THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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31 posts categorized "Latin America"

07 February 2014

Brazil: treasures from a fascinating New World

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Our colleague Aquiles, one of our digital curators and good friend of Team Americas, has been lending a much needed helping hand whilst Beth is on maternity leave. Last week were were pleased to host a visit for Minister Joaquim Barbosa, Chief Justice of Brazil, and Aquiles notes some of the items that we showed to the Minister:

 Apart from seeing some of the Library's treasures, including the Magna Carta, our visitor was also pleased to be shown some of our collections relating to Brazil. Among the items selected for the occasion was the Queen Mary Atlas, which includes one of the first manuscript maps to show Brazil in such great and colourful detail. We also showed a range of European books published between 1550 and 1900, dealing with various aspects of Brazilian culture, society and natural history. Of particular note is the Historiae  Rerum Naturalium Brasiliae (Leiden, 1648), written by the Dutch scientists George Margrave and Wilhelm Pisonis. This was the first scholarly study on Brazilian fauna and flora and was considered the most important reference book on the subject until the nineteenth century. The copy shown to the Minister was part of King George III’s library, and is particularly interesting (and beautiful) as it is the only known hand-coloured copy. 

Historia-Naturalis-Brasiliae (2)

Historiae  Rerum Naturalium Brasiliae, Leiden, 1648. BL Shelfmark: 443.k.7

 

Other items selected included the Constituiçoens Primeyras do Arcebispado da Bahia, published in 1707 in Coimbra, and the Projecto de Constituição para o Império do Brasil, published in Rio de Janeiro in 1824. The former, written by Bahia’s archbishop Dom Sebastião Monteiro da Vide, is a famous historic document which regulated for the first time some basic rights for African slaves in colonial Brazil, including their right to marry without the need to obtain a formal consent from their owners. The Projecto de Constituição was the constitutional document which promulgated the official government structure for the new Brazilian Empire, formalising the country’s independence from Portugal. 

The Minister was clearly impressed with our Brazilian holdings and was particularly moved to hold in his hands our fine edition of Gonçalves de Magalhães’ A Confederação dos Tamoyos, published by the Impressão Régia in 1856 under the auspice of Emperor Dom Pedro II. The copy, autographed by D. Pedro II himself, bears a fascinating dedication to his sister Francesca: 'To my dear sister, from the brother who loves you, Pedro.'  This dedication illustrates the close proximity between D. Pedro II and Princess Francesca, especially their mutual interest in the literature produced in their country.

[A.A.B.]

19 August 2013

Andrea Wulf: Out of Archives and Libraries

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As a historian I’m spending much of my time in archives and libraries. Carrying huge folios or maps is the only physical activity involved in that – but sometimes my research takes me to other (maybe slightly more exotic) places.

I’ve just come back from an extraordinary trip to Ecuador and Venezuela where I followed the footsteps of Alexander von Humboldt for my new book ‘The Invention of Nature’. Armed with transcriptions of Humboldt’s letters and diaries – which were of course mostly done in the British Library – I climbed in the Andes, paddled down the Orinoco and got soaking wet in the Llanos.

From 1799, for almost five years Humboldt travelled through South America, Mexico and Cuba – I had only 15 days (and I skipped Mexico and Cuba). I went to the archives in Quito where I saw Humboldt’s passport from the Spanish king and many of the drawings he did while in South America. I saw river dolphins swimming in the Orinoco and capybaras playing in the flooded plains of the Llanos. Tarantulas were our breakfast, lunch and dinner companions – not quite what I’m used to in the Rare Books Reading Room in the British Library.

Most exciting of all, however, were the Andes. Humboldt spent months and months climbing along the mountain chains and valleys, gathering material for his new vision of nature. When he reached Quito in early 1802, he systematically climbed every volcano nearby. He crouched on a precariously small rock ledge on the Pichincha to stare into the deep crater, on the Antisana he encountered rain and wind so vicious and cold that it felt like ice–needles piecing his face, he tried (but failed) to reach the perfectly cone–shaped summit of the Cotopaxi and then went up the Chimborazo (then believed to be the highest mountain in the world).

I tried to do some of this – I got to the crater rim of the Pichincha, but no way I was going to hang over that ledge! On the Cotopaxi we were enveloped in thick fog and didn’t see a thing. My fabulous guide Juan Fernando Duran Cassola found the hut on the Antisana at 4000m where Humboldt spent a miserable night before climbing the volcano. Standing there last month on a clear sunny day with the glorious snow–capped peak of the Antisana behind us and four majestic condors circling above, we were suddenly surrounded by a herd of wild horses. Research can’t get better than that – or, so I thought … until we went up the Chimborazo.

P1020079

It was on the Chimborazo that Humboldt’s vision of nature as a unified whole came to a conclusion – a web of life in which everything was connected. For Humboldt, climbing the Andes was like a botanical journey which moved up from the equator to the poles – the whole plant world seemed to be stacked up on top of each other. The zones of vegetation ranged from tropical plants to the snow line near the peak. There were palms and humid bamboo forests in the valleys, and further up conifers, oaks, alders and shrub-like berberis similar to those in the European and northern Asian climates.  Higher still, Humboldt encountered Andean zones with alpine plants, many of which were similar to those he had seen in Europe. With ‘a single glance’, he said, he suddenly saw the whole of nature laid out before him.

As we scrambled up the barren slopes of the Chimborazo with the air getting thinner and every step getting harder, I couldn’t imagine how it must have been for Humboldt. At least I had seen photographs of the Andes before I went there, but here was Humboldt, a former Prussian mining inspector, dressed very inappropriately for such a climb and carrying his instruments up the volcano. Every few hundred feet, for example, he would measure the boiling point of water, he measured the blueness of the sky and bottled air to investigate the chemical components. Madness. I was wearing proper hiking boots and only a little rucksack with some food, extra clothes and water (and didn’t have to camp outside) but still every step was exhausting.

P1020253

When we reached 5000m (the highest base camp today on the Chimborazo) we stopped – less than 1000m below where Humboldt went. The clouds came rolling in while we were bathed in sunshine. This really felt like being at the top of the world – and very close to Humboldt.

Andrea Wulf is an Eccles Centre Writer in Residence for 2013.

26 April 2013

A Cuban directory

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 Cuban directory 2
  Public Domain Mark    Nomenclator Comercial, Agricola, Industrial, Artes y Oficios, Directorio General para Mexico, Isla de Cuba y Principal Comercio de Nueva York Havana: Molina Y Juli, 1884 Shelfmark, RB.23.b.7347

This recently acquired directory of businesses is a fascinating resource on the interwoven economic and cultural histories of Mexico, Cuba and New York. It was published in Havana in 1884 just after the end of the Guerra Chiquita (or the Little War) - the second of three wars that resulted in Cuba’s independence. Cuba was ravaged by war and the directory was no doubt part of an effort to support trade and investment with neighbours across the Gulf and to the North. With historical hindsight the introduction to the book, which reads, ‘We have not forgotten, in light of our important links to our neighbour the United States, to include a general commercial guide to New York […]’ strangely forebodes the new imperial economic presence the U.S. will have in Cuba by the end of the 19th century.

 It is also important to note that this book was published two years prior to abolition of slavery in Cuba and offers insight into the ways slavery and capitalism articulate during the late 19th century.

 The majority of the directory is comprised of advertisements for businesses and drawings of city street scenes intended to help people find businesses. While the statistics and advertisements are of great use to economic historians, they also tell us a great deal about technology, the organisation of work, social life, food consumption, fashion, public space, and leisure.

Cuban directory

Something that immediately strikes a reader is how utterly diverse and thorough the directory is, with detailed information on everything from fruit vendors, candy makers, wine importers, insurance companies, hotels, bookshops, sugar mills, cigars, pharmacies, and military equipment. The directory also reveals the ‘trans-national’ facets of Cuban and Mexican life at the time – including the strong presence of English insurance companies and the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company. Here at the British Library you will also find maps and charts of the shipping routes of that company in the Americas. See for example, Add MS 31981 N : 1840 and 8805.df.25.(1.)

[E.N.C.]

05 April 2013

Team Americas On the Road: a busy spring

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No, nothing to do with Kerouac this time. It’s conference season again and we’ve been busy sorting ourselves out in an effort to get to the major annual gatherings.

The British Association for Canadian Studies conference Crediting Canada: Canada as an economic world leader? has already kicked off at Canada House. Sadly Phil is unable to get to all of it but he will be putting in an appearance today, when the conference transfers to the British Library. And Professor Phil Davies, Director of our Eccles Centre, will also be around and will introduce Professor Rosemary Chapman’s Eccles-sponsored Lecture From Cannons to Canon: Writing the Literary History of Francophone Canada

Next up it’s the Society for Latin American Studies conference at the University of Manchester, and we’re pleased to report that it's luckily happening just before Beth goes off on maternity leave! She will be attending on Friday 12th April and has convened (and will be chairing) the panel Peasants, Liberalism and Race in the Americas, which will feature speakers from Chile, Peru, Mexico, the U.S. and the University of Zurich.

And finally, Matt, Carole and Phil Davies will be 'Heading West' for the 58th annual conference of the British Association for American Studies, to be held at the University of Exeter, April 18-21.  As usual, Matt and Carole will have to arrive promptly as the BAAS Library and Resources Subcommittee session is up first, with Jane Rawson (Bodleian Library) on “A resource for American Studies students@: simply delicious,” and Martin Eve (University of Lincoln) on 'Issues Surrounding Open Access.' The rest of the programme is as packed and diverse as ever (with no doubt the inevitable infuriating panel clashes), but we’re particularly looking forward to the Eccles Centre lecture by Professor Paul Gilroy on Race and Racism in the ‘age of Obama,’ not to mention the Gala Dinner and Awards Ceremony, which will include the announcement of all the Eccles Fellowships.

So, if you're attending any of the above, look out for us and come and say hello. We’re happy to talk to you about your research and how the British Library’s collections might help you.

We should also flag up that there are a lot of Eccles events coming up over the next couple of months. Immediately after the BAAS conference we have an exciting one day film-related conference Movies for Hard Times: Hollywood and the Great Depression, which is organised in collaboration with UCL's Institute of the Americas, but there's also much more to look forward to. You can find the full listing of Eccles events here.

[C.H.]

15 March 2013

New Resources: online Latin American Newspapers

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The British Library has recently acquired a fantastic digital resource on Latin America: 'Latin American Newspapers 1805-1922'. This database includes over forty titles and tens of thousands of digitised issues of Latin American newspapers from across the region – Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, Brazil and the Southern Cone. You can find the resource on the Library's e-databases page and registered readers no longer have to be in our reading rooms to get access!

Estado de Sao Paulo (Latin American Newspapers)
Detail from Estado de Sao Paulo. Image from Wikipeida.

In his seminal work Imagined Communities Benedict Anderson argues that newspapers, and the spread of newspapers in Latin America in particular, were the cornerstone of the formation of the modern nation. And you will find in this collection contemporary accounts of the struggles for independence, nation building, and the abolition of slavery in Latin America. So whether here at St. Pancras or at home, login and enjoy a fascinating read!

[ENC]

12 March 2013

New acquisitions: 2 early Mexican imprints

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  Our colleague Dr Barry Taylor reports:

Although the British Library has important collections of books from colonial Latin America, including the earliest extant book printed in the Americas, Zumárraga’s Dotrina breve de las cosas que pertenecen a la fe catholica (Mexico, 1543/44, BL shelfmark C.37.e.8), such books are now all too often prohibitively expensive for us to acquire.  The recent acquisition of two seventeenth-century Mexican imprints is therefore particularly noteworthy.

Garcia

Public Domain Mark Esteban García, El máximo limosnero, mayor padre de pobres, grande arçobispo de Valencia, provincial de la Andaluzia, Castilla, y Nueva-España, de la orden de san Augustin, S. Thomas de Villanueva…  (México: por la viuda de Bernardo Calderón, 1657).  [8], 95 leaves.  BL shelfmark  RB.23.a.35577. 

St Thomas of Vilanova (1487 or 88 – 1555) was beatified in 1618 and  canonised on 1 November 1658.  His hagiographer seems to have anticipated this by calling him ‘Saint’ in 1657.  It was not uncommon for the supporters of candidates for sainthood to anticipate the official canonisation: Duarte Pacheco’s Epitome da vida apostolica, e milagres de S. Thomas de Villa Nova appeared in 1629 (BL shelfmark: 1578/1091). 

St Thomas was a notable professor of theology and preacher in Spain.  He seems never to have visited America but sent friars of his order to evangelise in Mexico in 1533 and in 1547 he ordained Luis Beltrán, the future American missionary.

A further interest of both these new acquisitions is that it they are the work of  women printers.  Most women who became printers at this period, in Europe and in the Americas, did so by taking over their husband’s business on his death.  Paula de Benavides and her husband Bernardo Calderón founded a press in Mexico City in 1631; widowed with six children, she took over the business in 1641 and died in 1684.

García’s book was also read by women, as it once belonged to the ‘Convento Antiguo de Carmelitas Descalsa [sic]  de Nuestro Padre Señor San Joseph’ in Mexico City (inscription on reverse of title page).  Saints’ lives were the recommended reading of the godly, and were contrasted with the romances of chivalry.

If we might see García’s book as aimed at the reader at home, our second acquisition, like so many of the books printed in the Americas in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, is a reference work for clerics spreading the faith. 

Ledesma

Public Domain Mark Clemente de Ledesma, Compendio del Despertador de noticias de los Santos Sacramentos (México: por Doña María de Benavides, 1695).  [24], 368, 32 pages.  BL shelfmark  RB.23.a.35576.

This is one of a series of manuals by the Franciscan Ledesma.  He published his Despertador de noticias de los Santos Sacramentos in 1695.  The present work was published in the same year.  The Despertador de noticias theologicas morales followed in 1698; and in 1699 the Despertador republicano, que por las letras del A.B.C. compendia los dos compendios del primero, y segundo tomo del despertador de noticias theologicas morales.  (The BL has the second edition: Mexico: por Doña Maria de Benavides Viuda de Juan de Ribera, 1700; BL, 4402.n.32).  Each of these works claims to be a compendium of its predecessors.

Heiress of  Paula Benavides and widow of the printer Juan de Ribera, María de Benavides began her printing career in 1685 and is recorded as late as 1700. 

See: Barry Taylor and Geoffrey West, ‘Libros religiosos coloniales de la British Library: libros impresos en México, Perú, Chile, Cuba, Ecuador y Guatemala, 1543/4-1800’, Redial, 8-9 (1997-98 [2001]), 69-92. Also available on the British Library’s website here.

[B.T.]

20 February 2013

Democratic Brazil at the British Library

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Partido dos Trabalhadores Election Pamphlet 002
Partido dos Trabalhadores Election Pamphlets [BL shlefmark X.0520/785]

I recently had the privilege to attend a talk by the Brazilian Minister of External Relations at King’s College London. During his talk the Minister discussed among other things how the process of democratisation in Brazil has informed its domestic and foreign policy. In particular, how the transition from military dictatorship (Brazil’s current president Dilma Roussef was herself a victim of torture under the dictatorship) has shaped the country’s emphasis on multi-lateral and peaceful diplomacy, reduction of social inequality, and democratic reform of international organisations such as the UN security council.

The minister’s talk plus the upcoming conference ‘Democratic Brazil Ascendant’ and seminar on affirmative action in Brazilian universities inspired me to take another look at some of the Brazilian political pamphlets and ephemera that we hold from the 1980s onwards, when Brazil began its transition from military dictatorship to electoral democracy.

Taking a look at the collections we have here at the BL you immediately appreciate the popular groundswell that brought an end to the dictatorship in Brazil and the social goals that are still coming into fruition today.  The collection includes pamphlets promoting gay rights, affordable housing, agrarian reform, full employment, and an end to poverty and racial discrimination. The various collections of pamphlets and ephemera cover national and municipal elections as well as organising campaigns. They date from the early 1980s through the late 1990s.

Partido dos Trabalhadores Election Pamphlet 001
Partido dos Trabalhadores Election Pamphlets [BL shlefmark X.0520/785]

The collection also includes items from Lula’s 1982 campaign for governor of São Paulo, the work of the Central Única dos Trabalhadores (which Lula help to found) and the Direitas Já! campaign for direct popular presidential elections in Brazil. In addition to political ephemera we also hold fascinating publications by the Brazilian trade unions (Miscellaneous collection of publications on trade unions – BL shelfmark ZL.9.d.3). As well as a special microfilm collection of documents and ephemera on the origins and evolution of the PT that you will find at shelfmark SPR.Mic.A.287.

[ENC]

11 February 2013

Posada’s ‘Biblioteca del Niño Mexicano’

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Hernan Cortes
'Hernan Cortes' by Jose Guadalupe Posada [awaiting shelfmark]

Public Domain Mark
These works are free of known copyright restrictions.

2013 marks the 100th anniversary of the death of Jose Guadalupe Posada, one of Mexico’s most important and influential visual artists. Posada is best known for his political and satirical illustrations and engravings from the late 19th and early 20th century.

Hundreds of cultural events have been organised across Mexico throughout the year in honour of Posada. Here at the British Library we hold a rather unusual collection of Posada’s work, a set of booklets called the ‘Biblioteca del Niño Mexicano’ or ‘Mexican Children’s Library.’ Illustrated by Posada, the booklets are thought to be the only mechanically produced chromolithographs that Posada ever created. 

Las Infamias de la Ambicion
'Las Infamias de la Ambicion' by Jose Guadalupe Posada [awaiting shelfmark]

The booklets tell the history of Mexico through short fable like stories that include, Moctezuma and Aztec society before the arrival of the Spanish, the Spanish conquest and the role of the Catholic Church, the struggle for Mexican independence. The series was written by Heriberto Frías a journalist and novelist who, like Posada, was known for his scathing critique of the late 19th century oligarchy, and Porfirio Diaz in particular.

Violence, love, religion, passion, dreams, and the gods all come into play in the creation of a freedom struggle narrative. But there is no ‘grand finale’ to this story. Rather, these tales of struggles against colonial injustice and oligarchic corruption leave a question mark around the future of Mexico. Created at the turn of the 20th century the reader is inevitably left with the question, what next?  At a time of political and social turmoil, that eventually erupted in the Mexican Revolution of 1910, these children’s booklets offered a vision not only of the Mexican past, but also strived to inspire young people to think of its future.

[ENC]