Historia general y natural de las Indias, islas y tierra firme del mar océano
Publisher: Imprenta de la real Audiencia de la Historia
Four volumes: cxii+632, page with five plates; vii+511+[2 errata] pages with three plates (two of which are folding maps); viii+651+ pages two plates (of which one is a map); viii+619+[1 errata] pages plus five plates (of which one is a color folding map). Folio (13" x 9 1/2") bound in full leather with gilt lettering to spine. (Palau 89532; Graff 3147; Howes O159 ("b"); Sabin 57990) First complete edition.
Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo y Valdes was a Spanish historian and writer who united a classical humanistic education with extensive experience in the New World. As a youth he entered the service of Alphonso of Aragon, nephew of Ferdinand the Catholic and soon afterward he became a page of Prince John, the son of Ferdinand and Isabella. Throughout his life he retained close contacts with the royal court. He was present at the return of Christopher Columbus in 1493. He traveled and studied in Italy. He went to the New World in 1514 in the expedition of Padrarias Davila as supervisor of gold smelting. During his life he held many offices in the New World--regidor of Nuestra Senora de la Antigua, governor o Cartagena, regidor and alcalde o the fortress of Santo Domingo--and he crossed the ocean a dozen times. Oviedo's humanistic curiosity led him to note down the novelties of the land, nature, and peoples of the New World, as well as the history of the discovery and conquest. He began to write his Historia general y natural de las Indias during the second stay in the Indies (1520-1521).
In 1526 he published a brief work which is known as the Sumario de la natural historia de las Indias. It gained him the attention of the Emperor, who appointed him official Chronicler of the Indies in 1532. All the authorities of the Indies were obliged to send him whatever relations and information he requested. He did a large part of his writing in Santo Domingo. The first nineteen books of his Historia general y natural de las Indias were printed in Seville in 1535. The twentieth book did not appear until 1557, perhaps because of the bitter opposition of the influential Bishop Las Casas. The complete fifty books of the history were printed only in 1851-55. No complete English translation of the Historia was ever published.
For the ethnohistorian Oviedo's Historia is one of the most valuable of the early chronicles. He is especially important for southern Middle America, where he had considerable personal experience. For other areas he used many firsthand sources which are now lost to us. The strongest criticism that has been directed against him is that he followed his sources uncritically and is a more a chronicler than historian. But because of his interest in all aspects of the New World, he recorded much that is of interest to the student of Indian life at the time of Contact. Of particular interest for Middle America are books 28-35 and 40-43, but there are also valuable ethnological data in the books devoted to natural history. (Handbook of Middle American Indians volume 13)
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