Volume 1 of “Editions” showcases the work of the undergraduate students enrolled in “A Disruptive Technology: Impacts of Printing in Early Modern Hispanic Worlds” (SPAN W3420) in the spring semester of 2015. This course was an elective upper-level seminar for LAIC majors and minors conducted in Spanish. I had the pleasure of designing and teaching the course thanks to a fellowship from the GSAS Teaching Scholars Program and the support of my home department, Latin American & Iberian Cultures, where I am a PhD candidate and teaching fellow.
The student work presented in Volume 1 was the culminating writing and research assignment for the first unit of the course, titled “The Book as Technology: from Manuscript to Print.” Each student selected a sixteenth- or seventeenth-century printed book from Columbia University’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library to photograph, describe, research, and briefly analyze.
The books included in this exhibit represent each student’s individual interests and include economic treatises with unexpectedly rich woodblock illustrations; a trilingual dictionary (Spanish-French-Italian); two texts on East Asia; and a confession manual for priests and penitents:
The critical thinking and linguistic aims of this project were intimately entwined. The intellectual questions of the unit “The Book as Technology: from Manuscript to Print” included: What is a book? In what ways might a book be considered a technology? Is printing a “disruptive” technology with regard to manuscripts just as we talk of digital texts being “disruptive” to printing? How do texts’ material components affect our interpretation of the contents therein? In order tackle these questions, students first needed to pay attention to books’ material components and be able to talk about and describe them in Spanish.
In linguistic terms, then, the unit revolved a specific discursive genre: description. In the weeks preceding the final project, students studied the specific vocabulary in Spanish necessary to describe the material elements of medieval and early modern books and worked on developing their communicative capacities to describe objects in Spanish more generally. Mid-way through the unit, students applied the spoken and written skills they had been working on in class in an initial ‘warm-up’ visit to the Rare Book and Manuscript Library to interface with medieval manuscripts. Ultimately, they moved on to select the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century printed books they would photograph, describe, research and analyze for this project.
In addition to providing a setting for students to develop their descriptive capacities in Spanish, the visits to Columbia’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library created other types of communicative opportunities. Students worked in pairs or small groups to discuss the objects before them in the archive, so the books engendered spontaneous conversation in Spanish. They also blogged about their experiences confronting medieval and early modern rare books after each visit, commenting on both the challenges and intellectual rewards of archival work. The field trips we took not only to Columbia’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library but also the New York Public Library provided opportunities for the students to get to know each other in a non-traditional classroom environment and consequently fostered an ease of interaction in Spanish back in the classroom.
Collaboration between LAIC and the RBML
An additional aim of this undergraduate project was to foment collaboration between the Department of Latin American and Iberian Cultures (LAIC) and the Rare Book and Manuscript Library (RBML). It served as a way for librarians, faculty, and students to uncover and make visible the Spanish language holdings in the RBML.
Special thanks are due to Consuelo Dutschke, Curator of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts, and Karla Nielsen, Curator of Literature, for facilitating the RBML sessions, generously pulling the titles I requested and sharing their deep expertise with our class. Pedro Cátedra and Susana Allés Torrent were also incredibly helpful in the manuscript session with Dr. Dutschke in helping students decipher medieval manuscripts. Jesús Rodríguez Velasco provided indispensable help for creating this digital exhibit on the LAIC website.
Explore and enjoy
I hope you will peruse the work of LAIC’s accomplished undergraduates and become inspired to make use of the RBML in your own teaching and research!
- Luis de Alcalá: Tratado de los préstamos (1543) by Daniela Rueda
- Gaspar de Texeda: Suma de arithmética práctica y de todas mercaderías (1546) by Claudia Khoury
- Girolamo Vittori: Tesoro de las tres lenguas (1609) by Liz Caggiano
- Juan González de Mendoza: Historia de las cosas más notables de China (1585) by Akiko Uemura
- Bartolomé Leonardo de Argensola: Conquista de las Islas Malucas (1609) by Jokeyni Lorenzo Tavarez
- Martín de Azpilcueta: Manual de confessores y penitentes (1557) by Sean Ryan
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