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Benson Latin American Collection
The concept of a New World energized the European mind after 1492. Exploration. Discovery. Unknown waters, lands and peoples. Different cultures and languages. Gold and glory. Power and empire. European and African migrations. Philosophical, religious and ethical arguments over the propriety of slavery and forced labor. Catastrophic decline of native populations. Interchange of plants and animals. These and many other subjects were new knowledge that was disseminated to the Old World by the recent invention of the printing press. Overseas empires fed European monarchs and merchants with vast economic wealth never experienced before. And vast amounts of paper were used by lawyers, scribes and notaries to maintain order for the European states. Gone forever were the Middle Ages.
The changes experienced since the Columbian era by more than half of the Western Hemispherefrom the U.S. Southwest and Mexico to the tip of South America and the Caribbeanbecame the focus of a new special collection at the University of Texas in 1926. Its first librarian, indefatigable historian Carlos E. Castañeda, appealed to government agencies and universities throughout Latin America in 1927 to send materials to a library devoted to their culture and history. And they did.
That single purchase led to their learning of the availability of the unique and exceptionally fine private library that had belonged to Genaro García, Mexican bibliophile, senator and historian. The García library, purchased from his heirs six months later in 1921, subsequently became the nucleus of the Latin American Collection. The García library added to the University library an exquisite collection of 25,000 volumes of books and periodicals relating to Mexico, the Americas, the West Indies and Spain. It contained more than 250,000 pages of original manuscripts made in the course of four centuries of Mexican history, education and law. Its contents bolstered the concept of a research library built on the twin pillars of printed works and original manuscripts.
Other important collections of books and manuscripts for Mexico, Central and South America, and the U.S. Southwest were added in the decades following the García library purchase. Foremost among these were 247 volumes of manuscripts and books acquired in 1937 from the Joaquín García Icazbalceta library. This library brought gems to the University no less brilliant than Colombian emeralds and no less valuable than Brazilian gold. Here was a priceless series of original sixteenth-century relaciones geográficas, reports and maps relating to Mexico and Guatemala, and forty-five of the first books printed in the New Worldthose published in Mexico between 1543 and 1600on language, science, history, music and religion.
The Benson Collections unique combination of materials and human resources affords the students and faculty on UTs campus rich educational opportunities. It supports research and teaching by one of the largest, most diverse Latin American academic programs in the country, spanning many University departments and including the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies and the Center for Mexican American Studies.
The Benson Collection supports faculty members who seek to pursue and promote a better understanding of Latin Americaits history, culture, politics and futurein their classrooms and publications. The Benson Collection also supports the research activities of the faculty of the Center for Mexican American Studies, a national leader in teaching, research and publications. These kinds of study and teaching programs facilitate better appreciation of the integral connections between North and South America, which are crucial to the development of lasting bonds of friendship and understanding between members of all the countries and ethnic groups represented in the collection.
The treasures in the Benson Collection attract Latin Americanists from all parts of Texas, the United States, Mexico, Canada, Latin America, Europe, Australia and Japanindeed, the world. In addition to providing excellent resources for scholarly research, the library is also a place where scholars congregate to share ideas and information. This scholarly exchange makes the collection a vibrant center for the development and dissemination of information about Latin American society, culture and politics. The Benson Collection is thus at the nexus of the global community that is concerned with U.S.-Mexican issues and Central and South American development.
In addition to serving scholars and students, the Benson Collection provides assistance to officials whose research has a direct impact on Latin American communities within and outside the United States. Legislators, lobbyists and other researchers from the states and the nations capitals make frequent use of the collections resources to determine the needs and concerns of Latino populations, which now comprise 31 percent of the Texas population and the countrys largest minority.
Historically, the General Libraries has accepted responsibility for sharing with other libraries the resources of the remarkable Benson Latin American Collection and the technical expertise related to these resources. Benson Collection resources, for example, are represented in LANICUTs Latin American Network Information Center. The General Libraries cooperates with the University of California, Berkeley Libraries and the Stanford University Libraries in the acquisition of materials in Latin American studies, and in specialized circulation and interlibrary loan agreements that benefit the students and faculties of the three institutions. Other General Libraries activities promote a leadership role in shared microform library materials and cataloging efforts, which aid in the efficient control of books, periodicals and all other library materials worldwide.
The Benson Collections unequaled resources have been among the first in the country to receive competitively awarded federal grants to acquire, preserve and catalog its holdings. These grants have included eleven U.S. Department of Education grants and six National Endowment for the Humanities grants in the recent past. These grants have been awarded for microfilming unique sources, preserving thousands of books and newspapers originally printed on acidic paper, and creating huge databases that detail the resources of the Benson Collection.The results of these and other federal grants and state-sponsored initiatives are now widely available through the World Wide Web. Moreover, microfilmed material that resulted from some of these initiatives is now readily available in U.S. research centers and from the Benson Collection through interlibrary loan service or purchase. Other recent grants have allowed the Benson Collection to acquire Mexican research materials in economics and to enrich it in the areas of Latin American finance, environmental studies and government through awards from the Center for the Study of Western Hemispheric Trade.
The Benson Latin American Collection will celebrate its seventy-fifth anniversary in the academic year 2001-2002. What luck to have had in Mexico City University of Texas representatives who took the initiative to acquire the García library in 1920. What greater foresight could there have been than that by those individuals who in 1926 had the vision to expand the García library into one devoted to all Latin America? The joint efforts by University faculty, librarians and administrators since then have consistently expanded the depth of what is now the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection. Its success in its mission to gather and provide access to the ever-expanding knowledge of and about the New World is a crowning achievement in the University of Texas commitment to Latin American studies.
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