011 and into 2012 as more libraries join the program. Digitization has already begun at the Wellcome Library in London, and works from this renowned collection of medical and scientific books will be added to the database in the fall.
“One of our aims in publishing Early European Books is to create a resource which opens up new connections between national heritage collections and allows for new kinds of scholarly overviews of the period,” said Matt Kibble, Senior Market Development Manager for Arts and Humanities at ProQuest. “With this latest release of books, what immediately strikes you is the diversity and richness of the materials held in Florence and The Hague: they give a real sense of the profoundly international nature of early modern print culture.”
Although the National Central Library of Florence is well known for its excellent holdings of Italian literary and religious texts and early editions of the Classics, this release also includes many important examples of printing from the German-speaking towns that pioneered printing in the 15th century. Books with extensive woodcut illustrations, such as Johannes Angelus’s astrological work Astrolabium (Augsburg, 1488) and the first Latin translation of Sebastian Brant’s well-known allegory The Ship of Fools (Stultifera navis, Strasbourg, 1497) join the works of important early printers such as Anton Koberger of Nürnberg and Peter Drach of Speyer.
The collection from Florence includes works printed throughout Western Europe, from foundational texts of Classical literature (Aesop, Ovid, Virgil) to medieval writers such as the 9th-century Persian scholar Albumasar (Flores astrologiae, Augsburg, 1488) and the Spanish-born Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides, through to the leading Humanist and theological authors of the 15th and 16th centuries. These include Spanish authors such as Juan de Mena (Las trescientas, or The Labyrinth of Fortune, Seville, 1499), Rodrigo Sánchez de Arévalo (Rodericus Zamorensis; Speculum Vitae Humanae, Paris, 1472) and Raymond of Sabunde (Theologia naturalis, Lyon, c.1488), as well as major writers from France (Robert Gaguin), Germany (Heinrich Institoris and Johannes Nider) and Italy (Giovanni Boccaccio, Jacobus de Voragine and Pier Paolo Vergerio, born in modern-day Slovenia).
The texts from the Netherlands give an insight into this crucial period in which the Dutch Republic was formed and grew to be a major world power. There are key historical primary source documents from the Dutch Revolt against Spanish rule, such as French pamphlets issued by William I, Prince of Orange and Marnix van St. Aldegonde’s nationalist treatise Vraye narration et Apologie des chose passes au Pays-Bas (1567). The age of exploration and colonization is represented by texts such as Joannes de Laet’s History of the New World (Nieuwe wereldt ofte Beschrĳvinghe van West-Indien, Leiden, 1625) with its detailed maps of the Caribbean, and Willem Piso’s extensively illustrated Historia naturalis Brasiliae (1648).
Scholars of fine art and book history will find many examples of the printer’s craft from both these library collections, including Nicolas Jenson’s famously elegant Roman type in his Venetian printings of the 1470s, the beautiful hand-colored maps of the islands of the Aegean in Bartolommeo da il Sonetti’s Isolario (Venice, 1485), the first printed nautical atlas, 17th-century Dutch engravings by Jacob de Gheyn (Waffenhandlvng, or The Exercise of Arms; Amsterdam, 1608) and Johan Bara (Emblemata amatoria, Netherlands, c.1620). All volumes have been digitized in high-resolution color, including all pages, endpapers, fold-outs and bindings, to give as detailed and vivid a view of the source document as possible.
Inspired by ProQuest’s flagship Early English Books Online, the aim of Early European Books is to build a comprehensive library of European printed books from the birth of printing in the 1450s to the year 1700. This long-term project will grow over the years by digitizing the entire rare book holdings of Europe’s major national and specialist research libraries. Current content is taken from three major national repositories – the Danish Royal Library, the National Library of the Netherlands and the National Central Library of Florence – and content will soon be added from the renowned collection of medical and scientific texts held by the Wellcome Library in London.