The Biblioteca Hernandina and the Early Modern Book World

A collaboration between the Centre for Material Texts (University of Cambridge) and the Literature and Translation Research Group (GRUPO HUM 383, Universidad de Granada)

Between c.1509 and his death in 1539, Hernando Colón put together what was arguably the most remarkable private book collection in early sixteenth-century Europe. In three decades, starting with the books and manuscripts of his father (the explorer Columbus), Hernando created a heterogeneous and comprehensive library. His service to the Spanish crown, the defence of his family’s interests, and his own private initiative took him all around Europe. Wherever he went, Hernando purchased books—frequently, on a massive scale. His collection traces the production and trade routes of the early modern book world, its networks of political, cultural and intellectual exchange. The core of the library that Colón planned – and which he intended to call the Biblioteca Hernandina – still survives today in the Biblioteca Colombina in Seville Cathedral.

This project intends to map Hernando’s social and intellectual networks and to examine the library he built at the crossroads between manuscript and print, medieval and modern, local and global. Driven by the prophetic ambitions of his own father, Hernando’s bibliomania prefigured Borges’s Babelian dream of a universal library. Many of the questions raised by Hernando’s library speak to our own times: the revolution in knowledge collection and distribution that the Biblioteca Hernandina sought to harness, as well as its universalist scope, adumbrate some of the communicative dynamics of today’s world. Our project aims to read Hernando’s books in search for the insights they may provide into our own fast-changing, global world, our own revolution in transnational communication.