Julio has already introduced us to SHL’s treasures of the Commonwealth Collections. He also has another area of expertise: Latin American Studies. 

Today, we are talking about the Latin American Collection. Could you summarise the key differences between the two collections you oversee?

It’s difficult to write this in few words but, as a first approach, I would say that Commonwealth Collections expand through different continents, countries, and cultures. It’s very strong for Africa but Asia is also very well represented.

Latin America has also different countries, but they have a common geographical place and the Iberian influence gave a lot of common points. In addition, the collection has a very strong representation of the indigenous issues from precolonial times to the present.

Do you have any tips on navigating the collection?

Just like the tip I gave you when talking about the Commonwealth studies collections, having a clear idea of what you need is important. You should invest some time exploring the library’s website, the e-resources, the databases list, and the online catalogue. Our e-resources are growing and complement the printed and archive material. Above all, we are a team ready to work with everyone so, if you need help or some clarity about any issue, you have channels to contact us. From Lib Chat to e-mails or just asking for a one-to-one meeting.

The collection includes many different forms of media (photographs, films, pamphlets, etc.). What opportunities does this variety of material offer to researchers of Latin American Studies?

This variety gives the researchers an idea of the richness they will find in the collection. It’s not very common to find one place with so many primary resources on the subject supported by a large number of collections related to it (i.e. History, Sociology, etc.).

The library’s staff works to make sure the access to this material will be straight forward and in the agreed time with the only limitation related to conservation issues.    

Students come from various backgrounds and have very different research foci. Is there a theme, topic or item that is most used by students?

This is something which is permanently evolving but, to be clear, the subjects don’t disappear just the new ones are added to the previous. For long years the indigenous issue was very requested, same for the military dictatorships in the 2nd half of the 20th century. Later appeared interest in studies about the Spanish conquest and the viceroyalties. Today we have a variety on social issues and in particular gender and feminism and diversity. This also reflects the current affairs happening in the region.

The website states the main focus of the collection lies on the second half of the 20th century to present. Why was this focus highlighted?

Because the collections have a strong link with the work of the institutes in SAS and for long time this was a very important subject for students and researchers in Latin America. So, the collection reflects this interest (i.e. Latin America Pamphlets collection). Yet, I need to clarify, we are always working on giving a proper support to all the subjects requested.

Looking at Britain’s relationship to the Latin American countries and the Caribbean countries in particular, it hasn’t always been easy. Most recently the home office has been criticised for its stance on policies concerning the Windrush generation (i.e., compensation scheme). How could the holdings of the collection contribute to a debate on such issues?

I need to explain that when we look at the Caribbean basin we are facing a grey area because along the history you could find different actors, Spanish, English, Dutch, etc. At some point in the past the Library took the decision to focus the collections according to the languages spoken. Cuba, as a former Spanish colony is in the Lat Am collection but Barbados no, is part of Commonwealth Studies. Your example is from Commonwealth but, I can say that we are always listening the suggestions coming from the SAS Institutes and University Colleges making sure the Library will do its best (we can’t have everything) to keep the collections updated. The relationship between Britain and the Latin American countries is reflected in the collection. From the help given to the revolutionaries during the Independence wars, then the period of great economic influence in the late 19th century, to the Malvinas/Falkland war. Our contribution to any debate is making sure the access to all this material to students and researchers.

Are there any hidden treasures in the collection and what is your personal collection highlight?

This is a bit difficult to decide. Something I could highlight is the book “Historia General del Perú” by Inca Garcilaso de la Vega. The author is probably the first Spanish American intellectual, son of a Spanish “Conquistador” and an Inca noblewoman. The Library’s copy  itself is very rare, was published in 1616 despite the first edition is from 1617. I found very few copies around the world with this date and all them seems to have different title pages. Another highlight is the already mentioned Latin America Pamphlets collection and something new representing a very contemporary social issue the Cartoneras Collection, representing a movement born in Buenos Aires as a result of an economic meltdown, now expanded to the whole America, Europe and other continents. Each copy of this title is unique and I would suggest to have more information visiting its page in the Library’ website in the Printed Special Collections.

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