“The book as world and the world as book” at the Warburg Institute


Alberto Manguel, picture by Fronteiras do Pensamento [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D via Wikimedia Commons

Last Friday 20th April the Warburg Institute in London organised an event that focused on books and readers in the Spanish speaking world, entitled The book as world and the world as book. The keynote of the event was a delightful -to say the least- conversation between the Warburg’s director, Bill Sherman, and Alberto Manguel, writer and Director of the National Library of Argentina. Coincidentally, Manguel’s book Packing my Library featured as “Book of the week” on BBC Radio 4 at the beginning of the month (the UL copy stands at C205.d.5241). Their discussion, of course, was all about books, writing, reading and libraries and also about Manguel’s experiences as a young man when he read aloud to an old and blind Borges. The book With Borges (a copy is held at Jesus College’s Quincentenary Library) offers memories of the encounter and of Borges’ life beyond his writings. The  Spanish edition of the work, translated by Eduardo Berti can be found at C202.c.5582. Alberto Manguel’s holdings at the University Library are reasonably complete, both in Spanish and English, and demonstrate his flair as a writer, editor and translator (click here to see all 62 titles).

The event also hosted very diverse and interesting workshops on topics ranging from insights into 16th century Spanish editions of Marco Polo (by Dr Matthew Coneys, University of London) to “Warburg and the celestial sphere” (by Roberto Casazza, Head of Research at the National Library of Argentina). Professor Linda Newson, Director of the Institute of Latin American Studies, University of London, offered an engaging account of the role of the Inquisition and the reality of early book production in colonial Peru and how these influenced the dissemination of Paracelsian and more empirical medical practices in the New World (her book Making medicines in early colonial Lima, Peru: apothecaries, science and society is available as an e-book here).

Another fascinating talk was given by Edward Wilson-Lee (Director of Studies at Sidney Sussex College) on Ferdinand Columbus, Christopher’s son, and his revolutionary quest for a “universal library”. Ferdinand Columbus, or Hernando Colón, was a 16th century bibliographer and cosmographer who tirelessly assembled an impressive private book collection of over 15,000 volumes. He not only collected a great number of incunabula, manuscripts and ephemera but also devised a unique visual method for cataloguing them.  The Biblioteca Hernandina is the subject of a joint and very compelling project between Cambridge University and the Universidad de Granada exploring “knowledge collection and distribution [and] the insights [this] may provide into our own fast-changing, global world, our own revolution in transnational communication”. This looks like an ideal topic to feature in a future exhibition at the University Library, so watch this space!

Clara Panozzo


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