Library of Congress Hispanic and Portuguese Collections: An
Illustrated Guide
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General Overview

The Hispanic and Portuguese collections encompass research materials related to the societies (histories, cultures, languages) of the Iberian peninsula, Latin America and the Caribbean, and those areas where Spain and Portugal ruled--Angola and Mozambique, Damão, Goa, Diu, Philippines, Macao, and parts of the United States that were once Spanish territory.

Separate, considerable collections of manuscripts, pamphlets, journals, newspapers, or books can serve independently as sources of study of many subjects. However, it is in the integration of such materials and media for research that real advancement of knowledge is possible. That is the true strength of the Luso-Hispanic collections and even superlatives are insufficient to describe them.

While it is universally accepted that the basis of the collection was the genius of Thomas Jefferson, the Library of Congress's foundation predates the Jefferson Library purchase. And yet, Jefferson did possess extraordinarily significant publications both on the contemporary and the historical Luso-Hispanic world. He possessed a copy of Cruz Cano y Olmedilla's famous 1775 map of South America, which he had printed in facsimile in 1799 in London because the original was not available through Spanish sources. The practically two hundred-year-old collections are especially important for understanding the Americas, the Iberian Peninsula, and other regions of the world in which there exists long-term Hispanic and Portuguese influence. The first American imprints, from Mexico and from Peru, appear. Reproductions of codices of the pre-European American societies are found. The early cartographic renderings of America from Canada to Tierra del Fuego and early geographic knowledge for Iberia and its advances in the Eastern Hemisphere emerge. The presence of Muslim, Jewish, and Christian cultures in Iberia, the development of glossaries and dictionaries, and advances in the history of science in Europe through Iberian sources are contained in this remarkable body of cultural output.

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Route of Magellan World Map with Route of Magellan. In Battista Agnese. [Portolan Atlas]. Venice, ca. 1544. This chart of the world, with Magellan's route of circumnavigation included, depicted the extent of new found knowledge regarding the world that Mediterranean explorers obtained within fifty years of Columbus's 1492 contact in America. The former Europocentric world view had fallen victim to new ideas and places. Known as Ferdinand Magellan to the English-speaking world, Fernão de Magalhães was a Portuguese navigator sailing for Spain. (Vellum Chart Collection, Geography and Map Division)

The collections are not restricted by chronology. In the holdings, original manuscripts or codices on America prepared after 1492 appear. Precious reproductions of pre-European written documents--codices--by indigenous peoples are collected extensively, and original pre-European musical instruments from Mayan and Andean sources are found in the Music Division. Similarly, the collection of original materials from Iberia, both printed and manuscript, date from the fourteenth and the fifteenth centuries. That historical record of the vast stages of human development in the Iberian Peninsula and in Latin America, prepared since the mid-fifteenth century, is extraordinarily rich.

The Library's collections, unlike those of an archive or a museum, include recent research contributions, thereby providing a complementary body of research materials for serious study. This extraordinary body of material has been supplemented by benefactions that have further strengthened it, in many cases providing the original printed or manuscript document that has been the subject of later study, as for example, in materials related to Christopher Columbus, early printing on and in America, exploration in America, or the changing composition of Luso-Hispanic cultures. The Library's collections, especially in relation to America, are significant in providing the materials necessary for analyzing the varied understandings of what came to be called America and continuing broad research interests on a variety of topics related to America.

The Library of Congress contains treasures for the serious researcher as well as extensive holdings of documents that reflect upon the five hundred-year presence of Spanish and Portuguese societies in the Americas and the very rich cultures of indigenous Americans, Africans, Asians, and other European peoples who occupy the region. Equally, the history of Spain and Portugal, with their multiple cultures within the Iberian Peninsula as well as elsewhere in Europe, Africa, and Asia is strongly represented.

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quartae orbis partis nova 
et exactissima descriptio [Map of America] Americae sive quartae orbis partis nova et exactissima descriptio [Map of America]. Diego Gutiérrez. 1562. The Casa de Contratación in Seville was the central authority for Spanish travel to America and custodian of charts and sailing directions for the Western Hemisphere. Diego Gutiérrez was a chart and instrument maker and a pilot who worked in the Casa de Contratación from about 1534 until his death in 1554. His 1562 map of America was engraved by Hieronymus Cock, a Flemish artist born in Antwerp in 1510. Gutiérrez's map, of which the Library of Congress holds only one of two extant, relied upon the collection of data acquired by Spain in America which provided the most up-to-date information on the people, settlements, and other geographical features of the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of North America, all of Central and South America, and portions of the western coasts of Africa. (Geography and Map Division)

The collections include rich holdings in the area of recorded knowledge of the peoples of Hispanic and Portuguese origin in the United States, from the initial Spanish presence in what is now the United States to continuing incidents of arrival. Our collections, because of their early establishment, mirror the changes occurring in Luso-Hispanic America during the entire national period, with full records of governmental publications, gazettes, and newspapers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that allow considerable in-depth research.

Thomas Jefferson, whose private collection served as one of the cornerstones of the Library, felt a special concern for books on the Americas. He believed in the basic unity of the Western Hemisphere and understood the need for a special relationship among the American republics. As early as 1809 he wrote that "Mexico is one of the most interesting countries of our hemisphere, and merits our attention." And in 1820 he declared further that "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 object."

The library sold by Jefferson, rich in books about the regions of the world and relating to most branches of knowledge, included almost two hundred volumes about Spanish and Portuguese America, the Caribbean, and the Iberian Peninsula, in Spanish, French, Italian, or Latin, all languages which the former president read with ease. Jefferson possessed an insatiable curiosity about America, and in his attempt to learn as much as possible about the diversity of human societies, as well as the environment of the region, and the conquest of a large portion of it by Spain and Portugal, he had amassed a learned collection of books and maps. He believed that it was important for North Americans to learn Spanish because "our future connection with Spain and Spanish America will render that language a valuable acquisition," and he also stated that one ought to keep in mind that much of the history of the Americas was written in Spanish. Both the collections of the original congressional library, organized to meet the demands of the legislators for law and general literature, and Jefferson's library, which expanded considerably the subject and language scope of the collections, held primarily contemporary, scholarly editions.

After the war between the United States and Mexico (1846-1848) there existed a practical need to acquire information about the latter country. On August 4, 1848, the Joint Committee of Congress on the Library resolved that "the Librarian be authorized to purchase all the constitutions and laws of Mexico, and also to subscribe for a newspaper published in Vera Cruz and for one published in the City of Mexico." The acquisition of the Peter Force collection in the 1860s brought additional historical materials on the Americas to the Library, including nineteenth-century manuscript copies of Fray Diego Durán's 1585 Historia Antigua de la Nueva España, Fray Jerónimo de Alcalá's 1537-1541 Relación de las ceremonias y ritos y población y gobierno de los indios de la provincia de Mechuacán, and Mariano Fernández de Echevarría y Veitia's sixteenth-century Historia del origen de las gentes que poblaron la América septentrional.

The opening of the Library of Congress building in 1897, now the Thomas Jefferson Building, led to a reexamination of the purposes and possibilities of the institution. New departments for Manuscripts, Maps, and Music were created. As part of that reexamination, Librarian of Congress John Russell Young recognized the need for special development of materials related to the nations of the Western Hemisphere:

The interblending of Spanish-American history with that of the United States makes it advisable that we should continue to strengthen ourselves in that department...It would be wise to the development of the manuscript department to note particularly what pertains not only to the United States, but to America in general, Canada, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, the West Indies, but more especially the countries to the south -- Mexico, Central America and South America....

Knowledge of the Library's growing specialization in the Hispanic and Portuguese field began to attract important gifts. The family of Ephraim George Squier gave to the Library the papers of this pioneer American anthropologist and U.S. diplomat, including over two thousand letters from correspondents principally relating to the indigenous histories of the Americas, especially of Peru, Central America, and Mexico. The Henry Harrisse bequest of 1915 added the correspondence and profusely annotated copies of the many writings of this scholar of Columbus and the early colonial period of the Americas.

In 1926 the Library published a list of what Librarian of Congress Herbert Putnam termed "bibliographical monumenta, which should indisputably be represented in the National Library of the United States." That list, which includes such rarities as Columbus's 1493 printed account of his first voyage to America, has served as a major collection focus for rare Luso-Hispanic works. Over the years, through gifts and purchases, the Library of Congress has been able to acquire many imprints on the list.

Thumbnail image of Hammock Hammock. Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés. Coronica delas Indias. La hystoria general... Salamanca, 1547. Taken from his La Historia general y natural de las Indias...Seville, 1535. Oviedo sailed in 1514 on his first of many journeys to America, where for over thirty years he compiled detailed ethnographic descriptions of such an innumerable list of products and goods, peoples and customs that he found it "almost impossible to write...given the abundance of ideas that come to mind." He introduced Europe to an enormous variety of previously unheard of American exotica, including the pineapple, the canoe, smoking tobacco, the manatee, and the hammock. Along with Pedro Mártir de Anglería and Bartolomé de Las Casas, Oviedo was one of the first European "chroniclers of the Indies." The Library of Congress acquired the 1535 rare autographed copy of Historia in 1867. (Rare Book and Special Collections Division)

In 1927, Archer M. Huntington, Hispanist, poet, and president of the Hispanic Society of America, established the Huntington Endowment Fund as the first of several important donations. The interest from this gift continues to be devoted annually to the purchase of books related to Spanish, Portuguese, and Latin American arts, crafts, literature, and history published during the past ten years.

Huntington gave the Library a second endowment the following year to facilitate the selection and servicing of those materials and helped create a consultantship in Spanish and Portuguese literature. The first appointee was Juan Riaño y Gayangos, a distinguished Spanish diplomat who had served from 1914 to 1926 as ambassador of his government to the United States.

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couppe et porte le Brésil es navires. Come ce peuple couppe et porte le Brésil es navires. Engraving. André Thevet. Cosmographie universelle illustrée des diverses figures des choses les plus remarquables...,1575. vol. 2. Paris. In 1555 André Thevet, a Franciscan priest, sailed with a small group of Frenchmen under the command of Villegagnon to found a colony, a southern New France, on the Brazilian coast. Thevet reported his observations of the agriculture, customs, and language of the indigenous people of that region. This illustration gives some idea of the labor involved in the cutting down and transporting of brazilwood to European ships on the coast. As Thevet relates, "when merchants get there, be they French, Spanish, or other Europeans...they trade with the savages [in order to get them] to cut down and carry the Brazilwood. The ships are sometimes a long distance from where they cut the wood...and all the profits that these poor people get for such effort, is a miserable little shirt, or some other item of dress of little value." (Rare Book and Special Collections Division)

In the first year of the appointment, the Library received two significant gifts from Edward S. Harkness, who donated a magnificent collection of Spanish manuscripts relating to the early colonial history of Mexico and Peru, and from John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who provided funds for the photocopying of foreign archival manuscripts relating to the history of America, the result being that many manuscripts concerning the sixteenth- to nineteenth-century history of the United States's southeastern and southwestern areas were copied in Mexico, Spain, France, England, Germany, and Austria.

Father David Rubio served as consultant from 1931 to 1943 and, for the period 1939-1943, was curator of the Hispanic and Portuguese collections. Rubio, with the use of the Huntington acquisition funds, helped the collections grow from 15,000 to more than 100,000 monographic volumes, and unprecedented efforts were made to develop further special groups of material. An example of that effort was the work of John Lomax, who enriched the Archive of American Folk Song in the American Folklife Reading Room by collecting Hispanic folk music, including a San Antonio, Texas, version of Las Posadas and the Los Pastores miracle play.

It was while Father Rubio was serving as consultant in Spanish and Portuguese literature that Archer Huntington gave the Library of Congress a monetary grant for the construction of the Hispanic Room and a trust fund for its maintenance. Father Rubio provided a graphic description of how the decision for those commitments was made:

After five years of work and several journeys to Spain and Portugal we now had some one hundred thousand volumes in the Hispanic Section, whereas there were no more than fifteen thousand when I had begun. From Latin America there had not been even a single volume of Rubén Darío. Dr. Putnam [the Librarian of Congress], very pleased with my labor, informed Mr. Huntington of the state and progress of his foundation and invited him to pay a visit. Putnam and I were in the central office awaiting him...After lunch...we walked around Deck A, where the Semitic Division was then located. On seeing it, Huntington asked: "Where is the Hispanic Division?" I replied: "We are waiting for some Mecenas [patron of the arts] to help us found it..." Mr. Huntington said goodby to us and some months later the director of the Library called me to his office and said: "We have here a new gift from Mr. Huntington to create a special room dedicated to Hispanic culture."

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Spanish revival architecture Home design, Spanish revival architecture. Watercolor over pen and ink, ca. 1920s. Santa Barbara, California. During the 1920s, in both the southwestern and the southeastern regions of the United States, there arose a renewed wave of interest in creating homes and other buildings in the style of Spain. In this depiction of a house type in California or in the rebuilding of St. Augustine, Florida, we see the earlier Spanish form that became popular. (Prints and Photographs Division)

The establishment of the Hispanic Foundation in 1939 was a natural outcome of generations of collection development that had begun in 1800. The Hispanic Room, designed by the architect Paul Philipe Cret and completed in 1939, was intended to draw the researcher into the beauty of the Spanish and Portuguese Renaissance reflecting the taste of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Iberia, through its vaulted ceiling, wood panelled alcoves, a dado of Puebla blue tile, and wrought iron balconies. The room was dedicated on October 12, 1939. In his address, Librarian of Congress Archibald MacLeish emphasized the oneness of the Americas and the need for Americans, both north and south, to appreciate their land for its own merits. To those living in the United States he presented the challenge of learning about the other American past, a past that defended human liberty at a time when witches were being hanged in Salem. In his eyes, Latin America shared with the United States the "unforgettable experience of the journey toward the West and the westward hope." He saw, in the Hispanic Room, a place where students of the Americas could follow the great Hispanic tradition that, with its ideas and its poetry, had populated "by far the greaterpart of these two continents." He closed his remarks by appealing for a universal brotherhood of the human spirit.

There are men in the world today--and many rather than few-- who say that the proper study of mankind is not man but a particular kind of man. There are those who teach that the only cultural study proper to a great people is its own culture. There are those also who say that the only real brotherhood is that blood brotherhood for which so many wars have been fought and by which so many deaths are still justified. The dedication of this room and of this collection of books is a demonstration of the fact that these opinions are not valid in the Americas: that in the Americas, peopled by so many sufferings, so many races, the highest brotherhood is still the brotherhood of the human spirit and the true study is the study of the best.

At the time of the Hispanic Room's dedication, it was hoped that the two vestibules could be decorated by a Latin American artist. Cândido Portinari, the outstanding Brazilian muralist, was selected to prepare four large paintings, which he completed between October 1941 and January 12, 1942. In designing the murals, Portinari imposed the restriction that the figures and the objects be so represented as to apply not to one age alone but to the whole succession of periods since the arrival of the Spaniards and Portuguese in America. Through four panels, Discovery of the Land, Entry into the Forest, Teaching of the Indians, and Mining of Gold, the muralist represented Indian, black, and white peoples in America.

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Indians and Mining of Gold. "Teaching of the Indians" and "Mining of Gold." Cândido Portinari. [1941]. Portinari Murals. Portinari, through his canvases, murals, and tile walls, devoted his energies to the explanation of the mysteries and attractions of the forgotten peoples. Through his four murals in the Hispanic Division he relates central themes in the past 500 year experience of human contact in the Americas: exploration and discovery, conquering the environment, acculturation and cross-cultural fertilization, and exploitation of natural resources. (Foyer, Hispanic Division)

It is evident that over the years the Library of Congress has been assembling remarkable Hispanic and Portuguese collections, located throughout the Library; in its Hispanic Division and other area studies divisions, in the special collections, and within the general books collection. These collections have been assembled and continue to be enhanced by timely donations of rare and unique treasures and by consistent acquisition of contemporary items through purchase, exchange, and the efforts of the Library of Congress's overseas offices. An office was established in Rio de Janeiro in 1966 which has had a major impact on the quantity and the quality of our Brasiliana collection.

In the Library's Rare Book and Special Collections Division, there are copies of the earliest books printed in America--the 1544 Mexican imprints, Juan de Zumárraga's Doctrina breve muy provechosa, Juan de Gerson's Tripartito del christianissimo y consolatorio doctor Juan Gerson de doctrina christiana, and Denis la Chartreux's Este es un copedio [sic] breve que tracta.... Two of the earliest books printed in South America, in Lima, form part of the collection: Luís López's 1585 Tercero Cathecismo y exposición de la doctrina Christiana and Antonio Ricardo's 1586 Vocabulario en la lengua general del Peru llamada Quichua. Among Spanish incunabula are a 1491 edition of the Siete Partidas and Fernán de Mexía's book of noble families (1492). The Hebraic Section of the African and Middle Eastern Division has the first book published in Portugal, Moses ben Nahman's Perush ha-Torah (Lisbon, 1489).

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Nahman. Perush ha-Torah. Page. Moses ben Nahman. Perush ha-Torah. Lisbon, 1489. The first book printed in any language in Portugal's capital city, Lisbon, was the Hebrew book, the Commentary of the Pentateuch. It was published only three years before the expulsion of the Jews from Spain and eight years before their removal from Portugal. (Hebraic Section, African and Middle Eastern Division)

One of the unique documents housed in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division is the Trevisan Codex, a highly prized manuscript forming part of the John Boyd Thacher collection and constituting the 1502 report by a Venetian agent in Spain of Spanish explorations in America and Portugal's arrival in Brazil and Calicut (on the Indian coast). A collection of manuscripts and printed books dealing with the exploits of Sir Francis Drake in America and Europe was a gift in 1979 from Hans P. Kraus. Among other valuable items, this collection contains sixteenth-century manuscript descriptions of the coasts of Central America, of the greater part of the Viceroyalty of Peru, of Francisco de Ulloa's 1553 expedition through the Straits of Magellan, and of the exploits of Nunho da Silva who, captured by Drake in 1577, became part of his command and later explored the Pacific coast of South America.

The Manuscript Division possesses outstanding Luso-Hispanic items including Columbus's 1502 manuscript book of privileges on vellum. That Division additionally holds several major groups of Hispanic and Portuguese materials, such as a collection of Portuguese manuscripts, the Hans P. Kraus Collection of Spanish Manuscripts, the Edward Harkness Collection, and the Henry Albert Monday Collection of Mexican colonial materials.

Important groups of materials can be found in the Law Library, the Hispanic Division, the Music Division, the Prints and Photographs Division, the Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division, the Geography and Map Division, the Serial and Government Publications Division, the Microform Reading Room, the African and Middle Eastern Division, the American Folklife Reading Room, and the general collections of the Library of Congress. An outstanding strength of the Library's collections lie in the accumulation of printed materials from and on the areas of the Luso-Hispanic world. For practically two centuries, the Library has obtained complete sets of official gazettes, debates of parliamentary bodies, and all other significant official publications of national agencies, as well as selected provincial or state imprints. As a result, its collections of official documents are among the strongest in the world, as are its holdings of newspapers from Latin America, Spain, and Portugal. Microform copies of more than 4,000 pre-1800 Latin American imprints selected from the bibliographies of José Toribio Medina, Organization of American States's technical reports, and 8,179 nineteenth century Spanish plays are part of a rich body of research materials copied from other archives and collections.

As an integral part of these large and expanding collections, since 1942 the Library, through the Hispanic Division, has developed the ARCHIVE OF HISPANIC LITERATURE ON TAPE. The ARCHIVE today contains the recordings of more than 650 authors reading from their own works; eight of them have been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature thus far.

Although most published Hispanic and Portuguese materials are located in the general collections and other special collections in the Library, bibliographic activity and reference services are conducted primarily in the Hispanic Division. In addition to special bibliographies and guides, the Hispanic Division prepares the annual, annotated Handbook of Latin American Studies. First published in 1936, the Handbook is universally recognized by scholars as the basic reference and acquisitions tool on Latin America. This long-term cooperative enterprise, which has more than a hundred contributing editors, each a noted specialist, effectively allows the Library's Latin American materials and its specialists to interact with others in the field, for purposes of research, collection development, and advancement of scholarship, and it is used by librarians to gauge the quality of their collections.

The primary function of the Hispanic Division continues to be the development of the Library's Hispanic and Portuguese collections, the facilitation of its use by the Congress of the United States, other federal agencies, and scholars, and the explanation and interpretation of its nature and content through published guides, bibliographies, and studies.

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letter written by Fray Bartolomé de Las
Casas to King Charles I First page of the letter written by Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas to King Charles I shortly before he left Spain for America. 1542. Las Casas is known as a champion of the rights of native Americans. In this document, he presented a petition to help enforce new laws for America enacted in Spain in 1542. Through it he presented arguments to the Spanish governing body, the Consejo de las Indias, regarding the conduct of the religious orders concerning the issues of slavery, death, and rampant disregard for native life. We are also indebted to the friar for preserving the only record of Columbus's journal of his 1492-93 voyage, an abstract prepared in the early sixteenth century of which the Library of Congress holds a photographic copy in the Manuscript Division. (Hans P. Kraus Collection, Manuscript Division)
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