Institute of Early Modern History

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The Ambivalence of Knowledge: European Library Catalogues Facing the Early Modern World (1550-1650)

  • project leader: Dr. Paola Molino

Project description:

This project is part of a larger endeavor aiming to reconstruct the impact of library catalogues in the general process of knowledge systematization in Europe between roughly 1550 and 1650. Scholarship on early modern science and knowledge has stressed how the production, classification and access to knowledge in the time period considered were determined by three crucial factors: the rise of early modern “confessional” states and empires, interested in the interrelation between knowledge and territorial control; the diffusion of the printing press, associated with a renewed passion for the methodisation of knowledge among scholars; and the flow of information from outside Europe, as a consequence of geographical discoveries, the globalization of market routes and the evangelization of new territories. This project has the aim of investigating the making of European library catalogues in these circumstances, and therefore in a tension between processes of localization and globalization of knowledge. European courts and their book collections will be at the core of this study. Within this framework, it will begin with an examination of a set of relevant case studies in Europe and then it will continue by comparing systems of knowledge outside Europe. The project will start in July 2015 with the Ducal Library in Munich as the first case study. This library produced more than 60 different catalogues between its founding in 1571 and the end of the Thirty Years War in 1652.This production depended on the diligence of its librarians, but was also affected by the territorial and confessional agenda of the Dukes of Bavaria. As a first case study, it will thus provide a unique observatory from which to look at court libraries as laboratories of knowledge, the classification systems of which were spatially, scholarly and politically determined. This was a crucial characteristic of pre-modern libraries and it had a long-term impact on European policies of knowledge management.