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Charles R. Hale, Director SRH 1.310, 2300 Red River Street D0800, Austin, TX 78712 • 512.471.5551

History of Latin American Studies at UT Austin

Have you ever wondered how and when Latin American Studies got started at UT Austin? Few are aware that the history can actually be traced back to the late 1890s. Have you ever stopped to think how the Benson Collection gathered all those books? What's the story behind the building that houses LLILAS and the Benson Collection?

Answers to these and many similar questions can be found in two documents available here. One is a report, titled "From a Shared Border to Western Hemisphere Concerns: The History of Latin American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin." The report, complete with historical photographs and press clippings, is based on a presentation by former LLILAS staff member Carolyn Palaima delivered at the Title VI 50th Anniversary Conference held in March 2009 in Washington, D.C. The other is a presentation given in February 2011 by retired Benson Collection librarian Jane Garner.

Selected excerpts from the report:

"The appointment of Herbert E. Bolton to the Department of History in 1902 was a major factor in establishing Latin American history as a permanent part of the curriculum.  In his first year at UT, Bolton taught a course entitled “European Expansion,” which by the 1904-05 academic year would be confined to Spanish colonization.  This course is recognized as the first Latin American content course taught at UT."

History of Latin American Studies at UT

Construction of Sid Richardson Hall, which to this day houses LLILAS and the Benson Collection, was completed in 1970

"Under the direction of Carlos Castañeda, the Latin American Collection was established and expanded during the 1920s and 1930s. The origin of the Latin American Collection can be traced back to the university’s purchase of the private library of Mexican historian Genaro García in 1921 at a cost of $100,000.  The García Collection contained 25,000 volumes of printed items and over 250,000 pages of manuscript. The purchase was also credited with stimulating interest in Latin American Studies at UT."

"During the 1920s, two scholarships were established at UT based on interest in Latin America.  In 1921, the Board of Regents endowed six fellowships of $600 each to aid Mexican students studying at the university.  In 1929, a second scholarship was endowed by E. D. Farmer of Fort Worth, Texas. The E. D. Farmer International Scholarship Fund provided $1,500 grants for both Mexican students to study at UT and for students enrolled at UT to study at the National University of Mexico."

"In June of 1938, a report published by the University Public Relations Committee recommended that the establishment of an Institute of Latin American Studies should be one of the objectives reached by UT prior to 1950,  and efforts for a Latin American center were renewed by Walter P. Webb, the famed historian. Webb was a fervent believer in the potential greatness of The University of Texas and he saw the establishment of a Latin American institute as one means to achieve this goal. "

History of Latin American Studies at UT

Dr. Nettie Lee Benson

"At the same time, the committee recognized that if the institute was to become an international center for Latin American studies, it would have to sponsor a wide range of non-classroom activities.  Therefore, it recommended that in the future the institute should sponsor inter-departmental course work and research projects, a professor of Latin American Studies, a special lecture series, and a publication program.  In order to finance these activities, the university should seek funds from individuals, private foundations, and the state legislature."

"Dr. Benson was a student of Charles Hackett and began working in the Latin American Collection in 1942.  As she is quoted in this newspaper article about a Latin American acquisition trip in 1960, “I want all the books published since 1958.” This sums up pretty well the dedication that helped make the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection, named in her honor in 1975, the largest U.S. Library of Latin American documents outside of the Hispanic Division of the Library of Congress."

Read the complete report: "From a Shared Border to Western Hemisphere Concerns: The History of Latin American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin."

View Documents on the History of LLILAS and the Benson Latin American Collection

Presentation on the history of the library by retired Benson Collection librarian Jane Garner in February, 2011:

Presentation slides only:

    Presentation slides with audio:

View the report, From a Shared Border to Western Hemisphere Concerns: The History of Latin American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin:

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