Category Archives: Collections Highlight

New Benson exhibition celebrates “El gaucho Martín Fierro”

The Benson Latin American Collection recently inaugurated Martín Fierro: From Marginal Outlaw to National Symbol in the Rare Books Reading Room. Co-curated by Graduate Research Assistants Melissa Aslo de la Torre and Janette Núñez, this exhibition examines the Argentine epic poem El gaucho Martín Fierro and its legacy on the 150th anniversary of the poem’s publication.  Ryan Lynch sat down with Aslo de la Torre (MA) and Núñez (JN) to talk about their process. 


Related: Listen to “An Argentine Gaucho in Texas” on the Benson at 100 podcast. Escuchar este episodio en español.


You write that the Benson has over 380 copies of El gaucho Martín Fierro and La vuelta de Martín Fierro. How did these books come to the Benson?  

JN: A big part of this collection came from two collections that the Benson purchased. One would be the Martínez Reales Gaucho library, purchased in 1961. That contained about 1500 books, pamphlets, and articles and literature of the Argentine cowboy, and more than 300 editions. The other one was the Simon Lucuix library, purchased in 1963. The collector had over 21,000 volumes on Uruguay and the Rio de la Plata area.  

Portrait of author Jose Hernández from a 1937 Martín Fierro–themed calendar with illustrations by Mario Zavattaro, published by Argentine textile company Alpargatas.

Why do you think Martín Fierro has remained so popular?  

JN: The book was published nineteen years after the Argentine constitution of 1853. In that constitution, there was a government policy that encouraged European immigration as an effort to “clean ” races and also populate Argentina. The gaucho became a representation of this struggle of people who were feeling threatened and feeling the consequences of European immigration. 

MA: [Martín Fierro] was not the only poem that was written in the voice of a gaucho, but one of the differences is that this one really makes the gaucho the hero in a sort of tragic tale. It was therefore taken up by different groups of people as a symbol of someone who stands for freedom, someone who was oppressed by the government, sort of a hero of the people.  

It transitioned from mass popularity to being used by the literary elite to create a political national identity. And in that way, it got really inscribed into popular culture. There are images of a popular tango musician [Carlos Gardel] dressed as a gaucho. These two cultural products [tango and gauchos] are very, very different, but we can see as the gauchos diminished in number, they were used as a symbol of Argentine identity. 

A color lithograph by Carlos Alonso depicting the unnamed Black characters who later face violence at the hands of Martín Fierro, from a 1960 edition of El gaucho Martín Fierro y La vuelta de Martín Fierro.

The exhibit focuses largely on the work’s legacy in Argentina. Can you talk about its influence outside of Argentina, such as in Brazil and Uruguay?  

MA: Gauchos existed in the Rio de la Plata area, it wasn’t just these artificial borders—it spanned the entire region. A gaucho in Argentina was very similar to a gaucho in Uruguay. 

One thing that I thought was interesting was that during the period when José Hernández was alive, there was a lot of political turmoil and he was exiled in Uruguay and Brazil; he started writing the poem in Brazil. There was this movement across these borders. 

Who should visit this exhibition?  

MA: Everyone! 

Exhibition curators Melissa Aslo de la Torre (left) and Janette Núñez.

What was the most interesting thing you learned in the course of doing this project?  

JN: For me, it was how heavily the government was involved in spreading the poem. When I found out that we had this poem was translated into over 70 languages, I had an idea that it was really popular internationally, but they were all published in Argentina. Something we’ve mentioned before is how it became so popular. I think it was really a true combination of both the mass public and the government. If either one wasn’t on board with this particular poem, I am not sure it would have been as popular as it was. 

A comic strip adaptation based on a theatrical adaptation of Martín Fierro by José González Castillo from Intervalo, October 1960. Drawings by Miranda.

What is your favorite item in the exhibition?  

MA: One of my favorite items is a version that was written for a juvenile audience that is annotated. I appreciated the annotations because there’s so much gaucho language in the poem that was part of what made it successful, but part of what makes it difficult to understand even if you’re a Spanish speaker. It is interesting, one, because you can see how the poem is taught to young Argentines, and two, it makes it understandable for us as readers. 

We’ve talked a lot about how we chose to frame this and what we chose to focus on. All of it was driven by the holdings, but there are gaps. This is a very masculine, ideal image of this national identity. I would have loved to have more about who were the female subjects in the poem, how they were treated. 

Do you think this experience will inform your careers in archives and libraries in any way? If so, how?  

MA: For me, I think it definitely will. This was my first time creating an exhibition and I really had to think about how there are so many access points to materials in archives and rare books.  

Previously, my work has been in providing reference, so I had to think about instruction in rare books and archives. How do I teach someone about these materials? How do I help tell a story? What kind of framing am I providing to this knowledge? That’s really one of the reasons that I chose this program and that I am interested in for my career—how is cultural knowledge framed by archives and museums, and what is it communicating to audiences? 

JN: I agree. Creating an exhibit is so different from providing reference. It’s putting it out there and then hoping it conveys the messages that we want it to convey. 

Also, it was my first [time] to put my experience of working in libraries and archives and my Latin American academic experience together. I do that when I do reference or processing, but putting an exhibition together is really thinking, what is my previous knowledge of Argentine history and politics? And what are my gaps, and how do I use my background to build on that? 

Another point is working collaboratively. We were able to bring both of our different experiences to put this one project together. Librarianship is very collaborative work—that is what they teach us at the iSchool. Being able to put that on something that wasn’t just a class project was a great experience as well. 


Ryan Lynch is Head of Special Collections and Senior Archivist at the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection.

Melissa Aslo de la Torre is a master’s student at the School of Information at UT Austin (iSchool).

Janette Núñez is a dual-degree master’s student at LLILAS and the iSchool.

Benson receives Gracious Donation from Creator of “El Peso Hero”

BY DANIEL ARBINO

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s El Peso Hero!

The Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection is pleased to announce Héctor Rodríguez III’s donation of materials pertaining to his comic series, El Peso Hero.

The series was launched in 2011, when Rodríguez saw the need for more Latino representation in graphic novels. The titular superhero, whose name is Ignacio Rivera, fights to uphold justice and morality in the border region. In some issues, Rivera can be seen helping migrants safely across the border. In others, he fights corruption and drug traffickers. Now celebrating a decade of issues, El Peso Hero will debut on the silver screen in the near future. While Rivera is the protagonist of the series, perhaps it’s his creator who is the real hero.

Storyboards highlight content in the issues. Here we see El Peso Hero, who only speaks Spanish in the series, helping migrants cross the border. Benson Latin American Collection.

Héctor Rodríguez is a bilingual north Texas elementary school teacher by day and a comic book creator by night. His commitment to the genre goes beyond his own production: he’s also the creator of Texas Latino Comic Con. The mission of his independently owned Rio Bravo Comics is to give the people a “humble hero,” someone who is relatable to the audience, some of whom are his students. His inspiration comes from his family as well as his life as a Chicano in Texas. Rodríguez, who was born in Eagle Pass and grew up in College Station, uses El Peso Hero as a means to tell stories about the borderlands, from its hardships to its beauty.

Poster celebrating El Peso Hero. Benson Latin American Collection.

For the author, that beauty is found in the multiculturalism that flourishes in the region, where El Santo comics are read while watching lucha libre, and English and Spanish are often spoken in the same sentence. It is for this reason that Rodríguez intentionally has El Peso Hero only speak in Spanish, while the series itself is bilingual. For Rodríguez, it is important that El Peso Hero transcends the U.S.–Mexico border linguistically and culturally to solidify his representation of transnational communities.

First issue of El Peso Hero, signed by the creator. Benson Latin American Collection.

The donation features single issues, posters, stickers, storyboards, and a coloring book. One of the many highlights is a rare, signed first issue of the series.


Daniel Arbino is Head of Collection Development at the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection.

Collection Highlight: The Field Maps Of Roland T. Fenton

Every year the United States honors women and men who have served the U.S. armed forces during war and peacetime on the anniversary of the end of World War I, November 11. Originally called Armistice Day, Veterans Day celebrated and honored the soldiers that lost their lives in World War I. In 1954, after World War II and the Korean War, the federal holiday was officially expanded to celebrate and honor all veterans.

The UT Libraries honors veterans by telling their stories, preserving their legacy in our collections, and making the materials that meant something to them available to researchers for generations to come.

This Veterans Day, we are highlighting a collection of field maps and charts that belonged to Colonel Roland T. Fenton, a veteran of World War I and World War II. We are excited to tell part of his story through the maps he used in the field with an online exhibit, the Field Maps of Colonel Roland T. Fenton.

hand-drawn map depicting Givry, France. Shows built areas, railway line, roads, and vegetation. Hand colored. Purple and blue ink on paper.
Plan of Givry: scale 1:4,000. “July [day illegible], 1918” This hand-drawn map from World War I shows built areas, a railway line, roads, and vegetation is the only manuscript in this collection.

Aside from some basic biographical information, we know very little about Col. Fenton. We know that he spent 28 years of his life serving in the U.S. Army, and in that time, he was infantry and infantry support in both World Wars. And he managed to preserve some essential tools of his deployment, his maps. The fact that these maps survived the treacheries of war is incredible. After Col. Fenton died, his family donated his military effects to the Army Heritage Center who offered UT Libraries the maps to fill in missing maps from our online Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection. They exceed our expectations. The field printing and annotations alone make them exceptional, but also many were classified. We are fortunate to be able to preserve and share them with generations to come.

Detail of 1918 map of Château-Thierry, France depicting Belleau, France. The paper is weathered, brown and shows crease marks, with topographic lines, buildings, roads, rail lines, and town name. There are faded notations in black pencil.
This detail of Château-Thierry: 29 Juin 1918 depicts Belleau, France. On July 18, 1918, (then) Lt. Fenton’s actions earned him the second-highest military decoration, the Distinguished Service Cross.

Visit the UT Libraries’ Exhibit to learn more about Col. Fenton and the context of his collection. The images accompanying this post and the exhibit are a fraction of the 84 maps in the Field Maps of Colonel Roland T. Fenton in the UT Libraries Collections portal.

Map of Darmstadt from 1944. There is an overprint of circles surrounding two cities connected by a line to two symbols. One symbol is a crescent and the other is a funnel. These symbols represent classes of supplies for combat units in World War 1. The crescent symbolizes rations and comfort items. The funnel symbolizes petroleum, oil, and lubricants.
This copy of the Darmstadt map has two overprint annotations, one circle around Gr. Gerau [Groß-Gerau] northwest of Darmstadt, connected to a second circle in the upper left margin enclosing a solid black crescent symbol and one circle around Truppen-Übungspl. Southwest of Darmstadt with a line connected to a second circle in the upper left margin encircling a solid black symbol of a funnel with a handle. The symbols indicate classes of supplies.
Detail of symbols overprinted on map of Darmstadt from 1944. There is an overprint of circles surrounding two cities connected by a line to two symbols. One symbol is a crescent and the other is a funnel. These symbols represent classes of supplies for combat units in World War 1. The crescent symbolizes rations and comfort items. The funnel symbolizes petroleum, oil, and lubricants.
Detail of overprinted symbols representing supply classes; the crescent symbolizes Rations and the funnel symbolizes Petroleum, Oil, and Lubricants (POL).

Journey into the Archive: The McFarland Cuban Plantation Records

BY KATIE COLDIRON

The Benson Latin American Collection is a beacon for Latin Americanist scholars the world over. It has drawn researchers to examine its archival gems, particularly its strength in holdings that shed light on Mexico and Central America. Over the past few years, the Benson has further diversified its collection to better represent other parts of Latin America and strengthen its holdings on materials from the Caribbean as well as Latinx and African diasporas in the United States. Its well-deserved status as the top Latin American and Caribbean-focused collection in the United States is what drew me to UT Austin in the first place.

Before I was an Information Studies student at UT, I was a first-time graduate student diving into academia at the University of Florida. Having found employment in UF’s Latin American and Caribbean Collection, I was soon inspired by the wide variety of unique Cuban holdings present, such as autographed first editions of works by Cuba’s national hero and author José Martí. The mentorship of scholars of Cuba like historian Lillian Guerra further drew me into Cuban Studies. Five years and many trips later, Cuba continues to capture my interests, particularly now that I live and work in Miami, where the highest number of Cuban Americans in the United States reside.

Postcard from Holguín, where J.F. McFarland noted details from his trip to Cuba.

It should come as no surprise that the collection I am reviewing relates to Cuba. With the assistance of the Benson’s Caribbean Studies liaison librarian Adrian Johnson, I came across the McFarland Cuban Plantation Records. It is a bilingual collection of correspondence, company records, legal documents, news clippings, and personal photos relating to the Cuban Plantation Company of Nueces County, Texas. The company was originally organized and incorporated in New York State by twenty Pennsylvanians who came together to buy a 1000-acre plantation near Holguín, a city in eastern Cuba. The date of the incorporation, October 1, 1902, is important, as it came less than five months after the end of the four-year U.S. military occupation of Cuba following the conclusion of the Cuban War of Independence. During this turbulent period, Cubans negotiated with the legacies of Spanish colonialism as well as the neo-imperial presence of the United States at all levels of society.[1] Following the formal end of the occupation, U.S. interests did not disappear, but rather intensified, with 13,000 North Americans having bought land in Cuba by 1905.[2]

Of those twenty Pennsylvanians mentioned previously, nineteen eventually stopped paying the interest on their loans and thus ceased to be a part of the Cuban Plantation Company. The only original investor who remained was one J.F. McFarland. McFarland would eventually pass ownership of the company to his two sons, and in 1953, they officially changed the business’s name to the Cuban Plantation Company of Nueces County, Texas. During this period, their landholdings became entangled with a brewing revolutionary fervor against the brutal dictatorship of military strongman Fulgencio Batista, who was backed by multiple U.S. public and private interests. However, the story of the Cuban Revolution and the eventual agrarian reform that would affect U.S. interests like the those of the McFarlands is not a simple one.

Agrarian reform was on everyone’s minds, both inside and outside of Cuba. In June 1959, then–Prime Minister of Cuba Fidel Castro told the U.S. Ambassador to Cuba Philip Bonsal that agrarian reform was “a matter of life and death.” U.S. landowners like the McFarlands and the United Fruit Company, which was the single-largest landowner in Cuba, found the prospect of agrarian reform worrisome. As the McFarland records show, they like many others assumed that Cuba’s revolutionary experiment would not last long. For example, in a 1959 letter from J.R. McFarland, the secretary-treasurer of the Cuban Plantation Company, to lawyer Dr. Pedro Ferrer y Coba, McFarland wrote, “We also feel that the dictatorship of Castro will sooner or later terminate because of lack of finances, because he has alienated the people or governments from which he might have obtained finances.” In the same letter, McFarland also notes that the company felt they would be paid “a price below the actual worth of the land” or “in bonds of uncertain value.” As the years passed and Cuba found economic stability through a relationship with the Soviet Union, these assumptions turned into legal efforts to secure some form of compensation for expropriated properties. In the McFarland records, one can see that their efforts to receive compensation for their land continued as late as 1971.

Letter from J.R. McFarland to Dr. Pedro Ferrer y Coba, employee of the Cuban Plantation Company who was given power of attorney on the company’s behalf. The letter notes that the company considered the Cuban revolutionary project to be temporary.

The culture of the U.S. plantation in Cuba was one in which North American custom reigned supreme, with many plantations having their own police forces subject only to the laws set by the landowner.[3] This detested system, and the poverty it created in the Cuban countryside, were so unpopular that agrarian reform was overwhelmingly supported by Cuba’s middle classes. As Lillian Guerra shows in her pivotal work on the first decade following the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, the Cuban middle classes supported agrarian reform via monetary donations, donations of agricultural machinery, and some even opening their homes to visiting guajiros (Cubans from the countryside) in a government PR initiative to open the luxuries of the city previously unavailable to them.[4]

While agrarian reform was wildly popular at its initiation, certain instances during this period foreshadow what would become an authoritarian regime. Fidel Castro directly controlled the agency tasked with instituting agrarian reform, the Instituto Nacional de Reforma Agraria, or INRA, along with a host of other government entities.[5] As he expanded his personal popularity and power, he also put his allies in positions that they were not always qualified for. For example, the medical doctor Ernesto “Che” Guevara was appointed as the head of the national bank. Urban underground activists, commonly known as “la clandestinidad,” who had fought on behalf of Castro’s 26th of July Movement, were displaced by those of the Partido Socialista Popular, a covertly Stalinist party and the not-too-distant allies of Fulgencio Batista during his first presidency and later dictatorship.[6]

Copy of letter sent to J.R. McFarland, then-secretary/treasurer of the Cuban Plantation Company, by Cuban company lawyer Dr. Pedro Ferrer y Coba. In the second-to-last paragraph on this page, Ferrer y Coba acknowledges the popularity of the then-provisional government.

The McFarland records provide little insight into life on their farm, but the collection includes a brief memoir about a family/company trip to Cuba written by J.R. McFarland, son of J.F. The farm is romanticized as a quaint country estate, but the tenants, like other facets of Cuba in the eyes of the author, are portrayed as primitive. Furthermore, racist imagery is present throughout, with most Cubans encountered labeled as “negroes.” This label also does not take into consideration the diversity of racial identifications in Cuba, where like other parts of Latin America and the Caribbean, a variety of racial identifications exist apart from the dichotomy of “black” and “white.”[7] These instances provide important context for the plethora of social ills that arise when foreign entities control the land and people of an independent country. The agrarian reform in its infancy was a noble cause that enjoyed support from the Cuban masses and was a glimmer of hope for those seeking a more independent and egalitarian nation. Nonetheless, it would be a mistake to dismiss what came after this period of hope.

The principal crop of the Cuban Plantation Company was sugar, a hugely important product in Cuban history. Early revolutionary ideals of crop diversification and self-sufficiency were displaced for more of the same. Instead of supplying the bulk of its sugar harvest to the United States, Cuba would instead provide its cash crop to the USSR. In the Soviet era, Cuba functioned as a quasi-colony of the USSR in the Western Hemisphere. Additionally, failed agricultural initiatives like the Ten Million Ton Harvest (Zafra de los Diez Millones), which emptied other professional sectors of personnel in the name of carrying out a hefty sugar harvest, created ration shortages and the corruption of the ration system itself.[8] With the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, Cuba faced a massive decrease in food supply, with a 50% decrease in overall food production within its own borders.[9] This food insecurity has not been overcome to this day, with increasingly difficult U.S. economic sanctions, failed state agricultural policy, dependence on a limited supply of imports, and a stagnant economic structure where success is often determined by race, gender, lucrative familial connections abroad, and geographic location.[10]

Postcard depicting a home characteristic of the Cuban countryside. On his family trip to Cuba, J.R. McFarland thought that the image closely resembled that of a home on his company’s farm.

My time at UT Austin taught me much about amplifying voices that have been historically absent from the archive. At the Wolfsonian Public Humanities Lab of Florida International University, we are seeking to do just that, with strategic community partnerships around South Florida to document oral histories and create a more all-encompassing archive of the region and how different groups have experienced it. About archiving Cuban themes in South Florida, the tradition has been to almost exclusively preserve the stories of pre-1959 Cuba, prominent members of the exile community, and dissidents. While these stories are important, they should nonetheless be complemented by those of individuals who were brought up in Cold War–era and post–USSR collapse Cuba, as well as the more quotidian stories of Cuban exile life in South Florida from recent decades. As someone who has lived in and researched Cuba, I learned early on that the hyperpoliticization of the subject of Cuba leads to anyone willingly diving into post-1959, in-country themes being met with suspicion. However, for the sake of engaging research, preservation, and ultimately positive change in Cuba, these themes must not be pushed to the side.

While the situation I have described is unique, the Benson nonetheless offers a great example for these goals. The Benson’s historic holdings, like the Genaro García Collection and the Joaquín García Icazbalceta Manuscript Collection, are being complemented by newer, digitally based initiatives like the Voces Oral History Archive and post-custodial digitization in the region with partners like the Colombian Proceso de Comunidades Negras, or PCN. My hope is that one day, the archives in South Florida that more closely resemble the McFarland Collection can coexist with those of Cubans who lived through the turbulent decades of the Revolution, and those who came to Florida in later decades seeking libertad.

Throughout my professional and personal life in Florida and Cuba, I have seen both sides of the partisan battles surrounding Cuba and its contested future. On one side are those academics and activists who celebrate the successes of the Cuban Revolution without acknowledging the extent of its failures. On the other side, many in the Miami exile community, as well some U.S.  politicians, are unable to see the dire human costs of the trade embargo and toughening U.S. sanctions. The lack of room for critique leads to Cubans being nothing more than symbols to justify one view or the other, while also leaving Cubans—to borrow the words of cultural anthropologist Noelle Stout—“to make the long, hot walk back to their normal lives” when they are no longer on the radar of foreigners or the exile community.[11] In this moment, a climactic and potentially transformative one for the people of Cuba, they must be seen as more than props in a partisan battle, but agents in their own destiny.

Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published September 16, 2021, in the series Journey into the Archive: History from the Benson Latin American Collection, a collaboration between the Benson and Not Even Past. View the original here.


About the Author

A native of Kentucky, Katie L. Coldiron moved to Florida in 2016 to pursue a master’s degree at the University of Florida’s Center for Latin American Studies, and she undertook her thesis research in Cuba under the advisement of Dr. Lillian Guerra. She was also introduced to library and archival work at UF, and parlayed different roles held during her time as a student into a position digitizing Cuban Judaica items and periodicals on the ground in Havana, all part of a post-custodial digitization project undertaken by the UF George A. Smathers Libraries. Following this experience, Katie enrolled in a library and information science master’s program at The University of Texas at Austin. During her time at UT Austin, Katie served as a graduate research assistant for digital projects at the UT Libraries, where she assisted area studies librarians on various facets of their digital projects. She also was a FLAS fellow at the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies. Katie is currently working as the Digital Archivist and Project Manager for the Wolfsonian Public Humanities Lab at Florida International University. She can be found on Twitter: @katielcoldiron.

Notes

[1] Mariel Iglesias Utset, A Cultural History of Cuba During the U.S. Occupation, 1898–1902 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2011).

[2] Louis M. Pérez, On Becoming Cuban: Identity, Nationality, and Culture (Chapel Hill:  The University of North Carolina Press, 1999).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Lillian Guerra, Visions of Power in Cuba: Revolution, Redemption, and Resistance, 1959–1971 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2012).

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Devyn Spence Benson, Antiracism in Cuba: The Unfinished Revolution (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2016).

[8] Guerra, 2012.

[9] Pérez, 2019.

[10] Hannah Garth, Food in Cuba: The Pursuit of a Decent Meal (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2020).

[11] Noelle M. Stout, After Love: Queer Intimacy and Erotic Economies in Post-Soviet Cuba (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014).

New Biography Sheds Light on the Work and Internal Life of María Luisa Puga

“How does one become a writer, and how does she go about building a body of creative work?”* These are questions that author Irma López seeks to answer in her latest publication, a biography of the late Mexican writer María Luisa Puga (1944–2004) titled Extraño no-amor el tuyo: María Luisa Puga, historia de una pasión.   

Author Irma López with her new biography of Puga

This is the second book on Puga by López, a professor of Spanish and interim dean at Western Michigan University. For this volume, López relied heavily on a collection of 327 diaries kept by the award-winning writer between 1972 and 2004. The diaries make up the bulk of the María Luisa Puga Papers at the Benson Latin American Collection. They are “an existential logbook of body and identity” writes former Benson librarian José Montelongo in a Spanish-language essay about Puga’s diaries. It was López who originally brought the collection of diaries to the attention of the Benson; the writer’s sister, Patricia Puga, donated them to the collection in 2017.

Biography of María Luisa Puga, by Irma López

In Extraño no-amor, López builds on her previous work on Puga and, with the aid of the diaries, probes deeply into the writer’s life in order to better understand her work. The resulting biography is a portrait of Puga that lays bare her strengths and weaknesses, her artistic and existential struggles, similar to the way in which Puga relentlessly examined herself on the pages of her diary.


Read “María Luisa Puga: A Life in Diaries” by José Montelongo

Read “Una vida en 327 cuadernos: El archivo literario de María Luisa Puga” by José Montelongo

The Benson Acquires archive of Nobel Laureate Miguel Ángel Asturias

By DANIEL ARBINO

Vea abajo para versión en español

The Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection is thrilled to announce the acquisition of the Miguel Ángel Asturias Papers. Asturias, the 1967 Nobel Laureate in Literature from Guatemala, was a precursor to the Latin American Boom. A prolific writer of poetry, short stories, children’s literature, plays, and essays, he is perhaps best known as a novelist, with El Señor Presidente (1946) and Hombres de maíz (1949) garnering the most acclaim. Asturias’s portrayal of Guatemala and the different peoples that live there—their beliefs, their interactions, their frustrations, and their hopes—mark the profundity of his texts.

Miguel Ángel Asturias, photographed in front of his portrait

The Benson is the third repository to house materials pertaining to Asturias’s life work, the other two being the Bibliothèque nationale in Paris and El Archivo General de Centroamérica in Guatemala City. What differentiates this particular collection is the role that Asturias’s son, Miguel Ángel Asturias Amado, played in compiling it over the course of fifty years. Indeed, in many ways the collection is just as much the son’s as it is the father’s. It features years of correspondence between the two, who were separated after the elder was forced to leave Argentina in 1962. This was not the writer’s first time in exile: his stay in Argentina was due to the Guatemalan government, led by Carlos Castillo Armas, stripping his citizenship in 1954. The letters provide insight into Asturias as a father, writer, and eventual diplomat when democratically elected Guatemalan President Julio César Méndez Montenegro restored his citizenship and made him Ambassador to France in 1966. Moreover, scholars will find within these letters a number of short stories for children that would eventually be collected in the book El alhajadito (1962).

Author’s self-portrait

In addition to correspondence with his son, Asturias maintained a longstanding relationship with his mother via letter during his first stay in Paris in the 1920s. Detailed within are the family’s economic hardships as a result of the country-wide crisis in Guatemala caused by the plummeting international coffee market, and information pertaining to the publication of his first collection of short stories, Leyendas de Guatemala (1930). Other communication from this era demonstrates the role that Asturias played in facilitating the publication of other Guatemalan authors and as a journalist for El imparcial.

As a journalist for El Imparcial, Asturias was in constant correspondence about events in Guatemala.

Beyond letters, scholars will find a multifaceted collection. Manuscripts of poetic prose, such as “Tras un ideal” (1917), and an early theater piece titled “Madre” (1918) are included with loose-leaf fragments from El señor presidente. News clippings are also prominent. Those written by Asturias reflect his time at El imparcial while those written about him focus on his Nobel Prize. Perhaps an unexpected highlight is the audiovisual component of the collection. The author contributed an array of caricatures, doodles, and portraits, as well as a robust collection of photographs. Furthermore, there are several audio recordings of Asturias reading his work.

This hand-written manuscript of “Madre” (1918) is Asturias’s first foray into theater.

Finally, scholars will also be able to access studies dedicated to the work of Asturias and first, rare, and special editions of his books. These editions, meticulously collected and cared for by his son, reflect the author’s continued popularity.   

The addition of the Miguel Ángel Asturias Papers will bolster a growing collection of prominent Central American subject matter at the Benson that includes the Ernesto Cardenal Papers, the Pablo Antonio Cuadra Papers, the Victoria Urbano Papers, the Arturo Taracena Flores Collection, and the Digital Archive of the Guatemalan National Police Historical Archive. Once Benson staff can safely return to our offices, we will announce plans to process the collection . In the meantime, questions can be directed to Daniel Arbino, Benson Head of Collection Development, at d.arbino@austin.utexas.edu.

La Colección Benson adquiere el archivo del Premio Nobel Miguel Ángel Asturias

Por DANIEL ARBINO

La Colección Latinoamericana Nettie Lee Benson se complace en anunciar la adquisición de los documentos de Miguel Ángel Asturias, Premio Nobel de 1967. El autor guatemalteco fue un precursor del boom latinoamericano. Escritor prolífico de poesía, cuentos, literatura infantil, obras de teatro y ensayos, es quizás mejor conocido como novelista, y El señor presidente (1946) y Hombres de maíz (1949) son las más aclamadas. La representación de Guatemala y sus variados pueblos, creencias, interacciones, frustraciones y esperanzas, marcan la profundidad de sus textos.

El author, frente a un retrato pintado

La Benson es el tercer archivo que reune materiales de la vida de Asturias, después de la Bibliothèque nationale en París y El Archivo General de Centroamérica en la ciudad de Guatemala. Lo que distingue a esta colección en particular es el papel que desempeñó el hijo de Asturias, Miguel Ángel Asturias Amado, en su recopilación a lo largo de cincuenta años. De hecho, la colección es, en muchos sentidos, tanto del hijo como del padre. Presenta años de correspondencia entre los dos, que se separaron después de que el padre tuvo que abandonar la Argentina en 1962. Ésta no fue la primera vez que el escritor se había tenido que ir al exilio: su estadía en la Argentina se debió a que el gobierno guatemalteco, liderado por Carlos Castillo Armas, le había despojado de su ciudadanía en 1954. Las cartas dan una idea de Asturias como padre, escritor y eventual diplomático, después de que Julio César Méndez Montenegro, el presidente de Guatemala democráticamente elegido, restauró su ciudadanía y lo nombró embajador en Francia en 1966. Además, los investigadores encontrarán dentro de estas cartas una serie de cuentos para niños que se recopilarían en el libro El alhajadito (1962).

Auto-retrato por el autor

Aparte de la correspondencia con su hijo, Asturias mantuvo una larga relación epistolar con su madre  durante su primera estancia en París en la década de los 1920. Ahí se detallan las dificultades económicas de la familia como resultado de la crisis que atraviesa la sociedad guatemalteca, por la caída del precio del café a nivel internacional, e información relativa a la publicación de su primera colección de cuentos, Leyendas de Guatemala (1930). Otra comunicación de esta época demuestra el papel que desempeñó Asturias al facilitar la publicación de otros autores guatemaltecos y como periodista de El imparcial.

Como periodista para El Imparcial, Asturias mantuvo comunicaciones constantes sobre la situación en Guatemala

Asimismo, los investigadores verán una colección multifacética. Los manuscritos de prosa poética, como “Tras un ideal” (1917) y una obra de teatro titulada “Madre” (1918) se incluyen, tanto como fragmentos de hojas sueltas de El señor presidente. Los recortes de periódicos también son prominentes. Los escritos por Asturias reflejan su tiempo en El imparcial, mientras que los escritos sobre él se centran en su Premio Nobel. Quizás un punto destacado inesperado es el componente audiovisual de la colección. El autor contribuyó con una serie de caricaturas, garabatos y retratos, así como una colección robusta de fotografías. También, hay varias grabaciones de audio de Asturias en las cuales realiza lecturas de sus obras.

Este manuscrito de la obra “Madre” (1918) es la primera incursión de Asturias en el mundo del teatro.

Por último, los académicos también podrán acceder a los estudios dedicados al trabajo de Asturias y a las primeras, raras y especiales ediciones de su trabajo. Estas ediciones, meticulosamente recopiladas y cuidadas por su hijo, reflejan la continua popularidad del autor.

La adquisición de los documentos de Miguel Ángel Asturias reforzará una creciente colección de materiales destacados de Centroamérica en LLILAS Benson, que incluye el archivo de Ernesto Cardenal, el archivo de Pablo Antonio Cuadra, el archivo de Victoria Urbano, la colección de Arturo Taracena Flores y la colección digital del Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional (AHPN) de Guatemala. Una vez que el personal de Benson pueda regresar de manera segura a nuestras oficinas, pronto seguirán los planes para procesar la colección. Mientras tanto, las preguntas pueden dirigirse a Daniel Arbino, Jefe de Desarrollo de Colecciones de la Benson.

Red, Hot and Digitized: Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies

Read, hot & digitized: Librarians and the digital scholarship they love — In this series, librarians from the Libraries’ Arts, Humanities and Global Studies Engagement Team briefly present, explore and critique existing examples of digital scholarship to encourage and inspire critical reflection of and future creative contributions to the growing fields of digital scholarship.

Together with diaries and memoirs in print, audio-visual testimonies are primary sources that shed light on the lived experience of people who experienced the Holocaust.  There are a few institutions around the world that produce, curate, and publish such testimonies;[1] one of them is the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies at Yale university. The mission of the Fortunoff archive is to “record and project the stories of those who were there.” Established in 1981, and based on a donation of testimonies previously videotaped since 1979 by The Holocaust Survivors Film Project, the archive works to record, collect, and preserve Holocaust witness testimonies, and to make its collection available to researchers, educators, and the general public.[2]

Fred Alford, professor emeritus of the university of Maryland, researches the way trauma becomes embedded in nations, societies, and groups[3]; upon his research in the Fortunoff archive, he asserted that “testimonies are important [because they] make a historical abstraction real.”[4] Witnesses remind us that the Holocaust was made of people, victims, and executioners. He argues that a proper psychoanalytic interpretation can help us understand not merely the suffering of survivors, but can remind us of an equally important fact: “…. that for every torment there was a tormenter, for every degradation a degrader, for every humiliation one who inflicted it. For every death a murderer……”

He goes on to say that “We listen to witnesses in order to understand their suffering, and we seek to understand their suffering in order to understand better regimes of organized terror and the role they play in our lives……We listen to witnesses in order to remember better that their suffering comes at the hands of regimes that are made of people.”[5]

The Fortunoff archive currently holds more than 4,400 testimonies, which are comprised of over 12,000 recorded hours. Testimonies were produced in cooperation with 36 affiliated projects across North America, South America, Europe, and Israel. The archive and its affiliates recorded the testimonies of willing individuals with first-hand experience of the Nazi persecutions, including those who were in hiding, survivors, bystanders, resistants, and liberators. Testimonies were recorded in whatever language the witness preferred, and range in length from 30 minutes to over 40 hours (recorded over several sessions).

While the database allows for various searching, sorting, and limiting options – using the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) as a form of a common controlled vocabulary – it also has more advanced Digital Humanities tools which were developed together with the Yale DHLab.

Let them speak (LTS) is a digital anthology of testimonies from three different collections – United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), the Shoah Foundation at the University of Southern California (USC VA), and the Fortunoff archive. The anthology includes a search tool that employs corpus query language which allows for more sophisticated searches like Lemma searches. The goal is to demonstrate the value of these linguistics tools for exploring large numbers of audiovisual materials, as well as make a first attempt to bring collections of testimonies into the same digital space. The LTS tool is slated to go live by December 2020.

The Collection metadata dashboard is a visual representation of the collection descriptions, as it allows filtering by various parameters, such as date (birth year and recording year), birth place, subject, gender, language of testimony, and affiliate programs from which testimonies were received. One could access each testimony directly from the dashboard. A useful functionality is the ability to search for subject headings in the dashboard and limit the results further by additional parameters. For example, a search for the term “childbirth” would reveal five subject headings related to the term; clicking on “childbirth in concentration camps” would bring up 98 testimonies.

The Testimony citation database shows data on cited testimonies, publications that cited them, and the authors of those publications. Some authors’ names are linked to the author’s website, their page on the OCLC WorldCat Identities database, or their authority file on the Virtual International Authority File (VIAF) database. Searching for Fred Alford, the scholar cited above, one would realize that he has made 60 citations to 26 testimonies in 5 publications. These testimonies and publications are linked from the results page.

The Fortunoff archive is open to any student or researcher either on site, or online through an ‘access site.’ Currently there are 84 access sites around the world in academic libraries, museums, and research centers. The University of Texas Libraries has joined the project as an access site in summer 2019. The archive is accessible to UT affiliates both on and off campus, as well as to non-UT walk-in visitors on campus. All users would need to create an account with Yale’s Aviary, the archive’s digital access system. Searching and browsing is done through that personal account. There is no cost involved. UT affiliates could also access their Aviary account, and the archive, through a proxy connection to UT and/or a VPN.

The UT Libraries holds 390 items (in print and online) that deal with personal narratives and testimonies of holocaust survivors. Most of these items are autobiographies or diaries, while others are audiovisual materials, research and analysis of personal narratives, and collections of individual testimonies. The Fortunoff database itself is also accessible through the library catalog.


[1] The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), The Yad Vashem Museum in Jerusalem, The British Library (London), and The University of Southern California (USC) Shoah Foundation.

[2] https://fortunoff.library.yale.edu/about-us/our-story/

[3] https://gvpt.umd.edu/facultyprofile/alford/c-fred

[4] Alford, C. Why Holocaust Testimony is Important, and how Psychoanalytic Interpretation can Help…but only to a Point. Psychoanal Cult Soc 13, 221–239 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1057/pcs.2008.16

[5] Ibid.


Diverse Adaptations in Classical Literature

“Illuminating Explorations” – This series of digital exhibits is designed to promote and celebrate UT Libraries collections in small-scale form. The exhibits will highlight unique materials to elevate awareness of a broad range of content. “Illuminating Explorations” will be created and released over time, with the intent of encouraging use of featured and related items, both digital and analog, in support of new inquiries, discoveries, enjoyment and further exploration.

I’m excited to share these diverse adaptations of classical literature in our library collection, especially since they hold a special significance for me as a Latina who completed her undergraduate work in Latin and History here at UT Austin.

The study and teaching of Greek and Roman Classical Civilization has largely been a white and male tradition. As there are increasing calls for diversity in academia, Classics has made some strides, but largely from students and early career scholars, raising the questions about just who is Classics ‘for’?

Red Figure Kantharos, a large drinking vessel. In the style of the Penelope painter, classical period, mid 5th century BCE. From Homer’s The Odyssey, translated by Alexander Pope with art by Avery Lawrence.

A new online exhibit, “Diverse Adaptations in Classical Literature” showcases items from the UT Libraries collection of original classical Greek literature in translation and contemporary adaptations created by a more diverse authorship than usually discussed. UT Libraries contain a depth of diverse adaptations but showcased here are works of authors from Latinx & Latin American, African & African Diaspora, Asian-American and LGBTQ+ communities.

Variety of adaptation is also highlighted in the form of plays, novels, visual art and in a wide array of translations and scholarly approach. The collection and themes presented in this exhibit on diverse adaptations are intended to encourage those, especially people of color (POC) and LGBTQ+ folks, who may not have historically felt included in conversations related to classics or classical literature. For those already engaged in classics, they can see the evolution of translation studies and how classical antiquity draws parallels to the contemporary realities of diverse communities.

The Land of the Lotus Eaters, 1977, Collage of various papers with paint and graphite on fiberboard, 36 x 48 inches. From Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey.

These adaptations are fantastic in their own right but also showcase the illuminating perspectives and unique takes on classical literature. Everyone loves a good Simpsons take on the Odyssey, but there is something novel about reading an adaptation of Medea that includes culturally familiar dialogue of English mixed with border Spanish. These types of perspectives elevate the original work.

Production poster from Arizona State University MainStage production of The Hungry Woman: A Mexican Medea, directed by Dora Arreola, 2014.

In highlighting diverse publications, this exhibit also calls attention to the issue of diversity in the field of Classics itself. This showcase also challenges us to grapple with questions around structural issues such as the lack of retention of those from underrepresented backgrounds in the academy. It will take a combination of entities and systemic efforts to transform a field that historically does not include POC or LGBTQ+ scholarship. This exhibit asks us to redefine who Classics is ‘for’ by delving into how the ancient world has been received and recontextualized by diverse adaptations engaging with classical literature.  As such, it is but one effort to illustrate a fresh and more nuanced face of a field that is no longer just for an exclusive class, gender or color of people.

Collections Highlight: Bertolini’s “Florula guatimalensis”

Historical photo of Antonio Bertoloni
Antonio Bertoloni

Antonio Bertolini (1775-1869) was a Italian botanist and professor of botany at Bologna who wrote predominantly on Italian botany. He also collected notable samples of Central American flora.

Joaquin Velasco, a Mexican physician, came to Italy in 1836, as part of the Mexican papal delegation, and brought with him numerous dried plants and seeds from Guatemala which he presented to Bertolini. Most of them were new or rare species, and their description and classification was compiled and published by Bertolini as Florula guatimalensis sistens plantas nonnullas in Guatimala sponte nascentes. One of the 28 copies available at libraries worldwide resides in the Benson Latin American Collection.

print of poinsetta
“Euphorbia erytrophylla,” commonly known as flor de pascua or poinsettia pulcherrima, from Antonio Bertoloni, Florula guatimalensis sistens plantas nonnullas in Guatimala sponte nascentes (Bononiae [Bologna]: ex typographaeo Emygdii ab Ulmo, 1840), plate 6. Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection, University of Texas Libraries.

Several of the plants Velasco provided to Bertolini were successfully grown in the Bologna Botanical Gardens.