Los Primeros Libros de las Americas:
A Digital Library of 16th Century Colonial Mexican Imprints
The technology to produce and disseminate information in the Western Hemisphere is nothing new for Mexico. An extensive strategy for the diffusion of information and knowledge in the New World has its roots in the time of the Spanish conquest and the arrival of the European printing technology to Mexico City. In 1539 Carlos V entrusted Fray Juan de Zumárraga, the first archbishop of Mexico City, and Viceroy Don Antonio de Mendoza, the right to establish the first printing press in the Americas. Employed by the printing press of Juan Cromberger in Seville, Juan Pablos was contracted to establish a Cromberger affiliate printing press in Mexico City. Before the end of 1539, Juan Pablos was able to reach New Spain and begin printing in its first capital the first book of the Americas, Breve y mas compediosa doctrina Cristiana en lengua Mexicana y castellana, of which no example survives today. More than one hundred years before the printing of the first book in the British Colonies, the Mexican printing press produced its first book in the Americas. In the words of Rosa Maria Fernández de Zamora of the National Library of Mexico, "the noble, loyal and grand city of Mexico had the privilege to have known the headquarters of the first printing press established to conquer the New World." Scholars contend that the ten men and one woman to print in Mexico City during the 16th century produced about 200 books. They printed doctrines, catechisms, and vocabularies, which had the dual objective of teaching the faith to the indigenous population. Furthermore, they produced books on medicine, law, music and no doubt thousands of single sheet forms or broadsides such as powers of attorney and various kinds of promissory notes.
The Texas A&M University Libraries, in partnership with La Biblioteca José María Lafragua de la Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla, la Universidad de las Américas Puebla, la Red Abierta de Bibliotecas Digitales, el Centro de Texas A&M de la ciudad de México, Texas A&M Digital Initiatives, and Cushing Memorial Library and Archives has launched a new digitization project designed to preserve and make more broadly accessible these first products of the printing press in the New World-- Los Primeros Libros de las Américas: A Digital Library of 16th Century Colonial Mexican Imprints. Given the technological value of Mexico's book printing heritage, this is a natural collaboration and effort for Texas A&M University. Again, the principle objective of this project is to preserve and disseminate a digitized collection of 16th century Colonial Mexican imprints. Thus, highlighting Mexico's contribution to the development of disseminating technology. This collaboration between libraries in the U.S. and Mexico has at its immediate line of vision the Hispanic population and then its distant horizon the broader global community. In the end this project is an investment in a country and culture where the technology for the production and diffusion of information and knowledge began in the Western Hemisphere.
Gregory Lee Cuellar, Ph.D.
Curator of the Colonial Mexican Imprint Collection
Cushing Memorial Library & Archives
Texas A&M University