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Latin American History and Culture: Series 6: Parts 1-7: Jose Toribio Medina Collection of Latin American Imprints, 1500-1800

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About this Collection


Introduction:Latin American History and Culture: Series 6: The Jos Toribio MedinaCollection of Latin American Imprints, 1500-1800: Parts 1-7


By anystandard, the Jos Toribio Medina Collection, housed in the National Library ofChile, is among the most distinguished libraries ever assembled of imprintspublished prior to 1801 and relating to Latin America. It not only includesEuropean imprints, but also a significant gathering of publications from theHispanic American colonial presses. Conditions of the period dictated what was- and was not - published. In the sixteenth century, a wide range of works waspublished in order to serve the Roman Catholic Churchs Christianization of theAmerindians. Instructional religious tracts, vocabularies of Amerindianlanguages, and multilingual catechisms figured prominently. In the seventeenthand eighteenth centuries, important publications on religious orders, sermons,and the Inquisition appeared. By the mid-seventeenth century, theadministration of the colonies generated a vast amount of material used bybureaucrats, royal authorities, holders of commercial interests, and Creoleswith economic and political influence. Laws, legal briefs, treaties, and bookson the history and people of the Americas also comprise an important part ofthe collection. Its cultural and literary works range from poetry, music, andliterature to texts on grammar and philosophy. It also includes limited butimportant coverage of science and medicine.


The chronological span for the Americana of European imprintsextends from 1500 to 1800, with approximately 670 titles; the Hispanic Americanimprints range from 1554 to 1800, with over fourteen hundred titles. Thislatter group includes works from the colonial presses of Mexico, Lima, Guatemala,Santiago de Chile, and Puebla de los Angeles in the Viceroyalty of New Spain.


The collection was assembled during the nineteenth century and earlytwentieth century by Chiles foremost authority on early printing andbibliography, Jos Toribio Medina (1852 to 1930), and was donated by him toChiles National Library in 1925. In 1940, with a grant from the RockefellerFoundation, Brown University Library undertook a microfilming project ofselected titles in the National Library to augment the holdings of the JohnCarter Brown Library. Therefore, for many research projects and topics, thismicrofilmed collection will not provide comprehensive coverage. Rather, theresearcher should use it in conjunction with other appropriate collections,thereby assuring exposure to all relevant documentation. The works microfilmedby Brown were cataloged by the Library of Congress, and those records appeartoday in its online catalog; a significant proportion is also found in theWorldCat bibliographic utility. The microfilm set, which consists of 246 reels,contains approximately twenty-three hundred publications issued prior to 1801.An index provides access by author or title, along with the reel number and theitem number.


Jos Toribio Medina


This set of microfilm brings together many of the rarest andmost important imprints concerning Hispanic America produced between 1500 and1800. Medina had a lifelong engagement with the primary sources created duringthe colonial period. The microfilmed works are reflective of his broadscholarly interests and are fundamental to the history of printing in the NewWorld. Few collections have the depth and range of the Medina holdings on thesetopics: government, urbanization, culture, religious life and thought,Amerindians, and the history of regions, events, and persons.


Jos Toribio Medina is perhaps Chiles most importantscholar of the Americas. He earned a law degree from the University of Chileand served as a Chilean diplomat from 1875 to 1885. Medina was also a publisherand a scholar-bibliophile. Much of his lifes work centered on the question ofthe fundamental nature of America, with the colonial period as his focal point.His scholarship covers many aspects of Chile and Hispanic America: cartography,geography, history, biography, numismatics, philology, lexicography, culture,linguistics, literature, literary history and criticism, and anthropology andarchaeology pertaining to indigenous peoples. These subjects, which areimportant to Chile, also figure in the history of colonial America. Medinaspent his life identifying accumulations of documents and early printed booksthat became the basis for his numerous scholarly contributions, estimated toconsist of more than three hundred monographs, articles, pamphlets,translations, and edited documentary collections issued between 1873 and 1930.These include the edited version of the actasof the cabildo of Santiago de Chile(1558 to 1705), highly important research on the Inquisition, an exhaustivestudy of the printing presses in colonial Hispanic America and the Philippines(published in sixteen volumes), and many bibliographies on topics pertaining tothe colonial periods in Chile and Hispanic America. Medinas notable librarycollection often provided an important part of the documentation supportingthese many publications.


Medina was widely considered the greatest Americanist of histime; his multifaceted work continues to serve generations of scholars byproviding access to materials and serving as a bibliography fundamental to thehistory of the Americas. As an historian and editor of documents, he excelledin the editing of manuscripts and printed books from the colonial period.During many visits to the principal archives and libraries in Europe and LatinAmerica, Medina identified documents and publications relevant to his studiesand then transcribed them. These transcriptions often provided the basis forhis scholarly publications and were also published in compilations of editedmanuscripts and documents.


Medinas many trips also allowed for the purchase ofmanuscripts and published works, including books, prints, and maps. By 1888, hehad 2,928 colonial imprints in his personal library. During the period from1902 to 1904, he traveled throughout Latin America and Spain, adding more thanten thousand volumes to his library. A trip to Mexico in 1903 yielded a largequantity of colonial Mexican pamphlets and books. Even at a time when otherimportant collections were being formed - most often by historians studyingLatin America - Medina accumulated impressive holdings in virtually everyfield. In 1925, Medina decided to donate his collection to Chile, thusincreasing its importance to the nation. Known as the Biblioteca Americana Jos Toribio Medina,and housed in the National Library of Chile, at the time of gift, thecollection consisted of sixty-six thousand printed items, 1,668 originaldocuments and manuscripts, and 8,659 transcribed documents and manuscripts.iIn addition to overseeing the transfer and cataloging of the collection, Medinaassisted in the design of the space that would house it. By placing his vastholdings in a public institution, Medina not only demonstrated his commitmentto research, he acknowledged his debt to the state of Chile for its years ofsupport of his studying and collecting activities, as well as his forays intopublishing.


Medina is also well known for his expertise in the historyof printing in the Americas. Over the years, he compiled detailed inventoriesof the publications of the different presses in thirty-eight colonial HispanicAmerican cities. In some respects, he continued the tradition of smallindependent presses by creating his own publishing houses (e.g., Ercilla, from1888 to 1891, and Elzeviriana, from 1896 to 1919), thereby facilitating thetimely publication of his various works. His presses produced a variety ofespecially important works: reprinted chronicles of the colonial period, withscholarly introductions; critical editions of manuscripts and printed works;and literature, with a particular emphasis on colonial poetry. Today, many ofthese works remain the standard bibliography or critical edition, althoughother scholars have elaborated and corrected portions of the texts.ii


Medinas foresight in leaving his extraordinary collectionto the Chilean nation has few parallels in Latin America. Even in the latenineteenth century and early twentieth century, it was neither easy norinexpensive to form extensive and high-quality collections of colonial materials.In light of the fact that Medina was not independently wealthy, his collectionis even more remarkable. Its most distinguishing feature, however, is thecontent itself; the importance and diversity of his acquisitions within theirrespective fields is best determined by an expert. Medina, however, neverrestricted himself to books alone because he recognized the central role thatprinted pamphlets held in colonial society. In this regard, Medina and hislibrary continue to exemplify superior collecting.


The Medina Collection on Microfilm


Because the colonial heritage of Hispanic America includescontemporaneous European and Latin American imprints, the microfilm set derivedfrom the Librarys holdings provides a selection from both geographic areas.Presses in various Spanish cities account for over 400 titles, dating from 1500to 1800 (twenty-nine titles from 1500 to 1597; forty-three titles from 1601 to1700; 247 titles from 1701 to 1800). Of the approximately two hundred titleslacking imprint locations, virtually all are from Spain. Fewer imprintsrelevant to Medinas interests appeared from the presses of other Europeancountries. This is not surprising, given the control that the Hapsburgs (andlater, the Bourbons) exerted over publishing, to say nothing of the fear offoreign powers gaining knowledge of Spains New World colonial possessions. Themicrofilm set contains approximately seventy-seven imprints from 1530 to 1797produced by presses in Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, France,Portugal, and Cologne.


Works from Hispanic American press constitute the core ofthe collection in most areas, with over 1,330 books and pamphlets. MexicoCitys press, the first in the Americas, dates from 1539. There are more thannine hundred Mexican imprints on microfilm, dating from 1554 to 1800 (eighttitles from 1554 to 1600; 121 titles from 1602 to 1700; 773 titles from 1701 to1800). Other presses in the Viceroyalty of New Spain included those in theCaptaincy-General of Guatemala and the city of Puebla de los Angeles. Thatformer city is represented by forty-six imprints from the period from 1640 to1799 (eight titles from 1640 to 1700; thirty-eight titles from 1701 to 1799).The Guatemalan press was established in 1660, and the microfilm contains atleast 140 imprints that span the years 1663 to 1800 (twenty titles from 1663 to1700; 120 titles from 1702 to 1800). The Viceroyalty of Peru secured its firstprinting press in 1581, and in this collection, there are more than 240imprints spanning from 1592 to 1800 (two titles from 1592; sixty-three titlesfrom 1604 to 1700; 178 titles from 1704 to 1800).


Printers and their presses responded to the Crownswide-ranging demands in all matters; thus, as the imperial reign continued overthree centuries, the works produced evolved to reflect Spains spiritual andadministrative interests as well as its educational needs. Restrictions werealways present, whether in the form of paper shortages and the high costs ofimporting printing equipment and paper, or the legal measures designed tocontrol printing and the transatlantic book trade.iii Because of themagnitude of the imperial projects objective - establishing economicdomination through political control, coupled with wide-scale conversion of theindigenous population to Christianity - publishing assumed a key rolethroughout the period. The need for information such as basic texts of laws,religious doctrine, and theology, along with educational materials foruniversities and church programs continuously pressed. There were many strictcontrols over the publishing industry: limits on the number of printingpresses, rules as to what was permissible to print, and restrictions governingwhich books could be imported into the Americas. As a result, the substance ofwhat existed and was circulated reflected prevailing policies and in someinstances indicated the ability to circumvent censorial regulations.


The story of Spains encounter with the New World - and itsimposition of a new system of social organization, government, and religiousbelief on a vast territory populated by millions of Amerindians - is expressedthrough the chronicles of discovery and exploration, cartographicrepresentation, navigation manuals, laws, legal briefs, and a wide range ofreligious publications. Many European and Hispanic American imprints coveringthese topics constitute invaluable documentary sources on the geography,exploration, and description of the region. Access to these publications onboth sides of the Atlantic enabled an exchange of ideas on a fairly regular andtimely basis.


Materials for the study of the areas history comprise amajor part of the collection, especially for those taking an interdisciplinaryapproach to the study of the Americas. The conquest and early settlementmotivated writers to chronicle their specific interpretations or endeavor toexplain the strangeness of the new lands and new people. Defenses or critiquesof Spains imperial expansion (especially by certain foreign observers and membersof the clergy) generated a substantial body of documentation that increasedwith the passage of time.


Religious life and thought figure prominently throughout allperiods and areas. In the field of theology, church doctrine and dogma are wellrepresented, as are sermons, liturgy, devotions, pastoral letters, and canonlaw. Monastic orders were responsible for substantial writings: explanationsconcerning their operations and the rules governing them, biographies of nunsand monks, and a host of works useful to their evangelization of indigenouspeoples. Insight into these orders comes through ordinances and monastic rules,as well as various directories. Other publications discuss religious life,including the celebration of festivals and the work of the orders members,some of whom have since been canonized. The nature and extent of such worksvary considerably, depending on the particular religious order and itscommitment to scholarship or proselytization. The Jesuit order was probably themost erudite of all, and its involvement with university-level educationaccounts for the need for such publications in the viceroyalties. Medinadeveloped extensive holdings of these materials because of his strong interestin the Inquisition as an institution dedicated to scrutinizing the actions ofall the Spanish empires inhabitants. Acts of faith that record thedeclarations and opinions of those involved with Inquisitorial cases arecentral to this part of the collection.


As critical as religious life was to the colonies, theestablishment and function of governing institutions proved to be as importantas the spiritual dimensions of the conquest. Over a very short time period,entire societies were transformed, as were the lives of millions of people. Newcenters of power and authority emerged through the massive effort to constructurban life according to the models that had evolved during the Spanish Catholicreconquest of the Iberian Peninsula. The monarch governed through his viceregalappointees, who, in turn, had to continuously negotiate with powerful churchinterests, the steadily increasing business-based and commercially-based Creoleelite, and in some regions, Amerindian leadership. Many ordinances, laws, anddecrees are present in the microfilm set. Regulations governing commerce,transport, and communication were fundamental to maintaining order in theseareas, thereby facilitating the all-important task of collecting revenues fromtariffs and the taxation of property. Protection of royal monopolies alsorequired detailed publications, as did the regulations governing the use ofindigenous peoples labor in mining and other activities. Military matters alsofigure here, and whether the topic is an insurrection or a threat from foreignpowers, the documents reveal the issues and responses from the perspective ofthe authorities.


The legal arena is closely linked to government, and thebureaucratic nature of the Spanish empire lent itself to comprehensiveregulations over nearly all aspects of life. Many laws were observed to existbut were not obeyed in practice, especially in the far reaches of the realm.Laws and decrees (including royal ones) covering commerce, urban life, andgovernment are predominant. The effectiveness of these and other legalinstruments can be determined by examining the extensive representation oflegal briefs of lawsuits as well as the lawsuits themselves; these often revealhow justice functioned and also expose assets and personal relations among andassets held by private individuals and individuals affiliated withcorporations.


A far smaller group of publications covers science andmedicine, with works on natural history figuring prominently, especially earlydescriptive accounts of the colonies. Matters of navigation appear innavigational treatises, manuals, and texts on astronomy. The few works onmathematics are especially valuable. Medicine is the subject of a variety ofpublications from presses in Puebla de los Angeles, Lima, and Mexico City.


A number of imprints focus on literature, language, andculture. The primary areas covered include music, poetry by leading writers ofthe time, and grammars and dictionaries for different languages, includingindigenous ones.


Documentation related to Amerindians appears in textsdevoted exclusively to that topic (e.g., laws, religious works for indigenouspeoples, dictionaries of indigenous languages, and accounts by members ofreligious orders and other chroniclers) or comprises parts of works in many ofthe aforementioned fields. Documents dealing closely with issues of conversion,religious practice, urbanization, commerce, labor, and litigation areparticularly reflective of certain aspects of Amerindian communities. Writingsfrom religious orders and reports from the Inquisition also prove useful inbringing to life the practices and daily activities of indigenous peoples.


Research Significance


Three centuries of colonial rule resulted in a vast corpusof documentation that is essential to studies of that historic period and alsoto our understanding of certain aspects of life in Hispanic America after itachieved independence and into the present day. No society can ever separateitself completely from its formative influences, and as demonstrated by variousworks in this microfilm set, knowledge of the past allows a more profoundunderstanding of the realities of the present. Works of geography and otherprinted accounts of natural history provide insights into the environmentalconditions of the period. European descriptions of the landscape and of theindigenous peoples also offer perspectives that are vital to todaysunderstanding of the transformations that occurred through human and naturalforces. Many documents originating in the confines of the religious ordersfocus on the human dimensions of missionary work. Once again, thesedescriptions provide access to eyewitness accounts and record how thoseindividuals, by virtue of membership in the clergy or a religious order,carried forth the moral message of Christianity. The issues surroundingAmerindians - especially their treatment in terms of labor, land tenure, socialorganization, and belief systems - all emerge in documentation concerningreligious activities. The church itself is a major political and economicforce; along with its principal role of encouraging conversion and maintainingthe faith and practice of Roman Catholicism, it produced a vast amount ofwriting about most aspects of its way of life and its mission. The collectionnot only provides insight into the church as an institution, it yieldsimportant accounts of the clergy and the various religious orders dedicated todifferent aspects of life in the colonies over the centuries.


Although the church and the Crown were supposed to work intandem as collaborators, many aspects of their relationship were characterizedby conflict and tension. These are evident in documentation from theInquisition: legal briefs, lawsuits, regulations, and jurisdictional disputeswithin the churchs agencies and with the state itself. These and otherdisputes over resources, privileges, and responsibilities offer special insightinto the functioning of governing agencies and individuals. The vast legalapparatus, as well as the bureaucracy behind it, emerge from the texts ofnumerous decrees, laws, and regulations. The collection is rich with materialsfundamental to the operation of empire. As decades of colonization turned intocenturies and the economic policies and conditions came to be onerous for theCreole commercial elites, the Crown endeavored to introduce a variety ofreforms under Charles III (1759 to 1788). This period truly became the apogeeof empire, and the official materials issued throughout the remainder of theeighteenth century provide some understanding of the measures that contributedto the end of empire early in the nineteenth century.iv


Throughout the long centuries of imperial rule andsubjugation by the many institutions that prospered on the physical and humanAmerican landscape, societies progressed through learning and through thecommitment of individuals to the advancement of humanity. Over time, work inthese areas found expression in the literature and culture that came toreflect, if not incorporate, aspects that were uniquely American in substance.A number of titles by Sor Juana Ins de la Cruz (to cite but one of therenowned authors whose works are in the microfilm collection), as well as otherworks of literature, science, and medicine, all point to the capabilities andcreativity of the peoples throughout Hispanic America.


In sum, users of this microfilm collection should rememberthat for many research questions, it is best used in conjunction with otherholdings of similar rare materials published prior to 1801, as well as appropriatesecondary sources. A number of major repositories of such types ofdocumentation exist in Europe, the United States, and in Latin America. Thismicrofilm set allows access to over twenty-three hundred colonial-era imprints.Due to the rarity of many of these microfilmed items, this collection shouldcontribute in major and minor ways to many research projects in the relevantfields.


Peter T. Johnson
Princeton, NJ




iMaury A. Bromsen. Medina, the Americanist, introduction to Jos Toribio Medina:Humanist of the Americas. An Appraisal, by Medina Centennial Celebration,1952, ed. Maury A. Bromsen (Washington, D.C.: Pan American Union, 1960), xlvii.For another assessment of Medinas life, see Jos Carlos Royira, JosToribio, Medina y su fundacin literaria y bibliogrfica del mundo, colonialAmericano (Santiago de Chile: DIBAM, Centro de Ivestigaciones Diego BarrosArana, 2002).


ii Guillermo Feli Cruz, Prlogo, Medina:Gnesis delbibligrafo, prologue to Jos Toribio Medina, Historia de la imprenta enlos antiguos dominios espaoles de Amrica y Oceania (Santiago de Chile: FondoHistrico y Bibliogrfico Jos Toribio Medina, 1958), xxxix-civ.


iii Hortensia Calvo, The Politics of Print: TheHistoriography of the Book in Early Spanish America, Book History 6(2003), 277-305.


iv Stanley J. Stein and Barbara H. Stein, Apogee ofEmpire; Spain and New Spain in the Age of Charles III, 1759-1789(Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 2003), 69-115, 143-85, 223-304,and 338-49.