American Collections blog

36 posts categorized "Latin America"

15 January 2016

Cartonera: a hand-made literary phenomenon

Libros cartoneros are books made from salvaged cardboard with a hand-painted or collage cover. Produced in limited editions and sold for a fraction of the cost of a professionally produced book, cartonera have become popular across Latin America since the founding of Eloísa Cartonera in Buenos Aires in 2003. Cartonera have been seen as a move towards the democratisation of literature on the continent not only because they are inexpensive to produce and distribute, but also because they place distinguished authors such as César Aira (Shelfmark YF.2006.a.2874) and Enrique Lihn (Shelfmark: YF.2005.a.32829) alongside the writings of community groups, children, and the odd forgotten poet.

Aira        Lihn

Despite (or perhaps because of) their ephemeral nature, it wasn’t long before libraries became interested in collecting cartonera. The British Library holds a varied collection of cartonera from Argentina, Uruguay, Peru, and Mexico, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison provides both a database listing cartonera publishers as well as a primer on the phenomenon.

Of course, some books seem a perfect fit for a cartonera edition – see this version of Martín Adán’s 1922 novel La casa de Carton (Shelfmark: YF.2007.a.10842).

Adan

Cartonera are often published in response to topical events. Sudáfrica, a collection of poética futbolera produced by La Propia Cartonera in Uruguay to coincide with the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, even comes accompanied with a football card stuck to its cover.

Sud Africa

This type of publishing is not without precedent in Latin America, however. Cartonera were arguably prefigured by Ediciones el Mendrugo, a publishing house started in the 1970s by the Argentine poet Elena Jordana. Ernesto Sabato’s Carta a un joven escritor (Shelfmark: YA.2001.a.14617) is certainly cartonera in spirit.

Sabato

  – Laurence Byrne

24 December 2015

Tun Tun: a Venezuelan Christmas carol

Aguinaldo is a popular type of Christmas song sung in many Latin American countries at this time of year, thought to have derived from the villancicos imported from the Iberian Peninsula during the second half of the sixteenth century. Perhaps the most celebrated composer of villancicos is Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, whose words were set to music by Antonio de Salazar in the late 17th century. Although villancicos often made reference to secular themes, they were encouraged – or at least tolerated – by the Church hierarchy as far as they were seen as useful tool in the drive to convert the native populations to Catholicism.

As the popularity of villancicos declined from the 19th century onwards, aguinaldo – a much more folk-inflected art form – began to take their place. Today, aguinaldo are performed by people in groups called parrandas, who wander from door-to-door sharing their songs in much the same way as carollers do in the UK. This wonderful recording of an aguinaldo from Venezuela is a far cry from the baroque villancicos of the 17th century, though it does illustrate how the form mixes the sacred with the everyday, as we hear the celebration of the birth of Christ played out as an commentary on neighbourly relations.

Listen to Tun Tun (performed by Federico Reyna and family)

As far as we have been able to identify, this recording of Tun Tun was performed by Federico Reyna and his family for a BBC radio programme entitled Folk Music of Venezuela. It was broadcast on the Third Programme on 2 September 1962, and introduced by A.L. Lloyd, with production by Douglas Cleverdon.

Like many good folk-songs Tun Tun is a self-satirising comment on the form itself. In the song the parranderos pay a visit to their neighbour to share their goodwill, though he becomes increasingly exasperated and eventually demands to be left alone: “Que el diablo se los lleve a mí dejenme en paz!”

Folk songs of the Americas

The recording is part of the A.L. Lloyd collection, which contains material collected by the folklorist throughout his life. Lloyd also edited Folk Songs of the Americas (shelfmark: HUS 789.202242), a great resource for those interested in folk-music from across the continent.

More sound recordings from the British Library’s collections can heard at BL Sounds.

– Laurence Byrne

12 December 2015

Guadalupe: from Tepeyac to the British Library

In early December 1531, a recent Christian convert named Juan Diego set off from his home of Cuautitlán towards Tlatelolco in the valley of Mexico. As he climbed the hill of Tepeyac, Juan Diego was visited by a magnificent apparition of a woman, who told him she was the Virgin Mary and that he was to instruct the Bishop of Mexico (Juan de Zumárraga) to build a shrine in her honour on the hillside at Tepeyac.

So began the long and tangled story of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, whose feast day is celebrated on 12 December. The shrine, now the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, is one of the world’s most visited Catholic pilgrimage sites, and Guadalupe herself has become not only the most recognisable religious symbol in Mexico, but a political one too. Miguel Hidalgo, himself a Catholic priest, began the fight for independence from Spain with his Grito de Dolores by making explicit reference to Guadalupe (although accounts differ on his exact wording, Hidalgo is generally agreed to have shouted “Long live Our Lady of Guadalupe!” during his speech, and the flags borne by Hidalgo and his insurgents carried the image of Guadalupe).

Guadalupe 1

At the British Library, we are fortunate to have two of the texts that were foundational in establishing and legitimising Guadalupe. Imagen de la Virgen Maria Madre de Dios de Guadalupe, milagrosamente aparecida en la ciudad de Mexico, (1648, shelfmark 1225.e.17; shown above) was the first printed description of the apparition (from which the above narrative derives), authored by Miguel Sánchez, a Catholic priest who became known as one of the four evangelists of Guadalupe. Also in our collection is Huei tlamahuiçoltica (1649, shelfmark 884.k.35; shown below), which was the first account published in nahautl, the language in which Guadalupe is said to have communicated her message to Juan Diego.

Guadalupe 2

– Laurence Byrne

30 January 2015

New Brazilian Acquisitions

As you might have guessed from the title of this blog, I thought it would be good to dedicate my first blog in 2015 to some of the exciting new Brazilian items that we have acquired for the collection. They represent a range of ideas and eras in Brazil’s history.

IMG_4504

The Annual Reports of the St. John Del Rey Mining Company : We have recently acquired five volumes of these reports covering the period: 1905-1908, 1909-1911, 1912-1915, 1916-1919, 1920-1925. Between 1830 and 1960 this British owned mining company operated in the Morro Velho region of Minas Gerais. The reports include reports on productivity, safety, profits, labour conditions and conflicts, and company policies.

 

Planalto: This journal published in São Paulo was dedicated to questions of culture and society. Among the journal’s board of directors were some of the most important intellectual figures of 20th century Brazil including: Candido Mota Filho, Oswald de Andrade, and Rubens Borba de Morais. Essays and articles covered topics such as education and the democratisation of Brazil, modernism, and race and racism in Brazilian society.

 

A collection of Brazilian concrete poetry including works by Augusto de Campos, the founder of the concrete poetry movement, and this visual poet Pedro Xisto.

IMG_4502

For those of you interested in Concrete poetry check out the current exhibit at Cambridge: http://www.latin-american.cam.ac.uk/events/concrete-poetry

 

Tupigrafia: Last but not least, we have acquired a run from n.1 –n.10 of this ground breaking art magazine founded by the Brazilian artist Claudio Rocha. The magazine combines original drawings, collage and photography, with writings of contemporary Brazilian artists.

IMG_4503

-BC

13 August 2014

Sampaio: public works, protest and the Brazilian nation

Pic
Frontispiece, Historia da Fundação da Cidade do Salvador. Bahia: Tipografia Benedita Ltda., 1949 (BL shelfmark X.805/2453)

While working on entries to the forthcoming Dictionary of Caribbean and Afro-Latin American Biography I have been exploring our collection of writings by the Brazilian engineer, geographer, cartographer, architect, and ethnographer Teodoro Fernandes Sampaio (1855-1937). 

Many of you may have been following the recent debates and protests regarding the massive public investment in the World Cup and Olympics in Brazil. Indeed, public works projects have historically been at the centre of re-inventions of the Brazilian nation and usually a source of controversy. And the work of Teodoro Sampaio is a fine example of this. Sampaio lived through some of Brazil’s greatest historical transformations: from slave-society to industrial capitalism, from the Imperial era to the Vargas nation-state. Sampaio not only lived through these transformations, however, but was at the heart of many of them – including designing and overseeing the creation of railroads, mapping and surveying the contours and boundaries of the nation, designing urban sanitation systems, and founding many of Brazil’s first historical and geographical institutions. 

Sampaio also anticipated many of the great social problems that Brazil would face throughout the twentieth century. His engineering and geographical studies focused on the creation of economic opportunities and social integration. Through his research and writings Sampaio attempted to give voice to the poor and marginalised people of Brazil’s interior and Brazil’s indigenous communities.

One of my favourites of his publications that we hold here at the British Library is the Vocabulario geografico brasileiro - O tupi na geografia nacional (BL shelfmark X.700/22900). The book is essentially a dictionary of Tupi words, however each entry includes an geographical and cultural analysis of the word or phrase. Sampaio systematically unpacks the ways in which social roles and cultural concepts are bound up with geography, and the way geography and landscape shape cultural paradigms. Sampaio also recognised that the Tupi had a detailed and historic knowledge of the Brazilian interior that would be essential to the success of new public works projects. Sampaio studied the local and indigenous knowledge of Brazil’s terrain in order to create some of the best maps and charts and river navigations that anyone has ever done of the interior of Brazil. The Library holds many of Sampaio’s works including the classic O Rio Sao Francisco e a Chapada Diamantina (BL shelfmark X.808/36311). 

Next week, King’s College London will be hosting the annual Brazilian Studies Association (BRASA) congress – the first time that it has been held in Europe. I'm looking forward to it and I hope to see some of you there.

[E.N.C.]

07 February 2014

Brazil: treasures from a fascinating New World

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

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

 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.]

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