Theses Doctoral

Curating the Americas: Library Practices and Early Histories of the New World Between Spain and Venice

Mendez, Alexandra Vialla

This dissertation investigates how a network of Venetian and Spanish scholars placed ancient texts and new geographic information about the Americas in dialogue to create new histories of the modern world, from the 1510s to the 1550s. I focus in particular on the print production and manuscript exchanges of Venetian state officials Giovanni Battista Ramusio, Pietro Bembo, and Andrea Navagero, and Spanish state officials Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo and Diego Hurtado de Mendoza. Under the custodianship of Navagero, Bembo, and Ramusio, the Library of St. Mark, donated to the Republic of Venice by the Greek cardinal Bessarion in 1468, functioned as a site of knowledge production. The gatekeeping and information management practices that these men carried out as caretakers of this politically charged library of Greek and Latin books informed their manuscript exchanges and print production.

Geographic news from the Americas in the form of letters, accounts, maps, and printed works posed a particular challenge to classical understandings of the globe, and the Spanish and Venetian intellectuals examined here together faced the challenge of apprehending the new and determining the role and relevance of ancient texts such as those of Ptolemy, Plato, Pliny, and Strabo in the contemporary world.

Through their histories, summaries, anthologies, and commentaries, they made news into history, curating the presentation of the Americas for their reading publics. Their published works fixed in print the fluid correspondence networks and manuscript exchanges that enabled their creation, making the private public with a great deal of mediation, selection, and suppression or selective acknowledgment of sources and dialogues. By reading the printed works together with the manuscript backstory, I reveal how these scholars pushed at the boundaries of what was expected of them as Spanish or Venetian state agents. Their curated presentation of information about the Americas obscured the porosity of intellectual exchange among Spanish and Venetian intellectuals at the time, and the extent to which the production of Americana in Venice is not just a Venetian story, but also a Spanish one.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Latin American and Iberian Cultures
Thesis Advisors
Kimmel, Seth Ross
Russo, Alessandra
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 30, 2021