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The Bodleian Library’s Mesoamerican Manuscripts. Chris Fletcher, Head of Western Manuscripts, Bodleian Library, Oxford [email protected] Bodleian Library. 1327 – University Library being built 1488 – Duke Humfrey’s Library 1550 – Denuded of books by Henry VIII reformers

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The bodleian library s mesoamerican manuscripts l.jpg
The Bodleian Library’s Mesoamerican Manuscripts

Chris Fletcher, Head of Western Manuscripts, Bodleian Library, Oxford

[email protected]


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Bodleian Library

  • 1327 – University Library being built

  • 1488 – Duke Humfrey’s Library

  • 1550 – Denuded of books by Henry VIII reformers

  • 1602 – Refounded by Sir Thomas Bodley

  • 1610 – Deposit Agreement with Stationers’

  • Over 400 years of concerted collecting, cataloguing and reading


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The Bodleian Today

  • Largest university library in Europe

  • Second largest in UK

  • 9 million books

  • 33 km Special Collections

  • Many buildings across the city

  • Major redevelopments occurring

  • Weston Library: dedicated to Special Collections


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The Bodleian’s Mexican Treasures

All acquired C17

Three screenfolds:

  • Codex Laud. MS. Laud Misc. 678

  • Codex Bodley. MS. Mex. d. 1

  • Codex Selden. MS. Arch. Selden. A. 2

    One roll of native amatl paper:

  • The Selden Roll. MS. Arch. Selden. A. 72 (3)

    One European-style book on imported European paper:

  • Codex Mendoza. MS. Arch. Selden. A. 1


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Codex Laud (MS Laud Misc. 678)

  • Acquired 16 June 1636

  • Donated along with many mss from William Laud, archbishop of Canterbury

  • Screenfold – the smallest, oldest, most mysterious of the 3 we own

  • Obscure geographic origin

  • Divinatory and ritual aspects of the native calendar

  • Pre-Hispanic – no clear consensus on date?


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FACSIMILE of Codex Laud




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Codex Bodley (MS Mex. D. 1)

  • Acquired through Thomas Bodley who knew its Mexican origin

  • Just Pre-Hispanic

  • Mixtec screenfold – glued deerskin

  • 23 pages, of which 20 painted both sides

  • genealogies of the ruling dynasties of two Mixtec communities, Ñuu Tnoo (Tilantongo) and Ndisi Nuu (Tlaxiaco).

  • Maarten Jansen & Gabina Aurora Pérez Jiménez, ed., _Codex Bodley: a painted chronicle from the Mixtec Highlands, Mexico_ (Treasures from the Bodleian Library, 1), Oxford 2005



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Codex Selden

  • Acquired 1659 as part of John Selden’s Library

  • Second of our two Mixtec screenfolds

  • Genealogy and life stories of the ruling dynasty of the town of Añute

  • Genealogies go to 1556 …

  • Survival of native culture?

  • But it is also a palimpsest



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The Selden Roll (MS. Arch. Selden. A. 72(3))

  • Acquired from the Library of John Selden, 1659

  • Roll of native amatl paper (pulped bark)

  • Mounted C19 on linen

  • 38 x 350 cm

  • Early colonial period, C16

  • Southern Mexican highlands

  • Migratory journeys of divine ancestors, up to early settlement



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Codex Mendoza (MS. Arch. Selden. A. 1)

  • First hand account of Mexica culture

  • Made in Mexico at the command of Mendoza, viceroy of Mexico, c.1541

  • Sent to Emperor Charles v

  • Captured by French Privateers

  • Possessed by Andre Thevet, French cosmographer to the King 1553

  • Other owners include Samuel Purchas: ‘the choisest of my Jewels’

  • Acquired 1659, as part of John Selden’s library


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Codex Mendoza: folio 2r

  • 71 folios Spanish paper

  • Aztec painter

  • Native speakers interpreted the pictures for the Spanish scribe

  • Three parts – history of Aztec conquests, the tribute paid by the empire’s 38 provinces, typical lives from birth to death

  • The founding of Tenochtitlan!


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Codex Mendoza, f. 40

Different provinces yield:

  • Warrior costumes

  • Bees’ honey

  • Copper axes

  • Turquoise stones and masks

  • Tiles of gold



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Existing Bodleian resources/surrogates

  • Codex Bodley reproduction and study, pub 2005 by Bodley Publications

  • Codex Mendoza – 4 vol 1992 Facsimile pub. Berkeley in collaboration with Bodleian

  • Images of varying quality from all 5 manuscripts available on Bodleian Digital Image Library

  • Existing high quality digital scans of Bodley, Selden

  • Existing 5x4 transparencies of Mendoza, Seden roll

  • Little coverage of Laud


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Digital Projects

  • Opportunities to exploit and enhance existing information/images – 25, 000 slides of medieval & renaissance illumination on Luna

  • Jane Austen – a new online edition with images

  • John Johnson – mass digitization but with rich catalogue records

  • Shakespeare’s Quartos – powerful encoding

  • Digital Image Library http://www.odl.ox.ac.uk/digitalimagelibrary/index.html


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Future ideas

  • Further integration of digital resources

  • Enhancing quality of images AND metadata

  • Integration with catalogues

  • Exploiting existing scholarship

  • External collaboration with international and national partners where possible


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