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History of the Hispanic Division

In 1927, Archer M. Huntington, founder of the Hispanic Society of America, established an endowment fund at the Library of Congress for the acquisition and curation of works related to Hispanic studies. It was the first of several important donations for Hispanic studies at the Library. The year 1939 saw the establishment of the Library’s first Area Studies reading room. The Hispanic Foundation, (today, the Hispanic Division), named in honor of the Hispanic Society, was established to provide research guidance to patrons interested in the Library's growing Luso-Hispanic collections.

Although primary emphasis has always been the acquisition of current materials and government documents, the Hispanic Division has also acquired a rich collection of rare items. The Division has been, and continues to be, instrumental in acquiring significant gifts of manuscripts, music scores, and posters, photographs and films. The Division staff have made efforts to develop special groups of materials such as collecting folk music from San Antonio, Texas, and pioneering the recording of Hispanic poets.

Through the generosity of countless donors, the Library of Congress has amassed the world's finest collection on the history and culture of Latin America, Iberia, and the Caribbean. Many of the rare items were received as gifts, such as rare books donated by Lessing J. Rosenwald and manuscripts given by Hans P. Kraus and Edward Stephen Harkness. Gifts and bequests have enabled the Hispanic Division to purchase books and periodicals, as well as a vast array of materials in other formats, such as maps, photographs, posters, and musical recordings. Harkness Collection, codex,

In addition to gifts and publications added to the collections via US Copyright deposit, the Library acquires works through exchange programs and purchases. In 1966, the Library of Congress established an office in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The mission of the Rio de Janeiro Office is to acquire and catalog the finest intellectual works from Brazil, Uruguay, Suriname, Guyana, and French Guiana for the benefit of Congress and the international scholarly community. Vendors in other Latin American countries acquire works for the Hispanic collections based on selection guidelines established by the Library's area specialists and recommending officers.

Lewis U. Hanke, the first chief of the Hispanic Division, brought with him from Harvard University the Handbook of Latin American Studies (established in 1935), which since 1939 has been edited and compiled in the Hispanic Division. The Handbook reflects the breadth and depth of the Library's Hispanic collections. The Fundación Histórica Tavera of Spain, with the assistance from the Andrew W. Mellon FoundationExternal Link, financed the digital conversion of the first 49 print volumes of the Handbook. In memory of their father, the children of Lewis Hanke donated funds to the Hispanic Division to create a searchable website providing digital access to all entries from the Handbook volumes published from 1936-present. Through the years hundreds of scholars have provided a remarkable service to the field of Latin American Studies, volunteering their time and energy to review thousands of published works. Today Hispanic Division staff continue to compile and edit the annual volume and are at work creating a more robust searching platform for the Handbook.

Hanke served as chief until 1951. During Hanke's tenure, the Division's work focused on acquisitions and the humanities and the arts. The specialist in Hispanic culture (1942-1969) and assistant chief of the Division (1942-1956) Francisco Aguilera began to record writers for the Archive of Hispanic Literature on Tape. Today the Achive contains nearly 700 recordings of writers from Iberia, Latin American, the Caribbean, and the United States, and is continually being augmented with the voices of both established and emerging writers from the regions.

Howard F. Cline, who succeeded Hanke, and served as chief until 1971 worked to foster the field of Latin American Studies through sholarly organizations and an emphasis on publication of guides and bibliographies. Under Cline, the Division published more than 25 works explaining and providing access to the Library's Iberian and Latin American collections. He was an early supporter of SALALM, the Seminar on the Acquisition of Latin American Library Materials, and worked closely with the organization's founder, Marietta Daniels Shepard. The Latin American Studies Association (LASA) was founded in the Division by Howard Cline, Cole Blasier, Richard Morse, Kalman Silvert, and other scholars. Today LASA is the leading organization in the field with a worldwide membership of over 9,500. Cline also developed the field of ethnohistory with scholars from around the country who collaborated on the Handbook of Middle American Indians in 1964.

From 1973 to 1978, the Division chief was historian Mary Ellis Kahler who worked hard to ensure the growth of the Library's Portuguese and Brazilian colletions. Anthropologist William E. Carter was chief from 1978-1983 who further developed the Library's Andean collections. Sara Castro Klaren, a scholar of literature, headed the Division from 1984-1986, overseeing a symposium and exhibition commmemorating the 400th anniversary of the publication of Cervantes' La Galatea.

Political scientist and specialist in U.S.-Latin American relations Cole Blasier stepped into the chief's position in 1988. While chief, he hired country specialists, supported the automation of the Handbook, and fostered the development of internship programs in the Hispanic Division. Current chief of the division, Georgette Dorn, began her tenure in 1994. Over the following years, the Division has expanded its web presence, developing thematic web presentations on the Spanish-American War, the Portuguese in America, and the Mexican Revolution, among others. The Handbook was the first Library database to use OpenURL technology to link users directly to full-text. The Division was instrumental in helping to catalog and present the Jay I. Kislak Collection, select items from which are on permanent exhibit in the Jefferson Building.. The Archive of Hispanic Literature on Tape is poised for its digital launch, which will provide online access to the recordings of 50 writers. Scores of writers, scholars, and diplomats have visited the Division to make use of the Library's collections and dozens of interns from the divisions have gone on to become leaders in Latin American studies and librarianship. True to its beginnings, the Hispanic Division continues its mission of acquiring and providing access to the Library's collections on Spain, Portugal, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Hispanics/Latinos in the US.

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  August 6, 2015
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