Printing and Instrument Making in the Early Modern Atlantic, 1520–1600

The Origin and Reception of Pedro de Medina’s Navigation Manual

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  • 1 City University of New York

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This essay addresses printing and instrument making as crucial features in the accumulation and dissemination of cosmographical knowledge; as a corollary, it also frames the avalanche of data from the New World as a problem of ‘information management’. In this respect, while standard treatments of the topic emphasize the epistemological gathering directed by royal institutions, I maintain that armchair erudition and discovery were still coessential, if not overlapping. My discussion pursues a specific case study – the use of Pedro de Medina’s nautical tract in Seville, Venice and Antwerp – aiming to rewrite some aspects of network theory in terms of translation. Simultaneously, it tracks epistemological changes taking place within the cognitive jurisdictions of the printing house, and examines descriptions of instruments, woodcuts, and diagrams, to visualize how historical actors used to communicate with patrons, mathematicians, and craftsmen.

  • 1

    Nick Wilding, Galileo’s Idol. Gianfrancesco Sagredo and the Politics of Knowledge (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2014), p. 116.

  • 3

    Steven Shapin, “Here and Everywhere: Sociology of Scientific Knowledge,” Annual Review of Sociology, 1995, 21:289–321, insists on the historical context of trustworthiness. See also Barbara J. Shapiro, “Testimony in Seventeenth-Century English Natural Philosophy: Legal Origins and Early Developments,” Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 2002, 33:243–263.

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  • 4

    Two overviews are Adam Mosley, “Astronomical Books and Courtly Communication,” in Books and the Sciences in History, edited by Marina Frasca-Spada, Nick Jardine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), pp. 114–131, and Mauro Bondioli, “Early Shipbuilding Records and the Book of Michael of Rhodes,” in The Book of Michael of Rhodes. A Fifteenth-Century Maritime Manuscript, edited by P.O. Long, D. McGee, and A.M. Stahl (Boston: MIT Press, 2009), Vol. III, pp. 243–280.

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  • 5

    See Ann Blair’s seminal article, “Note Taking as an Art of Transmission,” Critical Inquiry, 2004, 31:85–107, and, more recently, Richard Yeo, Notebooks, English Virtuosi, and Early Modern Science (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014).

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  • 6

    Robyn Adams, “Sixteenth-Century Intelligencers and Their Maps,” Imago Mundi, 2011, 63:201–216, notes the inclusion of a map as, most likely, “an adjunct to a composite report” (p. 202).

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  • 7

    Margaret Schotte, “Expert Records: Nautical Logbooks from Columbus to Cook,” Information & Culture, 2013, 48:281–322, rewrites the rhetoric of ‘credibility’ as a history of information.

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  • 8

    Ann Blair, Too Much to Know: Managing Scholarly Information before the Modern Age (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010), especially pp. 62–116.

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  • 9

    Mario Biagioli, Galileo’s Instruments of Credit: Telescopes, Images, Secrecy (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2006).

  • 12

    Vera Keller, “The Centre of Nature: Baron Johann Otto von Hellwig between a Global Network and a Universal Republic,” Early Science and Medicine, 2012, 17:570–588, presents many available viewpoints in alchemy and early modern empiricism; also relevant to my perspective is Benito Rial Costas (ed.), Print Culture and Peripheries in Early Modern Europe: A Contribution to the History of Printing and the Book Trade in Small European and Spanish Cities (Leiden: Brill, 2013).

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  • 13

    See Antonia Gatward Cevizli, “More Than a Messenger: Embodied Expertise in Mantuan Envoys to the Ottomans in the 1490s,” Mediterranean Studies, 2014, 22:166–189.

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  • 16

    María M. Portuondo, Secret Science: Spanish Cosmography and the New World (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009), pp. 48–59.

  • 20

    This is the main thesis of Alix Cooper, Inventing the Indigenous: Local Knowledge and Natural History in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), pp. 1–20, who defends the term “indigenous” as a rebalancing of inward-looking ethnography, which is displayed so prominently by many sixteenth-century physicians and pamphleteers.

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  • 23

    Pamela O. Long, “The Openness of Knowledge: An Ideal and Its Context in 16th-Century Writing on Mining and Metallurgy,” Technology and Culture, 1991, 32:318–355.

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  • 30

    Dennis Cosgrove, “Mapping New Worlds: Culture and Cartography in Sixteenth-Century Venice,” Imago Mundi, 1992, 44:65–89, p. 69, describes cartography “at the heart of learned discourse among the political elite of Venice.” See also Karl Appuhn, A Forest on the Sea: Environmental Expertise in Renaissance Venice (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009).

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  • 31

    Riccardo Padrón, “Mapping Plus Ultra: Cartography, Space, and Hispanic Modernity,” Representations, 2002, 79:28–60, especially at p. 47, has sobering remarks on how movement and orientation do not easily translate into cartographic form; see also Pietro Janni, La mappa e il periplo: Cartografia antica e spazio odologico (Rome: Bretschneider, 1985), pp. 17–47.

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  • 34

    Sven Dupré, “Newton’s Telescope in Print: The Role of Images in the Reception of Newton’s Instrument,” Perspectives on Science, 2008, 16:328–359.

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  • 38

    On paper instruments, see Owen Gingerich, “Astronomical Paper Instruments with Moving Parts,” in Making Instruments Count: Essays on Historical Scientific Instruments Presented to Gerard L’Estrange Turner, edited by R.G.W. Anderson et al. (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1993), pp. 63–74, and Jim Bennett, “Knowing and Doing in the Sixteenth Century,” British Journal for the History of Science, 2003, 36:129–150. A good orientation in the fast-growing bibliography on machine drawings is offered by Wolfgang Lefèvre (ed.), Picturing Machines, 1400–1700 (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2004), and by Sachiko Kusukawa, Ian MacLean (eds.), Transmitting Knowledge: Words, Images, and Instruments in Early Modern Europe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006).

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  • 40

    Irad Malkin, A Small Greek World: Networks in the Ancient Mediterranean (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013) has provided a very useful survey of the different conceptualization of Mediterranean ‘distance’ in the Greco-Roman world, arguing that a collective sense of identity came about because of, and not despite, maritime dispersal. Malkin’s thoughtful and erudite discussion of ‘middle grounds’ is very relevant to this context, and to our next section on Medina in Venice, because so much of the cosmographical lore there was distinctively “patriotic,” and yet each individual polity look at itself as a local microcosm, wondrously poised to become a world-class emporium.

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  • 42

    Edward Collins, “Francisco Faleiro and Scientific Methodology at the Casa de la Contratación in the Sixteenth Century,” Imago Mundi, 2013, 65:25–36, describes how Spain progressed from being an “emulative neighbour” to a leading maritime power with its own authority in navigational matters (p. 31). For a study of the Casa, alternative to the treatment of Portuondo, Secret Science (cit. note 16), pp. 268–279, see Antonio Acosta Rodríguez, Adolfo Luis González Rodríguez, Enriqueta Vila Vilar (eds.), La Casa de la Contratación y la navegación entre España y las Indias (Seville: CSIC, 2003).

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  • 43

    As Ursula Lamb, A Navigator’s Universe: The Libro de Cosmographia of 1538 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1972), p. 22, suggests.

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  • 45

    Alison Sandman and Eric H. Ash, “Trading Expertise: Sebastian Cabot between Spain and England,” Renaissance Quarterly, 2004, 57:813–846, pp. 821–822.

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  • 51

    Sandman and Ash, “Trading Expertise” (cit. note 45), p. 826. For a consideration of sixteenth-century intellectual property in relations to maps, see Mario Biagioli, “From Prints to Patents: Living on Instruments in Early Modern Europe,” History of Science, 2006, 44:139–186, pp. 161–162.

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  • 57

    See Jean-Marc Mandosio, “L’ histoire dans les classifications des sciences et des arts à la Renaissance,” Corpus, 1995, 28:43–72, pp. 46–48, and the introduction to Gianna Pomata and Nancy G. Siraisi, Historia: Empiricism and Erudition in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2005), pp. 1–38.

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  • 58

    Peter Burke, “Early Modern Venice as a Center of Information and Communication,” in Venice Reconsidered: The History and Civilization of an Italian City-State, 1297–1707, edited by John Martin, Dennis Romano (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000), pp. 402–403, develops a discussion set in motion by Carlo Dionisotti, Geografia e storia della letteratura italiana (Turin: Einaudi, 1967), pp. 170–171.

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  • 59

    Liz Horodowich, “Armchair Travelers and the Venetian Discovery of the New World,” The Sixteenth Century Journal, 2005, 36:1039–1062, offers a very subtle analysis of what she calls a “decidedly Venetian vision” (p. 1042), using isolari, costume books and maps to show the fundamental fixation of Venetian ethnographers with a frozen, utopian past. In the same essay, Horodowich also expresses an opinion (p. 1062) which coincides with mine, namely that the cultural intervention of the Venetian press is all the more significant because the city-state had no formal interest in active exploration; for a different view on the synchronism of the accelerated pace of discovery and the expansion of Venice’s printing industry, see Paul F. Grendler, The Roman Inquisition and the Venetian Press, 1540–1605 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977), pp. 6–12.

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  • 62

    See Augustus Pallotta, “Venetian Printers and Spanish Literature in Sixteenth-Century Italy,” Comparative Literature, 1991, 43:20–42, and Matteo Lefèvre, Il potere della parola. Il castigliano nel Cinquecento tra Italia e Spagna: grammatica, ideologia, traduzione (Manziana: Vecchiarelli, 2012).

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  • 72

    Alan Mikhail, Nature and Empire in Ottoman Egypt: An Environmental History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), pp. 1–37, persuasively maintains that in the construction of a rural irrigation infrastructure Egyptian peasants held their own with Ottoman bureaucrats. On the cosmopolitan undercurrents of the lingua franca, see Eric R. Dursteler, “Speaking in Tongues: Language and Communication in the Early Modern Mediterranean,” Past and Present, 2012, 217:47–77.

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  • 73

    As Annaclara Cataldi Palau, Gian Francesco d’Asola e la tipografia aldina (Genoa: Sagep, 1998), p. 360, writes, the first colophon to mention this can be found in a 1531 edition of Celestina.

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  • 75

    Giuseppe Nova, Stampatori, librai ed editori bresciani in Italia nel Cinquecento (Brescia: Fondazione Civiltà bresciana, 2000), p. 159.

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  • 79

    Donatella Ferro, “Traduzioni di opere spagnole sulla scoperta dell’America nell’editoria veneziana del cinquecento,” in L’impatto della scoperta dell’America nella cultura veneziana, edited by Angela Caracciolo Aricò (Rome: Bulzoni, 1990), pp. 93–114.

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  • 81

    I paraphrase Giovanni Battista Ramusio, Navigationi et viaggi (Amsterdam: Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, 1970), Vol. 1, fol. 371r.

  • 83

    David Woodward, Maps as Prints in the Italian Renaissance (London: British Library [Panizzi Lectures], 1996).

  • 87

    See Rodolfo Gallo, “Fra Vincenzo Paletino da Curzola e la sua carta della Spagna,” Atti dell’Accademia dei Lincei: Rendiconti, 1947, 2:259–267. In his lavish 1592 Theatrum, published in Antwerp, Abraham Ortelius reprised and updated Paletino’s 1551 map with the help of the botanist Charles de l’Escluse. This relocation of Paletino’s map is similar and parallel to his translation of Medina: the new cosmographical text in the Low Countries is now identified as a locupletissima descriptio, serving as an elegant, ‘best-selling’, ready source of topical copia.

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  • 88

    I quote from Antonello Gerbi, Nature in the New World: From Christopher Columbus to Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1985), p. 390.

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  • 91

    Cosgrove, “Mapping New Worlds” (cit. note 30), pp. 69–77, reconstructs how in Venice cartographic representation was inextricably linked to the Republic’s renewal program, and by the same token formed an important aspect of the bureaucratization of social life; also useful is Genevieve Carlton, “Making an Impression: The Display of Maps in Sixteenth-Century Venetian Homes,” Imago Mundi, 2012, 64:28–40, p. 29, who suggestively notes that domestic spaces supplied visual support to the world beyond Venice, while images of the lagoon were relatively uncommon.

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  • 94

    Paula Findlen, “Courting Nature,” in Cultures of Natural History, edited by N. Jardine, J.A. Secord, E. Spary (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), p. 58.

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  • 95

    In 1548, Medina himself wrote a successful book, Libro de grandezas y cosa memorables de España, which might be seen as a precursor of early modern guidebooks such as Francesco Sansovino’s. See A. Katie Harris, From Muslim to Christian Granada: Inventing a City’s Past in Early Modern Spain (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007), p. 55.

  • 97

    In 1585, five years after the translation of Medina’s navigation manual, the city of Antwerp surrendered to Farnese in the name of the Spanish king: Monica Stensland, Habsburg Communication in the Dutch Revolt (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2012), pp. 89–113.

  • 98

    Ad Meskens, Practical Mathematics in a Commercial Metropolis: Mathematical Life in 16th Century Antwerp (Berlin: Springer, 2013), p. 148.

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  • 99

    As Michael Limberger, “ ‘No town in the world provides more advantages’: Economies of Agglomeration and the Golden Age of Antwerp,” in Urban Achievement in Early Modern Europe: Golden Ages in Antwerp, Amsterdam and London (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), pp. 39–62, brilliantly observes, the whole question of commercial achievement and agglomeration has become a historiographic theme on its own right.

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  • 108

    Adrian Johns, The Nature of the Book: Print and Knowledge in the Making (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1998), pp. 6–20.

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