Benson Centenary Continues with Reading Room Reopening
AUSTIN, Texas—The Benson Latin American Collection continues its centennial celebration at an event marking the naming of its reading room in honor of a respected former director of the library.
On Thursday, March 24, the Benson hosts the reopening of its renovated reading room in a recognition of former head librarian Ann Hartness. Hartness – renowned for her 38-year career at the Benson and her contributions to Brazilian studies – is being honored by her son and daughter-in-law Jonathan Graham and Elizabeth Ulmer with a gift to name the special collection’s reading room.
“Ann Hartness is synonymous with Brazilian collections at the Benson,” says Benson Director Melissa Guy. “It was through her tenacity, in-depth knowledge, and personal relationships that the library built a strong foundation for the study of Brazil at The University of Texas at Austin.”
The centenary of the Benson, which began last year, is extending into 2022 to mark the acquisition that served as the origin of the Latin American collections at the university.
In 1921, two representatives of the University of Texas stumbled upon an early edition of Bernal Díaz del Castillo’s “True History of the Conquest of New Spain” in the window of a bookstore in Mexico City while attending the inauguration of President Álvaro Obregón.
The discovery of the book – written in 1576 by the Spanish conquistador and colonist, and printed in Madrid in 1632 – by University of Texas Regent H.J. Lutcher Stark and Chair of Latin American History Charles Wilson Hackett led to the acquisition, in Mexico, of the university’s seminal Latin American collection in 1921 – the private library of the late senator, historian and bibliophile Genaro García.
The arrival of the monumental García Collection at the university – comprised of 17 tons of materials, including 11,000 volumes, 15,000 pamphlets, 200,000 pages of manuscripts and numerous files of newspapers – represented the founding of a commitment by the university to a focus on the scholarly study of Latin America.
Although Mexico had ratified its constitution in 1917, fighting associated with the revolution of 1910 continued for many years. (Obregón himself would be assassinated in 1928 following a re-election bid.) It is within this context that some Mexican scholars and bibliophiles sought to protect items of cultural importance outside of the country, contributing to the now-notable Latin American collection. Among the most significant of these was the rich manuscript and book collection of Mexican bibliographer and historian Joaquín García Icazbalceta, which arrived in 1937 and contains the Relaciones Geográficas, rare and exquisite hand-painted sixteenth-century maps and associated documents.
Mexican historian, archivist and educator Dr. Carlos E. Castañeda – eponym of the university’s Perry-Castañeda Library – was invited to return to his alma mater in 1927 to take stewardship of the García collection. His contributions to the foundational years of the library, and to scholarship on the early history of Texas, are essential chapters in the intellectual history of the university and in the story of the library.
Dr. Nettie Lee Benson would serve as director of the Latin American library for 33 years, retiring in 1975. A professor of history at the university, she was both admired and feared for her scholarly rigor. It is her storied tenure as a librarian with vision and tenacity that led to the transformation of the collection that bears her name.
Today, the Benson Latin American Collection is one of the most important repositories of Latin American and U.S. Latina/o materials in the world, utilized by scholars and students from across the globe. The collection continues to evolve and grow in importance apace with increasing interest in Latin American.
Through a partnership with the Teresa Long Institute of Latin American Studies (LLILAS) – LLILAS Benson – the Benson pursues collaborations with organizations throughout Latin America, placing emphasis on the preservation of vital archival collections in their place of origin, as well as the sharing of technology and training for digitization of these materials.
Media are invited to attend the opening of the renovated Ann Hartness Reading Room at the Benson Latin American Collection (2300 Red River Street), 5-7 p.m., Thursday, March 24, 2022. In honor of the occasion, The University of Texas at Austin will light the Tower to recognize the centennial of the collection's establishment in 1921. On view will be a selection of rare materials and an exhibit featuring artworks from the Drs. Harriett and Ricardo Romo Collection.
For more information, contact: Travis Willmann, University of Texas Libraries, 512-495-4644.