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Early Modern "Cultural Encyclopaedias":
Defining a Genre and its Agency from a Transcultural Perspective

Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures, Hamburg
19 - 20 October 2018


Research on the Early Modern period (in particular on New Spanish manuscripts from the 16th century) is using the term "cultural encyclopaedia" for regional knowledge compilations. Examples include Olaus Magnus' Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus (1555) as well as Bernardino de Sahagun's Historia universal de las cosas de Nueva España (1577) or the Historia Naturalis Brasiliae published in 1648 by Willem Piso and Georg Marggraf. The texts and images of these compilations describe the inhabitants of the lands, their religion, language, history and customs as well as regional animals, plants and minerals. The works, by contemporary authors referred to as "Historia", combine elements of chronicles and travelogues with pre-modern scientific, ethnographic and linguistic treatises and image series.

The focus of the conference lies on manuscripts as well as printed works. The aim is to examine these compilations not primarily in terms of their content, but to concentrate on their particular character as material artifacts: How does the visual organisation, such as the sequence of chapters, the page layout and the specific relationship of text and image contribute to creating a genre? At the content level, it is also about a still pending closer definition of the "cultural encyclopaedia" as an Early Modern text genre and its connection to the previous research on encyclopaedias. Through comparative studies, not only material and genre-specific characteristics but also intentions and agency of the knowledge compilations will be investigated.

  • To what extent do compilations serve as media of visual and textual gatherings? How can the process of selection and compilation be traced on a material level?
  • Do the manuscripts or printed works keep the compiled character, inherent in encyclopedic collections, in their formal design? Or do they form a visual unit from different knowledge bases and recording media? If so, what role do aspects such as carrier material, visual organisation and aesthetic processes of sequencing play?
  • In which political, economic or religious interests are the "cultural encyclopaedias" incorporated? How are they used to create and assign regional identities?
  • What is the role of the cited literary tradition of collecting and compiling knowledge, dating back to ancient European times (see Pliny the Elder, Isidore of Seville, Bartholomaeus Anglicus, etc.)?
  • How do the literary models shape the content presented? How are those models transformed to integrate new knowledge bases into the system?
  • What is the role of the inserted images?

Programme and Abtracts

Download the programme, the conference flyer and the poster (Updated 16.10.2018)


The workshop will be held at the Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures, Warburgstraße 26, Hamburg, Germany. How to find us


Participation is free of charge and visitors are welcome. Please register below.
You may find the Hamburg Tourismus site useful for finding a suitable accommodation.
For more information please contact us.

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On which days will you attend the sessions?
Friday, 19 October 2018
Saturday, 20 October 2018

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