Wednesday, February 18, 2009
In 1577, Spain’s King Phillip II ordered a comprehensive survey of the New World. Questionnaires sent to Spain’s territories in the Americas requested information about population, languages, terrain and vegetation.
Of the more than 200 hand-drawn responses, called the relaciones geográficas, one-fifth reside in the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection at The University of Texas at Austin. The relaciones geográficas are just a few of the many priceless artifacts acquired by the library since its establishment in 1926.
Today, the Benson Collection is the largest university library of Latin American materials in North America, attracting scholars and visitors from around the world and providing essential support to the research and teaching of the Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies.
The collection’s curators acquire and provide access to materials on Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean and the Hispanic presence in the United States.
The delicate condition of the centuries-old maps means they are not publicly displayed, but the helpful staff of the Benson library will show them to interested visitors. Just head to the rare books section and ask to see the relaciones geográficas.
Several images of the maps are also available online.