Latin American Centre Oxford

Oxford University Latin American Centre’s 50th anniversary and Bodleian Latin American Centre Library 40th

This year marks the Latin American Centre’s fiftieth anniversary. It was established at St Antony’s College, Oxford in 1965, following the publication of the report of the Parliamentary Committee on Latin American Studies, chaired by Dr JH Parry (1962-1964). As a result of the report five centres were set up at Cambridge, Glasgow, Liverpool, London and Oxford. The impetus for the committee and report was the Cuban Revolution and the British Government’s realisation of how little it understood the strategically important region. As an illustration of the mood of the time, money from the Ford Foundation had already been given to Oxford for the creation of a Latin American Centre as a ‘bulwark against “murderous ideologies”’.

The Centre’s library is itself forty years old this year, having started life as a couple of shelves of books acquired by Malcolm Deas, one of the longest-serving fellows at the Centre, who has only recently retired. Malcolm was the Centre’s fellow-librarian and someone I much enjoyed working with and learning from after I started in 2007.

For much of its existence, the library was run by Ruth Hodges and Laura Salinas, both of whom have given me much advice about the collections and the evolution of the library.

The library became part of the Bodleian group of libraries in 2004.

Spring LAC event

An exciting additional LAC event was held in the Weston Library in March. Maarten Jansen, Professor of Mesoamerican Archaeology and History from Leiden University, gave an inspirational talk on the Selden Roll and Codex Selden to LAC students and staff with a particular interest in Mexico. Both manuscripts were on display throughout. As the Bodleian catalogue describes, the Selden Roll originates “from the Coixtlahuaca region incorporating both Mixtec and Aztec elements, apparently recording myths of origin and the migratory journey of divine ancestors up to the time when early settlement begin.”

A week later, colleagues of Professor Jansen delivered a lecture on how innovative imaging techniques have been used to investigate whether there are earlier pictorial layers beneath the pages of the Codex Selden, which has long been thought to be a palimpsest. While the talk and the techniques used were fascinating, the event ended with a surprising revelation: whatever images there were on the pages originally were completely erased before the new ones were added.

Bodleian exhibition and Weston Library talks

In September and October, the Bodleian Library held an exhibition in the Proscholium in celebration of the LAC’s 50th anniversary. The exhibition’s title was, The Roll of the New Fire (Selden Roll): Painting from Early Colonial Mexico, and it featured a substantial sections of the Selden Roll, an early 16th century Mexican pictorial manuscript that came to the Bodleian as part of John Selden’s library (which included the codices Mendoza, Selden and Bodley) in 1659. The exhibition also included a full-length facsimile of the roll for context, together with extensive explanatory text by Maarten Jansen, Professor of Mesoamerican Archaeology and History from Leiden University and a short appreciation of the Centre by former student Alejandro González-Ormerod.

Selden Roll exhibition
The start of the exhibition was accompanied by an event entitled, Latin American Gems in the Bodleian Collections: early Mexican manuscripts, which took place in the Weston Library on the Friday of the Alumni Weekend (18th September). The event comprised three talks given by Virginia Lladó-Buisán, head of Conservation and Collection Care at the Bodleian (‘Technical study and preservation of early Mexican manuscripts at the Bodleian Libraries’), Professor Maarten Jansen (‘The New Fire Ritual in the Selden Roll: religious meaning of an historical event’) and Hal Jones (‘The Mexican Manuscripts in Social and Historical Context’). The event was introduced and chaired by Frank Egerton

Frank Egerton’s introduction to Latin American Gems in the Bodleian Collection: Ancient Mesoamerican Manuscripts

It is a great honour to be chairing this event at the start of the weekend’s celebrations of the Latin American Centre’s 50th anniversary.

Indeed this is a year of double celebration at the Centre because the Bodleian Latin American Centre Library is itself 40 years old.

What started as a few shelves of books has grown into a 16,000 volume specialist politics and economics collection, which includes a substantial history section. In addition, there are some 200 boxes of what is euphemistically called ‘grey’ literature. Nothing grey about this literature.

The boxes contain fascinating donations from the region which have been made over the years by visiting scholars, by students returning from field trips and, most importantly, by our alumni.

It is fitting in this celebratory year that the contents of these boxes, arranged by country, have successfully been added to the University library catalogue, thanks to the hard work over a number of years of my colleagues Rebeca Otazua and Sam Truman.

I should, I think, put my role at the Centre’s library in context. I have been there for just over a 10th of the Centre’s existence. I am enduringly grateful to the work of my predecessors Ruth Hodges and Laura Salinas who managed the library for many years and who gave so much valuable advice to me about the collections.

When I arrived at the Centre I was immediately struck by the warm and inclusive welcome from my new colleagues, both administrative and academic. It is the warmth of the family atmosphere at the Centre that is one of its most engaging strengths – and it is one that, talking to alumni, has been there since the early days, making the Centre such a supportive and positive place to teach and study, and indeed, to be a librarian.

Students at the Centre, however, have not simply our collections at their disposal. They have the immense opportunity of deepening their understanding of the subject area by consulting the wider collections of the Bodleian library and the other libraries within its group. Over the last four years or so I and my colleague at the Taylor Joanne Edwards have tried hard to promote this wide-ranging and very widespread broader collection and to point students in its many directions.

At the heart of these broader collections are the historic texts that the Bodleian has been collecting – well, since the 17th century, as it happens. It was these books that now Emeritus Fellow of the Centre Malcolm Deas and the late Robert McNeil of the Bodleian – a great Latin Americanist – did so much to draw scholars’ attention to.

At the apex of these historic books, of course, are the Gems that we are here to learn about this afternoon.

More information

For more information about the exhibition, see:
You can read about the Centre and its history in the Anniversary issue of our newsletter, Horizontes:

Sobre el autor

Autor IguanaeFrank Egerton
Bodleian Libraries – University of Oxford
Oxford, United Kingdom

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