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Celebrating Hispanic Heritage: Feliz Cumpleaños, Hispanic Division

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(Today is the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month, which is celebrated annually Sept. 15-Oct. 15. This year, the Library’s Hispanic Division marks its 75th anniversary. The following is an article from the July-August 2014 issue of the Library of Congress Magazine .)

"Entry into the Forest" is one of four murals by Brazilian painter Cândido Portinari in the Hispanic Reading Room. Carol Highsmith
“Entry into the Forest” is one of four murals by Brazilian painter Cândido Portinari in the Hispanic Reading Room. Carol Highsmith

Dating back to the middle ages, the Library’s Hispanic world collections are the largest in the world.

An original 1605 copy of Miguel de Cervantes’ “Don Qixote.” A 16th-century Native American legal document protesting Spanish colonialism. Films of Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders after the Spanish American War in 1898.

These are just a few of the Library’s Hispanic treasures. Comprising nearly 14 million items in various formats, the Library’s Iberian, Latin American and Caribbean collections are the largest and most complete in the world.

The point of entry for these collections is the Library’s Hispanic Reading Room, which celebrates its 75th anniversary this year. The reading room opened its doors in the Thomas Jefferson Building on Oct. 12, 1939, Columbus Day. The Hispanic Division was established three months earlier with an endowment from Archer M. Huntington (founder of the Hispanic Society of America), a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation and a congressional appropriation.

The Library holds this 1605 first edition of Miguel de Cervantes' classic "Don Quixote." Amanda Reynolds
The Library holds this 1605 first edition of Miguel de Cervantes’ classic “Don Quixote.” Amanda Reynolds

Huntington began donating funds to build the Library’s Hispanic collection in the 1920s. But the Library’s collections from the broad Hispanic world–which date to the Middle Ages–began more than a century earlier. Thomas Jefferson’s personal library, which the Library of Congress purchased in 1815, contained about 200 books about the Hispanic world. Jefferson believed in the basic unity of the Americas–North and South. In 1820 he declared, “I should rejoice to see the fleets of Brazil and the United States riding together as brethren of the same family and pursuing the same objects.”

The Hispanic Division’s first chief, Lewis Hanke, was the founding editor of the “Handbook of Latin American Studies.” Considered to be the father of the field of Latin American Studies in the United States, Hanke became the first Latin Americanist to be elected president of the American Historical Association. In remembrance of their father, Hanke’s children donated funds to the Hispanic Division to offer online access to the Handbook.

In addition to books, journals and manuscripts, the Hispanic Division holds an original collection of sound recordings. The division has been recording selected readings by poets and writers for more than 70 years. Today the “Archive of Hispanic Literature on Tape” holds nearly 700 recordings from more than 32 countries in some 10 languages. Among the authors are nine Nobel laureates, including Gabriela Mistral, Octavio Paz and Gabriel García Márquez. Cuban-American poet Richard Blanco, who read his poem “One Today” at Barack Obama’s second presidential inauguration, was recently recorded and added to the collection. Using cutting-edge technology at its Packard Campus for Audio-Visual Conservation, the Library is transferring the retrospective recordings from magnetic tape reels to a digital format.

Hispanic Division Chief Georgette Dorn contributed to this story. 

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