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Puerto Rico at the Dawn of the 20th Century

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This is a guest post by Felix Muniz. Felix is working with the education team at the Library of Congress as part of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) Internship Program.

Many teachers use the Spanish-American War as an entry point to discuss the changing role of the United States in world affairs.  Like the U.S., in 1898 the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico experienced large and rapid transformations in its political and economic landscape. Explore these changes using primary sources from the Library of Congress collection Puerto Rico at the Dawn of the Modern Age: Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century Perspectives

Map West Indies
The Evening Post map of the West Indies.

First-person accounts, political writings, maps, and pamphlets can be used to study both world and U.S. history. Topics include the native peoples, land, and resources; relations with Spain; competition among political parties; reform efforts; and recollections by veterans of the Spanish-American War.

World history students can explore the political and economic transformation of a former Spanish colony. The collection also provides insights into the changing role of the United States in world affairs and can be used as a case study to debate ideas of American expansionism. Did ideas of Manifest Destiny provide impetus to annex Puerto Rico or was it the result of an unintended consequence?  Did the island possess any strategic military or economic value?  What role did humanitarian concerns play in the conflict?

For U.S. history, this collection provides first-hand accounts of the experiences of Americans engaged in the conflict, their evaluation of the roots of military engagement, and their encounters with Yellow Fever, a major cause of death during the war.

Letters of a volunteer in the Spanish-American war
Letters of a volunteer in the Spanish-American war

Students may use the primary sources in this collection to:

Additional resources include:

Comments (6)

  1. I really enjoyed reading this blog post! I found it to be very informative. I also thought it was a nice touch to post it on December 10. This date marked the end of the Spanish-American War with the signing of the Treaty of Paris (Dec. 10, 1898).

  2. My organization works extensively with the Holyoke Public Schools, with a large majority of students of Puerto Rican descent. The teachers there will love these collections of resources.

    The Library of Congress also has excellent primary sources – including a 1562 map – on the Taino, first people of Puerto Rico, as well as on Columbus and other early Spanish colonialists.

    See for example:

    1492: An Ongoing Voyage
    What Came to Be Called “America”

    Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo y Valdes

    Americae sive qvartae orbis partis nova et exactissima descriptio /
    1562 – Diego Gutierrez

  3. Fantastic post & great resources on Puerto Rico

  4. Excelent!

  5. I am so glad that I did a Google for further information regarding the early settlers of Puerto Rico to complement my family history, these resources are amazing! Gracias 🙂

  6. It should be noted- this extensive colonial history is being retold (from a non biased perspective) as PR colonialism exists to present day. One has to place (and critically examine)-what has been established thus far-Historians Brau and Moris are conservatives, who did not support PR independence. Most of their historic accounts are based on military documentation and not the refined intellectual discourse that shaped nationalists/Independence movements across Latin America. The intellectuals who dared to incite these were silenced and exiled (Spanish rule) or imprisoned and abused (Pedro Albizu Campos, Lolita Lebron, Oscar Lopez to name a few most prominent examples). A National identity can only come about when we have a sovereign collective consciousness of OUR OWN HISTORY!

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