LLILAS Benson mourns the passing of friend, scholar, and former colleague David Block III, on June 15, 2021. Block was head of the Benson Latin American Collection from 2009 until his retirement in 2014.
Born in San Diego, California, in 1945, Block grew up in Arkansas, where he earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Arkansas. He served for three years in the Peace Corps in Bolivia, igniting his lifelong interest in Latin America. He earned his PhD at the University of Texas at Austin, where he studied with historian Nettie Lee Benson. During his thirty-year career as a Latin American librarian, Block worked at Cornell University and at UT’s Benson Collection. He also served as president of the Seminar on the Acquisition of Latin American Library Materials (SALALM). Read Block’s obituary.
Block was a sought-after expert on the Andean region and the author of the book Mission Culture on the Upper Amazon (1994), which won the Conference of Latin American History’s Howard Cline Memorial Prize and was included in Obras de la biblioteca del bicentenario de Bolivia. He also penned the introduction to A Library for the Americas (2018), a contributed volume that showcases the Benson’s history with essays and rich illustrations.
Upon his retirement from the Benson in 2014, Block spoke about his time at the Benson as “the high point of my 35-year career.” One of the most significant events during his tenure was the establishment of the LLILAS Benson partnership in 2011, in which Block played a key collaborative role. “David’s accomplishments during his relatively short time at the Benson are too many to list,” says Benson director Melissa Guy. “He was a master bibliographer and scholar, and traveled throughout Latin America to secure materials for the collection. Most significantly, he was instrumental in launching and nurturing the LLILAS Benson partnership, now in its tenth year, working alongside LLILAS Benson director Charlie Hale to find new ways to link the world-class collections of the Benson to the top-tier scholarship and teaching of the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies. That, in and of itself, is quite a legacy.”
Prior to his colleague’s retirement, Hale reflected on Block’s personal qualities: “David cares deeply about others: he is gentle, compassionate, and kind, whether with a co-worker of many years or a stranger who happens into the Benson; he is scrupulously conscientious: holding himself to bedrock ethics and values, with no sense that this gives license to judge others; and his manner exudes an egalitarian ethos, always willing to step up to assure that collective goals are met, inspiring others by his example, and by the sheer pleasure of working at his side.”
The LLILAS Benson family extends our deepest condolences to David’s family. He left an indelible mark on many of us as both a scholar-librarian and a human being, and we are so grateful.
Honoring David Block
It is David’s family’s request that those wishing to honor him consider a donation to the Nettie Lee Benson Collection, Benson Centennial Endowment: bit.ly/Benson100. Check donations may be sent to TEXAS Development, PO Box 7458, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX 78713. Please make check payable to: The University of Texas at Austin and specify in memo: UT Libraries – Benson Centennial Endowment.
Thirty five years ago, Dennis Trombatore arrived at the UT Austin campus, and from the start he was highly conscious of the long legacy of the Geology Library and that of the formidable librarians who had preceded him in the charge of that major collection. Despite feeling the strong gaze of Thelma Guion (https://guides.lib.utexas.edu/geo/about), the singular personality who ruled over the geology information sphere as librarian between 1940 and the early 1970s, Dennis jumped in, immersed himself, and never looked back.
A self-described “professional generalist,” Dennis was formally educated in philosophy, but quickly developed a natural affinity and deep appreciation for the esoterica of geosciences information: geological survey reports, rocks, gems and fossils, maps and field trip guides. He loved working closely with and learning from faculty and students in the Jackson School of Geosciences.
“A good library is a place to go, and a person to talk to, who understands what you’re doing, who sympathizes with your worldview, who talks your language, and who is looking out for you in the world of information all the time.”
Ever-curious and always ready to help, his definition of what a library, and a librarian, should be, epitomized Dennis’s approach to his work in the Walter Geology Library.
Several defining objectives consistently guided his efforts to amass and share a wealth of information about all of the things of interest to his faculty and students, community experts and generalists like himself. Those were collection-building, access to collections, and the relationships that served as the fuel for the continuously-enhanced cycle of learning and sharing that positioned Dennis as an information hub within the Jackson School for more than three decades.
Dennis’ collection-building, through relentless painstaking searches and world-wide acquisition efforts, coordination of gifts, and tracking of UT research output, was always front and center in his activities. Maps were an integral part of that work, and Dennis curated a truly exceptional collection of map materials in support of teaching and research in the geosciences, the Tobin International Geological Map Collection (https://guides.lib.utexas.edu/geo/tobin-maps). He led the effort to build on UT’s existing map collections, through the acquisition of geospatial data sets, GIS technology, and the expertise to fully utilize the details therein. And he was a tireless advocate for and user of the UT Libraries renowned PCL Map Collection (https://texlibris.lib.utexas.edu/2015/05/22/you-are-everywhere-the-pcl-map-collection/). His understanding of the power and value of maps was evident not just in his efforts to build the Libraries collections, but even in references to maps in his own creative output (https://repositories.lib.utexas.edu/handle/2152/82153) which in turn was shared openly with the world using the Libraries’ repository infrastructure.
Ensuring access to what he curated was key for Dennis. His strong desire to make the rich, multi-faceted fruits of his collection-building work discoverable prompted his early interest in web-based tools to ensure the discoverability and preservation of his efforts, including Texas ScholarWorks (TSW), our digital repository, our Texas Data Repository (TDR), and our nascent Texas GeoData portal.
Our Head of Scholarly Communications, Colleen Lyon, recalls that, “Dennis was instrumental in so many collections in TSW – he was one of the most active liaisons in referring users to us.” Several stand-out examples of unique submissions for Colleen include:
Memoirs on the Extinct Wingless Birds of New Zealand. It may have existed as HTML on the Walter Geology Library website, but she remembers, “Dennis wanted it to have a more permanent home and one that was easier to cite. He didn’t want to lose all the functionality that comes with having something as a website, so we uploaded all the pages/images and then created an image index that allows you to jump around to the different images (plates) within the work. This work has the most amazing drawings in it! That plate index has had over 1100 downloads.” You can see this in TSW at: https://repositories.lib.utexas.edu/handle/2152/16251
The Virtual Landscapes Collection. This collection of Dumble Survey reports and many other documents was Dennis’ labor of love over many years. The content was migrated from the UT Libraries legacy website to TSW earlier this year, bringing all of the related documents together in a single location. Read more at: https://repositories.lib.utexas.edu/handle/2152/69304
Another project that Dennis coordinated was the digitization of theses and dissertations. He sought out alumni to grant permission to digitize their master’s and doctoral theses and make them available through TSW. Thanks to his efforts, there are hundreds of geology theses in the repository, about half of which pre-date its launch in 2008 (https://texlibris.lib.utexas.edu/2018/09/26/happy-10th-birthday-texas-scholarworks/). Rather fittingly, quite a few of the theses and dissertations available in TSW include Dennis’s name in their acknowledgements sections, along with their authors’ heartfelt expressions of gratitude and appreciation for the guidance and assistance he had provided. One such acknowledgement aptly describes Dennis as someone “whose work and efforts are immeasurable and irreplaceable” – a statement which accurately captures the value of his contributions and the strength of the impression he left on others.
Dennis delighted in telling stories and connecting people via the relationships he fostered, all of which enriched his contributions to UT’s research ecosystem. Mentoring students, both those doing research and those who were employees, was an ongoing part of who Dennis was, the role he played in the Jackson School, and how he remained in contact with so many graduates over the years. He was the type of person who would be proactive in reaching out to someone new on campus to welcome them, who would find a way to rearrange his schedule so that he could travel across town to attend a colleague’s presentation. His sincere enthusiasm for sharing knowledge and building real connections with others across the university community and beyond, was clearly evident in both his actions and words.
“The collection is an important component of what it is that we do in libraries, but it is the social network that the library represents that is the most significant, to me, aspect of librarianship. Three or four good people can do a lot more than an empty roomful of books in terms of helping people to advance their research.”
Some of his stories were about former Geology Librarian Thelma Guion’s stern demeanor and soft spot for the many student employees whom she supervised. (https://guides.lib.utexas.edu/geo/about) The irony there is the similarity between Thelma and Dennis: while he suffered no fools, Dennis was always open to teaching his students about things and providing them with resources that would help them both with their research and in life. Establishing the Guion award fund for Geology Library employees was one of Dennis’ proudest achievements.
Ms. Guion’s close relationship to many faculty helped to expand and deepen the library’s collection in ways that would simply not have been possible with regular budgets, and Dennis modeled his collection philosophy after hers. Those relationships paid off in major gifts of unique and valuable materials for many years.
One such recent gift was from a prominent member of the local caving community, Bill Mixon — former book review editor for the National Speleological Society and friend of the Walter Library — who donated his unique collection of over 1000 books and more than 1000 periodical issues related to cave and karst research, literature, and culture, enhancing the Geology Library’s notable existing holdings (https://texlibris.lib.utexas.edu/2019/02/21/area-spelunker-donates-cave-collection/).
Over the years, gifts of materials included items from major oil company libraries, UNOCAL maps, materials from the American Geosciences Institute, Bureau of Economic Geology and Institute for Geophysics, and the Edwards Aquifer Authority in San Antonio, to name a few. All donations of materials required careful review and curation, as Dennis only retained items to augment areas of focus within the Walter Geology Library and research interest at UT Austin.
The symbiotic, reciprocal relationship between collections and the people who use, learn from and contribute to them often needs a catalyst, someone to prompt attention, encourage exploration and entice action at just the right moment. Dennis was that energetic, compelling force that spurred the dynamic flow of information to nurture productivity throughout the Jackson School, and that will continue to pulse through electronic arteries for decades to come.
Ernesto Cardenal, the Nicaraguan poet, priest, and revolutionary, died in Managua on Sunday, March 1. He was 95.
Admired and controversial, Cardenal was a towering figure in Central American culture and politics. As Nicaragua’s minister of culture under the Sandinista government, which took power in 1979, he oversaw a national program that taught poetry to Nicaraguans of all ages and all walks of life.
As a priest, ordained in 1965, Cardenal defied the Vatican of Pope John Paul II by embracing liberation theology and joining the Sandinista revolutionary armed conflict. His priestly authority was revoked by Nicaragua’s bishops in 1985. Pope Francis absolved Cardenal of “all canonical censorships” in February 2019.
Cardenal’s long and rich life can almost be said to be several lives rolled into one. His spiritual path would take him in the 1950s to Gethsemani, the Trappist monastery in Kentucky, where he met and befriended monk and writer Thomas Merton. In the 1960s, he founded an artistic and spiritual community in the Solentiname archipelago in Nicaragua, where he taught literature and painting. He fought in the Nicaraguan Revolution to depose dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle, and serving in the Sandinista government, Cardenal left the Sandinista party in 1994 and became highly critical of President Daniel Ortega.
In 2016, the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection at The University of Texas at Austin acquired the Ernesto Cardenal Papers, an extensive archive consisting of correspondence, writings by Cardenal, newspaper clippings and writings by others related to Cardenal, photographs, biographical materials, and audiovisual materials.
“We are honored that Ernesto Cardenal chose the Benson Collection as the permanent home for his personal archive. Already, students and scholars from around the globe have been able to consult the materials for their research. We know this accessibility was important to Father Cardenal, and we are committed to the preservation of his life’s work,” said Melissa Guy, director of the Benson Collection.
Virginia Garrard, director of LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections, and professor of history and religious studies, knew Cardenal personally and has long been inspired by him. “Ernesto Cardenal was a fighter: for justice, against dictatorship, for equality, for his faith, and for the power of art and beauty to shine light in a dark world. He was tireless in this lifelong struggle, striving until his final days for a better Nicaragua and true justice for all people. LLILAS Benson is proud to help to carry on his legacy,” Garrard said. (LLILAS Benson is a partnership between the Benson and the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies, or LLILAS, established in 2011.)
Cardenal visited the UT Austin campus in November 2016 to celebrate the opening of his archive with a poetry reading before a packed house. During his stay, he was also able to view some of the Benson’s archival treasures and visit with students in a more intimate setting. In honor of the Cardenal archive, and of LLILAS Benson’s emphasis on Central American scholarship and collections, Garrard established Cátedra Ernesto Cardenal, which sponsors a yearly symposium on a topic relating to Central America, and funds research visits to the collection.
Cardenal’s connection with the Benson opened the door to unprecedented access to the man himself, and he granted an interview to former Benson librarian José Montelongo in spring of 2016. Excerpts of the interview, in Spanish with English subtitles, can be viewed at Interview with Ernesto Cardenal.
In 2017, LLILAS Benson published Spanish and English versions of a poignant essay by Professor Luis Cárcamo-Huechante, who discusses the impact of Cardenal’s writings on him as a young man growing up during the Chilean dictatorship. (Read “Cardenal in Hard Times” / “Cardenal en tiempos difíciles.”)
“It is an extraordinary gift that Cardenal’s papers arrive at the Benson Latin American Collection, in Austin, Texas,” Cárcamo-Huechante wrote. “And it is likely that once again, Cardenal’s writings, and the ethical, political, spiritual, poetic, and human voice that resonates in them, will accompany us at these latitudes of the planet, in the hard times that seem to be upon us.”
The Benson Latin American Collection is pleased to announce the acquisition of the archive of Jacqueline Barnitz (1923–2017). The life and collection of the late art historian and professor emeritus will be celebrated in the Benson’s Rare Books and Manuscripts Reading Room on Tuesday, March 27, at 3 p.m. Selected materials from the archive will be on view in an exhibition titled The Legacy of Jacqueline Barnitz.
The exhibit provides a glimpse into the archive of the world-renowned modern Latin American art historian who taught at The University of Texas at Austin from 1981 until her retirement in 2007. Barnitz donated the archive to the Benson shortly before her death, and its contents include correspondence, research notes, teaching materials, art slides, notebooks, rare art and art history publications, and an exceptional array of exhibition catalogs from Latin America spanning much of the twentieth century.
An artist in her own right, Jackie Barnitz made a living during her early professional career as a portrait painter and eventually turned to abstract expressionism. In 1962, she traveled to Argentina, where she became enthralled with the dynamic arts culture of Buenos Aires. Upon returning to her home in New York City, she wrote about Latin American art for multiple publications, bringing crucial exposure for Latin American artists in the 1960s and 70s, especially those who had left their home countries for New York in the wake of political unrest. She continued to travel to Mexico and South America throughout her career. Barnitz earned her PhD in art history from the City University of New York after having taught courses on Latin American art at the college level.
Barnitz joined the art history faculty of UT Austin as the first professor to hold a university tenure-track position in modern Latin American art. She was a dedicated mentor and teacher whose students have moved on to research, teaching, and curatorial positions in major institutions around the world. Her textbook, Twentieth-Century Art of Latin America, published by University of Texas Press in 2001, with a second, expanded edition in collaboration with Patrick Frank issued in 2015, is the textbook of choice for most university courses on modern Latin American art.
Barnitz’s contribution to the field of Latin American art history in Austin and beyond is emphasized by Beverly Adams, curator of Latin American art at the Blanton Museum. “Jackie was a true innovator, pioneer, and steward of the field of Latin American art history. From her salons in New York City to her far-ranging travel and research, she constantly sought meaningful connections with artists and intellectuals throughout the Americas. In the Art History department, she helped form a generation of scholars. At the Benson, her archive and library will surely continue to inspire new generations of students.”
The Blanton Museum of Art was the beneficiary of several remarkable gifts from Barnitz over the years, ranging from thoughtful catalogue essays, class tours of the collection, and her frequent donations of art. According to curator Adams, Barnitz made her most recent gift to the Blanton last year, “a number of fascinating works on paper of important artists such as María Luisa Pacheco, Cildo Meireles, Paulo Bruscky, Regina Silveira, and Leandro Katz,” which will soon be seen in the museum’s galleries.
According to Melissa Guy, director of the Benson Latin American Collection, the acquisition of Barnitz’s collection further strengthens the Benson’s holdings in Latin American art and art history, which also include the José Gómez Sicre Papers, the Barbara Doyle Duncan Papers, and the Stanton Loomis Catlin Papers. “Jacqueline’s collection brings incredible richness and depth to the Benson’s art and art history holdings, and reflects her stature as the preeminent scholar of modern Latin American art history. The exhibition catalogs alone, covering nearly the entire region from the 1960s into the twenty-first century, warrant special attention by students and researchers,” said Guy.
This event is co-hosted by the University of Texas Libraries and LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections, who gratefully acknowledge the following co-sponsors: Blanton Museum of Art, Center for Latin American Visual Studies, Department of Art and Art History, College of Fine Arts.
About the Benson Latin American Collection
The Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection is one of the foremost collections of library materials on Latin America worldwide. Established in 1921 as the Latin American Library, the Benson is approaching its centennial. Through its partnership established with the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies in 2011, the Benson continues to be at the forefront of Latin American and U.S. Latina/o librarianship through its collections and digital initiatives.
James E. Boggs, longtime chemistry professor and library benefactor, passed away on June 2, 2013, at the age of 91.
Dr. Boggs came to The University of Texas at Austin in 1953, after working in the Manhattan Project as an Oberlin College undergraduate and then getting his PhD at the University of Michigan. In 1948 he married Ruth Ann Rogers, a librarian. They had originally planned to stay only a few years in Texas, but ended up spending the rest of their lives in Austin.
A physical chemist specializing in molecular structure and dynamics with over 400 scientific publications, Boggs established the long-running Austin Symposium on Molecular Structure, which convened here starting in 1966. As a popular teacher he pioneered a course on science in society and taught freshman chemistry for many years.
Boggs was an avid traveler and internationalist, and worked for years with the Overseas Study Program to seek out talented chemists in far-flung places around the world, providing them with professional opportunities to publish, travel, and work as post-docs in his lab. While he retired officially in his seventies, as professor emeritus he maintained an active work schedule and a funded laboratory up until the time of his death.
In 1998 he and his wife established the James E. and Ruth Ann Boggs Endowment Fund, which has benefited the Mallet Chemistry Library as it strives to remain one of the best chemistry collections in the country. The endowment has enabled the purchase of many expensive monographs and reference sets over the years, and along with the Skinner Endowment provides the margin of excellence that a top research library needs. Memorial donations may be made to the Boggs Fund via the UT giving site.
David Flaxbart is the head librarian of the Mallet Chemistry Library.