Although the history of philology is merely an addition to the rediscovery of textual traditions which have been neglected for too long by academic philology, it is nonetheless an important one for its ability alone to provide an explanation of the existing asymmetric situation. When the world opened up after the 16th century following transoceanic navigations, European encounters with written traditions in America, Africa and Asia led to a variety of attitudes—from denial to fascination, from destruction to collection. These “philological encounters”, both material and conceptual, largely contributed to shape the views of the European Renaissance and the Enlightenment regarding language and writing. To understand the semiological and epistemological consequences of these views, this paper focuses on a single text produced at the time of the Spanish conquest of Mexico, the Codex Mendoza, and on the different interpretations to which the latter was subjected in Europe after crossing the Atlantic. The history of the Codex Mendoza would have us believe that it was during the 18th century, and not before, that writing became exclusively synonymous with alphabet, resulting in the marginalisation of non-alphabetic written systems—and this mainly for historiographical reasons.
Les compagnies commerciales et coloniales de l’époque moderne n’ont qu’à de rares exceptions retenu l’attention de l’histoire du livre. Intermédiaires de la circulation d’écrits entre les continents, elles constituent pourtant des objets d’études incontournables pour que l’histoire du livre sorte du seul cadre national et pose la question du rôle de la culture écrite dans le désenclavement du monde à partir du XVIe siècle. Pour comprendre l’attitude de la Compagnie Hollandaise des Indes Orientales (VOC) face à l’imprimé, cet article revient sur le cas bien connu de l’Itinerario de Jan Huygen van Linschoten (1595-1596), un livre qui, s’il a incarné quelques années la complémentarité entre le monde du livre et le projet ultramarin, a très vite scellé leur antagonisme. Suite aux plaintes des directeurs de la Compagnie inquiets de sa large diffusion, il motiva en effet l’émission d’un privilège de librairie en 1619 qui entérinait le divorce entre le livre et la mer pour toute la durée du Siècle d’Or.
Recent developments in the cultural history of written culture have omitted the specificity of practices relative to writing that were anchored in colonial contexts. The circulation of manuscripts and books between different continents played a key role in the process of the first globalization from the 16th century onwards. While the European colonial organization mobilised several forms of writing and tried to control the circulation and reception of this material, the very function and meaning of written culture was recreated by the introduction and appropriation of written culture into societies without alphabetical forms of writing. This book explores the extent to which the control over the materiality of writing has shaped the numerous and complex processes of cultural exchange during the early modern period.