Making a search engine

Schedel, Hartmann. Liber Chronicarum (Nuremberg: Anton Koberger, VII 1493).
 Chetham’s Library: Mun.I.8.2, Index.


The Nuremberg Chronicles Making a search engine

By kind permission of Chetham’s Library.

All Our Chronicles

This copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle is remarkable in many respects. One of them is that its reader, a 16th-century Lancashire gentleman Thomas Gudlawe, created his own massive subject index in the margins.

Amending printed indexes was not uncommon for early modern readers.  What is unusual about this copy of the Chronicle is that Gudlawe developed a reference system for his own marginalia as well as making additions to the printed index.  Thus, he equipped his book with an impressive search engine – much larger than the original index –  for all the printed and manuscript information in the Chronicle.

“Thomas Gudlawe wrote this ‘alphabeticall table’ to help other readers ‘for the speedy fyndinge out of your descyre therof”

On this page we see parts of three different indexes. Firstly, the printed index which Gudlawe improved with additional folio numbers; secondly, copious notes in the left and right margins indicate pages containing the reader’s own glossary; finally, the records at the top and bottom of the page serve as an index for the rest of Gudlawe’s marginalia.  Gudlawe eventually ran out of space in the margins for his additional indexing and had to insert twenty additional folio leaves in the Chronicle to accommodate his search machine.

Most early modern readers who modified indexes did so for their personal use, but Gudlawe had a wider audience in mind. As he explained, he was  “the simple traveller in these affayres”, who wrote the “alphabeticall table” to help other readers, “for the speedy fyndinge out of your descyre therof”.  


Many of these Nuremberg Chronicles reveal how readers kept and used their copies as well as how they read the text.   They personalised their volumes, equipped them with indexes, and tried out their pens in the margins. Some of the traces on the pages – dirt and stains – reflect the life of the Chronicle as a material object in the early modern household.