Friday, October 29, 2010

The Toledo Letter (late late edition)

The prophecy known as the "Toledo Letter" circulated throughout Europe from the late 12th century onwards. Its origin and later versions have been thoroughly documented by Hermann Grauert and, most especially and more recently, Gerd Mentgen's 2005 book Astrologie und Öffentlichkeit im Mittelalter. Mentgen's book, which I found extremely useful while working on Printing and Prophecy, records versions of the Toledo Prophecy as late as the early 16th century.* There is only one known version of the "Toledo Letter" in print (known from two editions, VD16 P 4549 and P 4550), in a highly modified version, the "Practica of the High Learned Masters of the School of Athens" (and so the "Toledo Letter" barely gets a mention in Printing and Prophecy). Mentgen suggests that the motifs and rhetoric of the "Toledo Letter" were incorporated into the predictions of mass flooding and other disasters for 1524.

So I was surprised when I glanced at a newly digitized pamphlet, the anonymous Grüntliche und Astronomische Widerlegung / zweyer außgesprengten / falscherdichteten Propheceyungen / uber das 1629. Jahr, and discovered a refutation of the "Toledo Letter," apparently as published in late 1628. No title is given for the pamphlet that is being refuted, but the key components are all there: a conjunction of all the planets in the Cauda draconis as the Sun enters the sign of Libra, a solar eclipse, war, bloodshed, death, and most significantly, the advice to seek refuge from the coming storm winds and earthquakes in a vault between mountains stocked with food for 20 days (see especially the 1460 version of the "Toledo Letter," Mentgen 98 n. 381). The newly digitized pamphlet looks like a close variant of VD17 23:250802M; another edition, for which a complete facsimile is available, is VD17 12:641205M.

*My one wish is that Mentgen, like many other medieval historians, would cite early printed books by referring to a GW/ISTC/VD16 index number to permit easier identification of the precise editions. Citing an author, title, and year, and even adding a printer and place of publication, is often not enough to completely specify the edition consulted.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A footnote

I had a few minutes to write this morning. I managed to get one footnote written. It wasn't even a long footnote with an interesting but tangential argument. Just a simple: "On this topic, see A, and also B and C."

But if you start to write a footnote, you'll want to double-check the page numbers in your sources. When you check the page numbers, you'll want to check the footnotes, too. While you're checking the footnotes, you might notice that your source cites some primary material you haven't seen before. When you try to find a digital copy of the promising new material, you might stumble onto a whole digitalization project with 3000+ sixteenth-century books (so far) that you have never browsed before.

I've only made it through the first 600 items from the ULB Sachsen-Anhalt/Universität Halle's list of sixteenth-century digital editions, but there were a few high-priority items, including two 1516 editions of the Extract of Various Prophecies. I only got one footnote written, but it was still a morning well spent.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Why I love medieval studies, the Internet, and librarians

I need to take a look at a copy of an uncataloged edition of an obscure sixteenth-century pamphlet in a small library on another continent. So I e-mailed someone whose job it is to support the cataloging and management of smaller collections in his state. I mentioned what I was working on and the book I was hoping to get digital copies of, and asked who the best contact person would be.

The reply: Well, the contact people are quite busy and don't really have the resources, but I have to visit that library in a few weeks, so I'll bring the pamphlet back with me and have it digitized here. Will that work?

Yes. Yes, that will work just fine.

* * *

I need to take a look at another obscure pamphlet. According to VD16, there's one copy, not in a major research collection. But a bit of Google searching and wading through digitized card catalogs turns up a second copy. So I e-mail another librarian: any chance of getting a digital copy? Digital photos arrive by e-mail the next day. Is this the work you mean, the librarian asks? (Well, no, it's not quite the right one, and we're having a bit of difficulty tracking down which one it is. But it's still awesome.)

* * *

Yesterday someone contacted me about an older project of mine. Available images weren't great; did I have any digital photos available? Why, yes, I did, and I've now sent them off to help that person with his research.

It's the digital-images-of-obscure-old-books Circle of Life.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Research links you need to know about VII: surfing for digital editions

If you want to leave no stone unturned in your search for an online digital edition of a book printed in the15th or 16th century, then you need to work your way through the entire list of libraries with digital editions over at Archivalia. It will take days, but it will be worth the effort, unless you get distracted and start looking at books you never existed, in which case it will take weeks or months but be even more rewarding.

Your next-best option is to check the catalogs of the major digitalization projects (see links in the sidebar). If you don't find what you're looking for, however, there are still two places worth checking.

For incunables, try the verteilte digitale Inkunabelbibliothek (vdIB). Its search data comes from ISTC, and it has links to digital editions from Cologne and Wolfenbüttel. (I'd like to see some evidence that the project is still being actively developed, however. With ISTC and GW adding their own links to digital editions, vdIB may be becoming redundant.)

A more general search engine is the Zentrales Verzeichnis digitalisierter Drucke. Its coverage reaches from 1501 to the present, but its focus is on the 19th and 20th centuries. Still, it's turned up some new sources for me in the past.

And don't forget Google; it led me to a recently digitized first edition of Rheticus's Narratio prima, the first printed description of Copernican cosmology, at the Linda Hall Library of Science, Engineering, and Technology.