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Remembering Cole Blasier, Former Chief of the Hispanic Division

(The following is a guest post by Dr. Georgette Dorn, former chief of the Hispanic Division.)

Cole Blasier (1925-2021) was an accomplished academic, administrator and a visionary who was chief of the Hispanic Division from 1988-1993. He passed away on June 6, 2021.

Blasier joined the Library of Congress at a time when the institution was embarking on automation efforts. In the days before the web and before widespread public use of the internet, Blasier had the foresight to reach out to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for a seed grant and in 1991 secured a significant grant from the MAPFRE Foundation in Spain to accomplish the retrospective digitization of the Handbook of Latin American Studies (HLAS). HLAS is a major annotated, research tool prepared by the Hispanic Division since 1939 with the assistance of more than 130 Contributing Editors (researchers active in the field of Latin American Studies). Today HLAS annotations are searchable and freely available via a Library of Congress database, HLAS Web. The annual print volumes of the Handbook are published through a joint cooperative venture of the Hispanic Reading Room and the University of Texas Press in Austin.

Four men in the forest surrounded by trees and animals and birds. One man is drinking from a stream.

Entry into the Forest” by Cândido Portinari in the Library of Congress Hispanic Division Reading Room, Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington, D.C. Credit: Photograph by Shawn M. Miller. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

Blasier strengthened the Hispanic Division’s reference services and acquisitions by hiring the Library’s first ever Luso-Brazilian specialist. In 1992 he hired the first specialist in Mexican culture. During Blasier’s time, division staff created several websites and began developing one of its enduring and most visited online offerings: “The War of 1898: The Spanish-American War.”

Cole increased outreach to scholars based outside the U.S. He invited scholars from the U.S.S.R. to visit the Library. He secured funding from foundations in Brazil, Chile and Argentina to bring interns to work in the Hispanic Division for 12-months stints. Blasier also supported professional organizations, such as the Seminar for the Acquisition of Latin American Library Materials (SALALM) and the Latin American Studies Association (LASA), among others.

A graphite drawing of a room with high vaulted ceilings, a balcony with ornate ironwork, a chandelier, and four people grouped around a wooden reference desk.

A 1937 drawing by the architect Paul Phillippe Cret shows the graceful ironwork and vaulted ceilings that transformed the southeast corner of the Jefferson Building into the distinctive and striking space that is easily recognizable as the Library’s Hispanic Reading Room. Credit: Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

Blasier’s first contact with the Hispanic Division was in 1966 when the director (chief) Howard F. Cline invited him and Dr. Kalman Silvert, director of the Ibero-American Center at New York University, to establish the multidisciplinary Latin American Studies Association (LASA) with headquarters at the University of Pittsburgh. LASA today is a thriving international organization with more than 6,000 members. Blasier was executive director of LASA at the Center for Latin American Studies at Pitt.

Blasier brought to the Hispanic Division not only his well-honed administrative skills, but also his international expertise. His interest in foreign affairs began during an undergraduate trip to Chile on a Rotary Fellowship. After finishing at Columbia University, he joined the Department of State as a foreign service officer. His first post was vice-consul in Belgrade, capital of Yugoslavia, now Serbia. There he met major pivotal personalities, including Josip Broz, the Yugoslavian statesman known as Tito. Cole was fluent in Serbian, Russian, German and French. Other postings were Bonn, the capital of the former East Germany, and later Moscow, then the capital of the U.S.S.R.

Six men in suits and four women in suits stand in front of a painted mural.

The advisory board of HLAS meets the Librarian of Congress James Billington: from left, Jorge Perez Lopez, U.S. Department of Labor; Peter Johnson, Princeton University; Cole Blasier; Asunción Laurin, Arizona State University; Dr. Billington; Dolores Martin; Betty Mequers, Smithsonian Institution; Lambros Comitas, Columbia University; Georgette Dorn; and Franklin Knight, Johns Hopkins University. Credit: Library of Congress Information Bulletin.

Although he and his wife Martha – known to friends as Marty – thoroughly enjoyed their life in Cold War Europe, Blasier decided to accept a teaching position at Colgate University. Then in 1964, he accepted a tempting offer to teach international relations and to establish a new Center of Latin American Studies at the University of Pittsburgh. He remained there until he became chief of the Hispanic Division.

Academia allowed him to travel, teach, research and publish his findings. Blasier’s seminal books include “The Hovering Giant: US Responses to Revolutionary Change in Latin America,” “Cuba In the World” (an edited volume with Carmelo Mesa-Lago), and “Giant’s Rival: The USSR and Latin America,” as well as many articles in professional journals.

Cole remained in contact with the division staff and especially with HLAS. Recognizing the value of the Library’s immense collections and the importance of scholarly research, he sent many of his students to the Library. In ways large and small, Cole Blasier left a lasting impression on the Hispanic Reading Room and helped propel the development of Latin American Studies by emphasizing the value of scholarly research, outreach and collaboration within the U.S. and abroad.

Learn More

In a 2002 interview, Cole Blasier discussed his work in the foreign service. Read a transcript of the interview which is part of “Frontline Diplomacy: The Foreign Affairs Oral History Collection of the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training,” a collection housed in the Library of Congress Manuscript Division.

In 2008, Cole interviewed his wife, Martha H. Blasier for the same oral history collection. A transcript is available online. The interview demonstrates how her talents, expertise and work were key components of the couple’s successful and satisfying professional and personal lives.

Search the Handbook of Latin American Studies (HLAS) for reviews of publications by Cole Blasier. This resource guide offers tips for searching HLAS. To read more about the historical impact of the Handbook see Handbook of Latin American Studies: Your Connection to the Library of Congress Latin American Collections.”

Read an overview of the history of the Hispanic Reading Room and experience the grandeur of its entrance through If These Walls Could Talk. Digitized versions of some of the Hispanic Reading Room Annual Reports are available online.

Find more information on the Hispanic Reading Room home page about the projects and reference services offered by the staff.

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