The Biblioteca Digital Hispánica(Hispanic Digital Library) is an online platform launched by the Biblioteca Nacional de España (National Library of Spain) to provide free and open access to over 222,000 digitized documents. The main objectives of this platform are to: promote Spain’s cultural heritage, contribute to the creation of the future Biblioteca Nacional Europea (Europe National Library), serve as an essential resource tool to advance research, make the Biblioteca Nacional de España’s digitized sources accessible in multiple languages to searchers around the world, and establish collaborative partnerships with libraries throughout Spain and Latin America.

The Biblioteca Digital Hispánica (BDH) covers a wide range of topics and themes, including history, culture, philosophy, religion, social sciences, natural sciences, medicine, fine arts, geography, and sports. Users can search, view, and download a variety of source types, such as books, manuscripts, drawings, photographs, engravings, ephemera, maps, music scores, sound recordings, and historical newspapers and magazines. Its sources extend the geographical scope to the histories of many regions around world. Even though the site is multilingual in terms of navigation menus and filter options, when it comes to conducting specific searches, users must primarily rely on Spanish. For instructors with students who do not possess advanced Spanish-language skills, it is suggested they create more guided instructions or preselect items for students to search.

From the portal’s Inicio (homepage), users can first their language of choice (top right of page), then choose to locate items from two access points: by using the general search box or by selecting a featured collection. It is recommended that they begin their explorations with the Descubrir Colecciones (Discover Collections) tab, which presents a selection of the various BDH featured collections through icons. To find items related to Don Quixote, click on the Cervantes Collection to view the items related to this work. As an example, let’s hover over the thumbnail entitled “Història de Don Quixot de La Mancha”, a beautiful engraving of 48 vignettes and verses that depict the scenes of Don Quixote. For students who do not dominate the language used to describe the item, they can simply copy the text and paste it on Google Translate to see an English translation. Students can then view the item from the popup window by selecting the Ver obra (See Work) link, which will direct them to the viewer page. From there, they can replicate the experience of reading original archive material, explore the item in close detail, and download or print the document.

Students can perform simple searches using the box provided at the top of every BDH page. They can use Boolean operators (AND, OR) and quotation marks to combine terms in ways they can find what they are searching. The simple search lets users select among common fields in BDH (i.e subject, title, author, and description). For instance, if instructors are covering a unit on the Battle of Lepanto, an event that ended Ottoman’s control over the Mediterranean, students could discover materials related to this famous naval battle by typing “batalla de Lepanto” in the search box. In the next page, they can refine their results by choosing from the search filters located in the left-hand menu. Students can limit the results to view only items pertaining to Cervantes—who lost a hand while fighting at the Battle of Lepanto—by selecting the Cervantes Collection from the Highlighted Collections filter.

For those coming to the BDH site with more specific topics in mind, they can perform an advanced search. As a possible activity around the aerial bombing of the Basque town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War, students can locate photographs that portray this event and incorporate them into a slide presentation. In the Advanced Search page, they can first type Guernica in the first box, select Title as the searchable field, then check the box for “Fotografía”, located under the Document Type filter.

BDH covers a wide range of topics and themes. For those interested in the history of Spain, they will find a comprehensive collection of textual and visual materials representative of the historical memory of this country. Instructors and students can find materials related to the history of America, from manuscripts of Columbus’ diaries, the “Relaciones” of Cortés, De las Casas’ works, and Von Humboldt’s accounts, to books that cover the colonial period and the processes of independence in Latin America. BDH also provides access to materials on the history of science, like the “Etimologías” of San Isidoro, manuscripts from the Toledo School of Translators, Leonardo’s Codex, as well as works on medicine, natural history, and scientific travels.

In summary, the Biblioteca Digital Hispánica is a well-organized, highly searchable, and remarkable platform for a wide audience, including instructors, students, researchers, and the general public. Historians interested in Spain’s cross-cultural encounters in Europe, Asia, and the Americas will particularly benefit from this resource. BDH’s extensive offerings will likely change and expand, as new partnerships with the National Library of Spain develop, and as new digital records come to light.

Reviewed by Nashieli Marcano, Kennesaw State University
How to Cite This Source
Nashieli Marcano, Biblioteca Digital Hispánica (Hispanic Digital Library) in World History Commons,