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From the mid-19th to the mid-20th century, as North American and European powers competed for influence in Latin America and an army of archeologists searched for ancient monuments deep in the region's interior, a diverse group of individuals scouted the continent’s cities looking for manuscripts, documents, and printed material from the colonial and early Republican era. Sharing both a passion for collecting and an acute sense of intellectual opportunism, European and North American collectors purchased these articles by the thousands, amassing a cornucopia of rare books, letters, acts, maps, drawings, diaries, histories, and poems considered almost worthless by their former owners. In time, their collections found their way into the shelves of public and university libraries in countries such as the United States, England, Germany, and Canada—libraries that often agreed to pay a hefty sum in order to increase their holdings on a region considered of increasing strategic and economic value. Among the most important of these collectors of Latin Americana were Obadiah Rich (1783-1850), an American consul in Spain whose collection of early books on the history of Latin America was acquired by the New York Public Library in 1897; John Carter Brown II (1797-1874) and John Nicholas Brown (1861-1900), whose holdings form the basis of the John Carter Brown Library, an institution that owns the world's largest collection of books printed in Latin America prior to 1820; Edward E. Ayer (1841-1927), a timber magnate turned bibliophile who donated his books on indigenous and colonial era history to the Newberry Library and the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago; William Edmond Gates (1863-1940) and Charles Wilson Hackett (1881-1951), academics who made important contributions to the Mexican collections held by Tulane, Princeton, and the University of Texas; Bernardo Mendel (1895-1967), an Austrian emigrant who made his fortune in Colombia before settling in the US and selling his valuable collection of books and documents to the Lilly Library at Indiana University; Gregory Javitch (1898-1980), a Russian Jew who fled Nazi-occupied France and immigrated first to Palestine and then to Canada, and whose interest on the fate of North American Indians led him to collect books about the displacement and genocide of indigenous societies, which are currently held at the University of Alberta; and, finally, the Argentinean scholar Ernesto Quesada (1858-1934), whose donation of over 82,000 books to the State of Prussia—together with the 25,000 items collected by the geographer Hermann Hagen (1889-1976) with the support of Mexican president Plutarco Elías Calles—enabled the creation of one of the greatest European institutions devoted to the study of Latin America: the Ibero-Amerikanisches Institut in Berlin. By tracing their dealings with booksellers, librarians, and intellectuals—such as José Vasconcelos (1882-1959) and Germán Arciniegas (1900-1999), among others—this research project explores the contributions that these collectors made to the establishment of the field of Latin American Studies in countries such as Canada, the US, and Germany, and how their actions transformed the politics and aesthetics of book collecting in the region. In so doing, this research aims to illuminate an aspect of the transatlantic book trade that has received scant attention despite its relevance to our understanding of the transfer of intellectual and artistic resources from the South to the North. Furthermore, this research on the collection and collectors of ancient Latin American books and manuscripts seeks to contribute to current discussions on cultural colonialism, the public role of intellectuals and bibliophiles, and the right to cultural memory. 


Principal Investigator

Prof. José R. Jouve-Martín

José Jouve Martin (Ph.D. Georgetown University, 2003) is Associate Professor of Hispanic Studies and Chair of the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures at McGill University. 

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