World Digital Library goes live

dutch_engraving_clipBrowse the World Digital Library, sponsored by the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and see digital versions of precious, original historical documents, including letters, manuscripts, photos, books, and maps. In keeping with the multinational membership of the UN, navigation tools and content descriptions are provided in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish, and others may be added. The original materials, however, are not translated, but only provided in their original form. At its launch in April 2009, the site had content from libraries and other cultural institutions in Africa, Asia, Europe and North and South America—contributions from 26 institutions in 19 countries.

According to the WDL website:

US Librarian of Congress James H. Billington proposed the establishment of the WDL in a speech to the US National Commission for UNESCO in June 2005. The basic idea was to create an Internet-based, easily-accessible collection of the world’s cultural riches that would tell the stories and highlight the achievements of all countries and cultures, thereby promoting cross-cultural awareness and understanding.

The photo above is from the frontispiece of The New and Unknown World: or Description of America and the Southland (1671). The website notes:

This monumental work by the Dutch writer Arnoldus Montanus (1625?-83) reflects the fascination of 17th-century Europe with the New World. Montanus was a Protestant minister and headmaster of the Latin School in the town of Schoonhoven. He wrote books on church history, theology, the history of the Low Countries, and the peoples and cultures of the Americas and Australia. (The “Southland” in the title of his book refers to recently discovered Australia.) Montanus never visited the New World and his work contains numerous errors and fantastic conceptions about the people and animals of the Americas. Nonetheless, it became a standard work in Europe and was widely read for many years. The publisher of the work was the Amsterdam bookseller and engraver Jacob van Meurs, who was active from 1651 to 1680 and specialized in works of history, geography, and travelogues. The book is lavishly illustrated with 125 copper engravings, including 32 folded views, 70 plates, 16 maps, and 7 unusually handsome portraits of famous explorers, each surrounded by baroque framed borders. The book was translated and published in England by the editor and map publisher John Ogilby under the title, America, Being an Accurate Description of the New World (1671).

Click here to check out this particular holding at the WDL. You can even download a digital copy of this book.