Research Question, Florentine Codex


I love getting unusual reference questions.  Most are pretty simple, so it’s cool when I get one that makes me work a little harder.  A lady called the other day (we’ll call her Helen) and wanted information about the Florentine Codex (which I’d never heard of before).  She knew who had written it and where it was now, and that it had been owned by the Medici family at one point, but wanted to know how it had gotten from point A to point B.

I wanted to ask why in the world she wanted to know such a thing, but I didn’t.  Do you ask people why they want to know things?  It seems rude to me, but can also be very helpful in understanding the question.  At any rate, the question seemed pretty straightforward, but that can always be deceiving.  I took down as much information as Helen had, asking clarifying questions along the way, got her number and told her I’d research it and call her back.

I started with ye olde Google.  I skimmed a Wikipedia article on the Codex just to get some background information that Helen hadn’t given me.  Apparently, the Codex was composed in Mexico by the Aztec people in cooperation with the Franciscan monk Bernardino de Sahagún around 1577.  The purpose of the codex was to familiarize priests with the culture and language of the Aztec people so that the monks would be better equipped to evangelize the native peoples of Mexico.  This combines two interests of mine—books and religion, so that was pretty cool.


I then started researching using various combinations of search terms—the proper name of the codex, the monk, the Medicis, etc.  Little by little, I was able to use authoritative sources (NOT Wikipedia) to construct the journey of the Codex.  It traveled from Mexico to the King of Spain (Philip II, in case you care), who gave it to Cardinal Ferdinando de Medici.   It seems that the Cardinal’s books were kept in Rome until they were distributed between the Medici Palatine Library and the Laurenziana libraries in 1684.  Then, in 1771, the Palatine library was combined with the Laurenziana Library (also called the Laurentian Library).  It isn’t clear if the Codex made a detour to the Palatine library or went directly to the Laurenziana (I’m sure I could find that out given more than the 20 minutes I had); either way, it ended up in the same place.


I called Helen and gave her the run down, making it clear that I couldn’t be positive about the exact track without more explicit sources.  I also let her know that there was a digitized copy of the manuscript online at the World Digital Library.  There is an English translation of it as well.  Since Helen does not have the internet (that’s right, people!  There are still people out there who do not have the internet, and librarians help them all the time!), she didn’t care about the digitized version.

BUT, she was overjoyed with the information that I gave her and made lots of happy noises as she wrote the information down.

One of my co-workers was stunned that I was able to track down such information, but I just grinned and told her that to me it was like going on a treasure hunt, but I got a paycheck at the end of it.  And that makes me a very happy camper.

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