Digitization has massively changed the way we can do research. The use of digital copies of books gives easy and quick access to the holdings of numerous different libraries. The possibility to set direct links to digital books - as long as they are available in open repositories - allows much greater transparency. A reader can immediately check the sources used. This - by the way - seems to me like the biggest progress. Therefore I always regret it when books are only available in closed repositories that are not accessible to everyone.
The most important requirement for any serious work with a digital facsimile is of course that it "represents" the original in the best possible way. Therefore the first step is always to get an overview of what is available and to distinguish between those copies that are complete and in good quality and those that are not.
In this respect the most problems have been created by Google Books. I have already noted several times that a lot of their scans are not up to the necessary standards: for example in many cases illustrations and plates have not been reproduced correctly or are completely missing. Often enough I have been looking for example for a musical supplement or a particular plate and - disappointingly - it wasn't there.
Google Books offers a database of searchable texts which is of immeasurable help for any kind of research. I use it everyday, and frankly, I couldn't live without it. But it is not a reliable repository of digital books and it should never be used uncritically. They have digitized not the books but the text in the books. In many cases these digital "copies" are only pale shadows of the original books. Of course many of their scans are perfectly well usable as long as there is only text. And in recent times the quality got a little bit better. But nonetheless some elementary source criticism is necessary.
Thankfully numerous other libraries are busy digitizing their books and it is more and more possible to replace bad or incomplete copies with better and more reliable digital facsimiles. But it is necessary to find them and that is not always that easy. And unfortunately sometimes no better copy exists and we have make do with what is offered by Google Books.
As an illustrative example I will use here the works of Jean-Baptiste Labat (1663-1738), a French Dominican Friar, who produced - between 1722 and 1735 - five multi-volume publications about the Caribbean, Africa and the Middle East. Two of them he had written himself while the rest were editions of other travelers' works. Labat was a very interesting character (see f. ex. Wikipedia), a highly educated scholar and gifted writer who also had all kinds of practical skills. He lived for 12 years, between 1694 and 1706, in the Caribbean, first as a missionary. But he was also busy there as plantation owner, engineer and soldier. After his return to Europe he spent some years in Italy and Spain before settling again in Paris.
I am looking for remarks about non-European music in travel books and related literature since the 16th century and I had to check some of his publications because he is referred to in some the secondary literature I have used (f. ex. Arom 2004, pp. 51-2; Epstein 2003, pp. 30-1, p. 80, p. 397; Thornton 2012, pp. 387-8, p. 391; see my bibliography at Google Docs, pt. b )
The question was: which of his publications are available online? All in all the result was quite overwhelming and I was glad to find nearly everything I needed. But - as noted above - I am not only interested in the quantitative aspect but also in the quality of the digital copies available. In this respect the result was not always completely satisfying. In some cases there were only copies of dubious quality produced by Google Books. But thankfully for the greatest part better scans were available at other repositories.
We can start here with Labat's earliest work, an extensive report about the Caribbean Islands in six volumes. This is a very interesting and highly informative book that includes some maps and as well as many illustrations. There were editions by several publishers in Paris and Den Haag.
- Jean-Baptiste Labat, Nouveau voyage aux Iles de l'Amérique. Contenant L'Histoire Naturelle de ces Pays, l'Origine, les Moeurs, la Religion & le Gouvernement des Habitans anciens & modernes [...] Ouvrage enrichi de plus de cent Cartes, Plans & Figures en Taille-douces, Giffart, Paris, 1722, 6 Vols.,
- -, Cavelier, Paris, 1722, 6 Vols.,
at Gallica Bnf
- -, Le Gras, Paris, 1722, 6 Vols.,
at UB Mannheim [Vol. 3 missing]; at the Internet Archive [= GettyRI]
- -, Husson [etc.], La Haye, 1724, in 2 Vols.,
at the Internet Archive (JCBL); at BDH
A digital copy of the one by Cavelier can be found at Gallica, but only in black & white. As far as I can see all illustrations are included. The edition available at the Biblioteca Digital Hispánica looks better and is also complete. They usually have two-sided pdfs and their reader, even though a little bit slow at times, offers all the necessary functions, especially links to a single page as well as the download of the complete book.
Besides these two there is also a digital copy of the edition by publisher Le Gras which is available in the repository of the UB Mannheim. Unfortunately it is not complete. Volume 3 is missing. But the quality of the scan is excellent. Their reader is not as flexible as I would like to wish. Nonetheless all the basic operations are possible. As will be seen the UB Mannheim also has several other works by Labat. In 1764 the French Jesuit Desbillon moved to Mannheim with his great collection of books. He was particularly interested in ethnography and owned of course many of the relevant French publications. A considerable number of them have been digitized recently and therefore the UB Mannheim's Digital Collection is a good place to look for early modern travel books.
Time never stands still in the world of digitization. I just noted that another digital copy of this edition is now available at the Internet Archive. It is from the collection of the Getty Research Institute and was uploaded there on August 29, after I wrote the first version of this text. The quality is fine and - I wouldn't have expected otherwise - everything is included. The Internet Archive's own scans are very reliable. I must admit that I am always glad to find a book I need on their site, not at least because I prefer their reader to all the others I know.
In 1724 Labat's treatise was also published in in two volumes in Den Haag. One digital copy of this edition can be found at the Internet Archive in the collection of the John Carter Brown Library and another one available at the BDH. Both are perfectly well usable.
Besides all these reliable scans there are also several sets produced by Google, for example one for the Austrian National Library (available at ÖNB). But they are not reliable. The quality is uneven and plates are missing or not completely scanned (see Vol. 1 and Vol. 4, at GB). This copy was produced last year and I find it very disappointing that even the most recent scans suffer from these kind of flaws. But thankfully it is not necessary to use them because - as shown above - there are enough good copies produced by other libraries.
- Jean-Baptiste Labat, Nieuwe reizen naar de Franse Eilanden van America Behelzende De Natuurlyke Historie van die Landen, derzelver Oorspronk, Zeeden, Godsdienst, Regering der oude en tegenwoordige Inwoonders; als ook die zwarte Slaaven: Beneffens de Oorlogen en vornaamste Gevallen, die in het lang berblyf van den Auteur in dat Land zyn voorgevallen. Als ook Een naauwkennige Verhandeling van het maken der Suiker, Indigo, Cochenille, Cacao, en andere nuttighedlen, tot den Koophandel dienende. Zynde dit nuttig Work in's Frans Bescbreven door den Heer P. Labat. En in't Nederduitsch in't ligt gebragt door W. C. Dyks. Met veel fraye Kopere Plaaten vercieret, in de Eilanden door den Autheur zelfs afgeteekent, Lakeman, Amsterdam, 1725, 4 Vols.,at BSB [= GB]; at Google Books [= KBN]: Vol. 1 & Vol. 2 only
Labat's work was also also translated into Dutch. In this case we only have two sets by Google Books, both only in black & white and with the usual problems.
A new, expanded French edition - this time in 8 volumes - appeared in 1742, some years after his death:
- Jean-Baptiste Labat, Nouveau Voyage aux Isles de l'Amerique. Contenant L'Histoire Naturelle de ces Pays, l'Origine, les Moeurs, la Religion & le Gouvernement des Habitans anciens & modernes [...] Ouvrage enrichi de plus de cent Cartes, Plans & Figures en Taille-douces. Nouvelle Edition augmentée considérablement, & enrichie de Figures en Taille-douces, Cavelier, Paris, 1742, 8 Vols., at the Internet Archive [= JCBL]
- -, Delespine, Paris, 1742, 8 Vols., at the Internet Archive [= University of Ottawa]
- -, Le Gras, Paris, 1742, 8 Vols., at the Internet Archive [= BHL/Smithsonian Libraries]
Three sets are available at the Internet Archive, all in excellent quality and - as far as I can see - completely reliable. One is again from the collection of the John Carter Brown Library, the other two from the University of Ottawa respectively the Smithsonian Libraries. In all three cases all care has clearly been taken to produce the best possible digital copies of the original books. I assume there are also scans by Google Books but I haven't searched for them and they can be ignored .
40 years later there also appeared a German translation, Reisen nach Westindien oder den im amerikanischen Meer liegenden Inseln, nach der neuesten Pariser Ausgaben (Nürnberg 1783-7). But this edition hasn't been digitized yet or perhaps I haven't been able to find it. This also shows that there is of course no guarantee that everything is already available online. There are still many gaps but I am sure that more and more of them will be closed over the next couple of years.
- Voyages du P. Labat, De l'Ordre des FF. Prêcheurs, en Espagne et en Italie, Delespine, Paris, 1730, 8 Vols.,
at Gallica BnF; Google Books [= Columbia University], also at Hathi Trust; at Biblioteka Narodowa Polona (Vol. 1 & Vol. 2 only); Google Books [= Naples], also available at the Internet Archive
- -, Aux dépens de la Compagnie, Amsterdam, 1731
at BDH (GMm 2033-40; GMm 1010-17); at BSB [= GB]; at UB Mannheim (Vol. 1 only)
- Des Herrn Baptista Labat, Dominikanerordens, Reisen nach Spanien und Welschland. Aus dem Französischen übersetzt von Carl Friedrich Tröltsch, Felßeckers Erben, Franckfurt & Leipzig, 1758-61, 8 Vols.,
at BSB [= GB; only Vols. 1, 7 & 8)]; at ULB Halle
Père Labat also managed to put to paper his experiences in Spain and Italy. This ended up as another massive work, this time in 8 volumes, that were published in Paris 1730 and then in Amsterdam in 1731. For the former we have a complete set at Gallica, but only in black and white. At least two sets by Google are also available. The first two volumes can be found at the Polish National Library. The quality of their scan is quite good but their reader leaves a lot to be desired. I seems it is not possible to set a link to a particular page and I haven't yet found out how to download a book.
The latter edition is available in two good copies at BDH. Therefore the one by Google can be ignored. A German edition appeared three decades later. A good digital copy was produced by the ULB Halle. But I must admit that I always have problems with the DFG Viewer that is quite difficult to use.
Another publication followed shortly later. French cartographer and traveler Renaud des Marchais (1683-1728, see Wikipedia) had spent many years in Africa and South America. But unfortunately he died before he could publish his extensive notes. Père Labat got hold of Marchais' manuscripts and published them in four volumes that appeared in Paris in 1730 and then in Amsterdam in 1731:
- [Jean-Baptiste Labat], Voyage du Chevalier des Marchais en Guinée, Isles Voisines, et a Cayenne, Fait en 1725, 1726 & 1727. Contenant une Description très exacte & très étendue de ces Païs, & du Commerce qui s'y fait. Enrichi d'un grand nombre de Cartes & de Figures en Tailles douces. Par le R. Pere Labat, de l'Ordre des Freres Prêcheurs, Charles Osmont, Paris, 1730, 4 Vols.,
at BDH; at UB Mannheim;
- -, Aux dépens de la Compagnie, Amsterdam, 1731, 4 Vols.,
at BDH; at e-rara, Zürich; at Manioc (Bibliotheque Numerique Caraibe Amazonie Plateau des Guyanes), now also at the Internet Archive; at the Internet Archive [= BDL]
Again we have here usable digital copies from both the the BDH and the UB Mannheim. Another one can be found at e-rara, the repository of the Swiss libraries. Their scans are usually very good and reliable. But particularly noteworthy is the copy offered by Manioc. I must admit I hadn't heard of this digital library before. They offer a fine collection of digitized books, mostly in French. Their scan of this publication is excellent and of course complete. The site's Flash-based reader is not completely convincing but it is also easily possible to download the files. Another copy, also of good quality, has just been uploaded to the Internet Archive. It belongs to the collection of the Biodiversity Heritage Library.
There are also several sets by Google (at ÖNB; at BSB, München; University of Michigan, available at the Internet Archive) but their quality leaves a lot to be desired. They are all in black & white and - as usual - many illustrations are missing or not scanned correctly. But with all the other scans that are available it is not necessary to bother with them.
By the way, this books includes some remarks about music and musical instruments in the Kingdom of Whydah, what is today Benin (see Vol. 2, pp. 196-200, pl. after p. 194). It is interesting to see that 17 years later German scholar Lorenz Mizler translated the relevant text for his own musical periodical:
- Nachricht von der barbarischen Musik der Einwohner im Königreich Juda in Africa, nebst Abbildung ihrer musikalischen Instrumente, in: Lorenz Mizlers Musikalische Bibliothek 3.3, 1747, pp. 572-9 & Tab. XI
Labat's next undertaking was a translation of an older Italian publication. Italian missionary Giovanni Antonio Cavazzi da Montecuccolo (1621-1678, see Wikipedia) had spent many years in Central Africa. His extensive report about the three kingdoms of Congo, Matamba and Angola appeared only posthumously in 1687 and was also translated into German.
Thankfully all these editions are easily available now even though mostly at Google Books. It seems that publications from before 1700 are treated a little bit better there. They are not in the standard black & white but look more like the real books. Most illustrations have been scanned correctly. Only those exceeding the book's size are still missing. But there are also serious differences in quality between the different copies. From those of the first edition the one from Lyon looks best while for example the scan of the copy from Munich is a little uneven.
- [Giovanni Antonio Cavazzi da Montecuccolo], Istorica Descrizione De' Tre' Regni Congo, Matamba, et Angola Situati Nell' Etiopia Inferiore Occidentale e Delle Missioni Apostoliche Esercitateui da Religiosi Capuccini, Accuratamente compilata dal P. Gio. Antonio Cavazzi da Montecuccolo, Sacerdote Capuccino il Quale vi fu' Prefetto e nel presente stile ridotta dal P. Fortunato Alamandini da Bologna, Predicatore dell' istesso Ordine. All' Illustrissimo Signor Conte Giacomo Isolani, Monti, Bologna, 1687
at Google Books [= BM Lyon ]; at Google Books [= U Gent], also at the Internet Archive; at Google Books [= BNC Roma], also at the Internet Archive; at Google Books [= BNC Firenze]; at Google Books [= BSB]
- - , Istorica Descrittione de Tre Regni [...], Agnelli, Milano, 1690
at the Internet Archive [= BPL; no illustrations except foldout map]; at Google Books [= U Turin]
- [Giovanni Antonio Cavazzi da Montecuccolo], Historische Beschreibung Der In dem untern Occidentalischen Mohrenland ligenden Königreichen Congo, Matamba, und Angola, Und Der jenigen Apostolischen Missionen, so von denen PP. Capucinern daselbst verichtet worden. Von P. Joanne Antonio Cavazzi von Montecuculo Capuciner Ordens Priester, der alldort Mission-Vorsteher gewesen, mit grossem Fleiß zusammen getragen, und nachmals Durch P. Fortunatum Alamandini von Bobonien, auch desselben Ordens, in gegenwärtigen Form gerichtet, anietzo aber auß dem Welschen in die Teutsche Sprache übersetzt, Johann Jücklin, München, 1694
at BSB [= GB]; at BSB/SB Regensburg [= GB]; at ÖNB [= GB]; at e-rara, UB Zürich; at UB Düsseldorf
For some reason there was at first no French translation of this important work. Therefore Labat also took over this task. His edition in five volumes - augmented with additional reports by Portuguese travelers - appeared in 1732:
- Relation Historique de L'Ethiopie Occidentale: Contenant la Description des Royaumes de Congo, Angolle, & Matamba, traduite de l'Italien du P. Cavazzi, & augmentée de plusiers Relations Portugaises des meilleurs Auteurs, avec des Notes, des Cartes Géographiques, & un grand nombre de Figures en Taille-douce. Par le R. P. J. B. Labat de l'Ordre des Freres Precheurs, Delespine le Fils, Paris, 1732, 5 Vols.,
at BDH (GM 1447 m & GM 1442 m); at Gallica BnF (b & w, from microfiches, bad quality)
Here the two digital copies offered by the BDH are the best. The one at Gallica is not that good. It is still in black & white and was scanned from microfilms. There are several sets by Google, for example one made from books from the library in Florence (also available at the Internet Archive) and another one with books from the Bodleian (also at Oxford Libraries). Once again they can be ignored.
- Mémoires du Chevalier d'Arvieux, Envoyé Extraordinaire du Roy à la Porte, Consul d'Alep, d'Alger, de Tripoli, & autres Echelles du Levant. Contenant Ses Voyages à Constantinople, dans l'Alsie, la Syrie [...]. Par le R. P. Jean-Baptiste Labat, de le Ordre des Freres Prêcheurs, Delespine le Fils, Paris, 1735, 6 Vols.,
at BnF Gallica; at UB Mannheim; at BSB [= GB]; at Hathi Trust [= GB-UofMichigan]
- Des Herrn von Arvieux, Königlichen Gesandtens bei der Ottomanischen Pforte, und Consuls verschiedener Handelsplätze in Orient und auf der Küste der Barbarei, hinterlassene merkwürdige Nachrichten, worinnen er sowol seine Reise nach Constantinopel, in Asien, Syrien, dem gelobten Lande, Egypten und der Barbarei, als auch die Beschaffenheit dieser Länder [...] beschreibet, im Französischen herausgegeben von dem Herrn Labat und ietzt ins Deutsche übersetzt, Ackermann, Kopenhagen & Leipzig, 1753-56, 6 Vols.,
at UB Heidelberg; at Google Books [= Princeton]: Vol. 3/4 & Vol. 5/6 , also at Hathi Trust [Vol. 1-6]; at BSB/SB Regensburg [= GB; Vols. 1-3]
Laurent d'Arvieux (1635-1702; see Wikipedia) had spent many years in the Middle East, first as a merchant and later as the French consul in Aleppo and Algier. Labat also took care of his manuscripts and turned them into another multi-volume edition. Again we have at least one good set from Mannheim. There are also again several by Google which can also be used: this work doesn't include any illustrations and Google's scanners couldn't do too much harm. A German edition appeared in the 1750s. The digital copy produced by the UB Heidelberg is excellent.
All in all we can see that nearly everything is available online. The only exception is - at the moment - the German edition of Labat's Nouveau Voyages. Otherwise we have several scans produced by Google of each of the these publications. But - of course - they are not entirely reliable and they should not be used uncritically. It is always possible that something is missing. But there are also alternate scans by other libraries. They are usually of better quality and much more reliable than those by Google Books. This also shows that in most cases we are not dependent the latter's products. Serious work with digital facsimiles of historical books is of course possible and advisable. It is only necessary to find and use complete copies in at least tolerable quality.