Library of Congress, Hispanic Division

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Library of Congress, Hispanic Division

The Hispanic Division of the Library of Congress oversees a collection of thirteen million items in all formats related to the Luso-Hispanic world. The interest of the Library of Congress in Iberia and the hemisphere began in 1815 when it acquired the private collection of Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826). Interest in the Americas grew in wake of the Mexican-American War (1846–1848) and the Spanish-American War (1898). In 1926 Archer Milton Huntington (1870–1955), a philanthropist, poet, and founder and president of the Hispanic Society of America, established a series of trust funds for the purchase of materials related to Spanish, Portuguese, and Latin American arts, crafts, literature and history. In 1929 Huntington provided for an ongoing consultant in Hispanic culture. The Spanish Augustinian friar and literary critic David Rubio served as consultant from 1931 to 1942. In 1936 Huntington made a donation to "equip and maintain a Hispanic reading room" and established the Hispanic Foundation, which in 1979 was renamed the Hispanic Division. The reading room opened its doors to the public on Columbus Day in 1939 and began playing a preeminent role in the emergence and development of Luso-Hispanic and Caribbean studies.

Lewis U. Hanke served as director of the Hispanic Foundation from 1939 to 1951. He brought with him from Harvard University a resource he had founded in 1935, the Handbook of Latin American Studies (published until 1950 by Harvard University Press and subsequently by the University of Texas Press). The Handbook, a collaborative undertaking of a network of scholars, was sponsored by the American Council of Learned Societies and the Social Science Research Council. Hanke made the Handbook the reference and bibliographic center of the Hispanic reading room.

In 1942 the Chilean literary critic Francisco Aguilera became the first full-time specialist in Hispanic culture, and in the 1950s he also served as editor of the Handbook. In 1943 Aguilera started recording Spanish and Latin American poets for the Library with the encouragement of Librarian of Congress Archibald MacLeish, himself a poet. The resultant Archive of Hispanic Literature currently contains recordings by 680 poets, prose writers, playwrights and essayists from Iberia, the Caribbean, and Latin America, as well as U.S. Latino and Hispanic writers, including eight Nobel laureates.

Another innovative scholar followed Hanke in 1952. Howard F. Cline was director of the Hispanic Foundation until his untimely death in 1971. He began including the growing number of social science publications in the Handbook. In 1966 he founded with a group of scholars the Latin American Studies Association, which in the early twenty-first century has about 6,000 members. Cline also reorganized the Conference on Latin American History and made it an affiliate of the American Historical Association. Cline was one of the founders of the Spanish and Portuguese Historical Studies. In 1955 Cline and Aguilera were among the founding members of the Seminar for the Acquisitions of Library Materials, an organization of librarians and area specialists. Cline also was instrumental in opening a Library of Congress field office in Rio de Janeiro. During the Cline years the Hispanic Foundation published numerous works in cooperation with scholarly associations and university presses. Cline's crowning achievement is the sixteen-volume Handbook of Middle American Indians, a collaborative undertaking of ethnohistorians, archaeologists, and anthropologists.

Mary Ellis Kahler, a historian of Brazil and Portugal as well as a librarian, served as chief from 1973 until 1978, when she left to become the director of the Library's field office in Rio de Janeiro. Under her leadership the division published major guides to Hispanic manuscript collections, such as the Harkness and Kraus collections.

William E. Carter, the director of Latin American Studies at the University of Florida and an anthropologist, served as chief from 1979 until his death in 1983. He changed the name of the division to "Hispanic Division," in keeping with the intention of the original founder. The division published a comprehensive National Directory of Latin Americanists. Carter took an interest in streamlining the Library's acquisitions activities. The literary critic Sara Castro Klaren was chief from 1984 until 1986, when she accepted a professorship at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. During her tenure the division mounted a major exhibition on Miguel de Cervantes (1547–1616).

Cole Blasier, a political scientist and expert on international relations, and former director of the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Pittsburgh, led the division from 1988 until 1993. He had been one of founders of the Latin American Studies Association, and is an expert on Latin American-Soviet relations. Blasier appointed John R. Hébert, assistant chief of the Hispanic Division, to coordinate the Library of Congress Quincentenary Program, which featured the major exhibit "An Ongoing Voyage, 1491–1992" and several publications. Keenly interested in the future, he supported automating the preparation of the Handbook of Latin American Studies, which in 1990 became the first automated annotated bibliography of the Library of Congress. He named Ieda Siquiera Wiarda the division's first Luso-Hispanic specialist and Barbara Tenenbaum the first Mexican specialist.

The historian Georgette M. Dorn became chief in 1994. She had been head of the Hispanic Reading Room and specialist in Hispanic Culture. Dorn and Dolores Moyano Martin, the editor of the Handbook of Latin American Studies, raised funds from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Fundación MAPFRE of Madrid, Spain, to carry out the retrospective conversion of the Handbook's first fifty volumes, which was accomplished in 1995. Dorn also secured grants for bringing academic interns from Iberia, Latin America, and the United States to the Library. A major publication in 1995 was Hispanic Americans in Congress, 1822–1995. In 1996 the division developed Spanish and Portuguese interfaces to the Hispanic Reading Room and the Handbook Web sites. The division organizes public events, and the Hispanic Reading Room offers reference services in person and through electronic communications.

See alsoCline, Howard F.; Handbook of Latin American Studies (HAPI); Libraries in Latin America.


Library of Congress. National Directory of Latin Americanists. 3rd edition. Washington, DC: Author, 1982.

Library of Congress. Library of Congress Hispanic and Portuguese Collections: An Illustrated Guide. Washington, DC: Author, 1996.

Library of Congress. Library of Congress Information Bulletin 63 (December 2004): 239-242.

Library of Congress, Hispanic Division. Hispanic Reading Room Web site. Available from

Wauchope, Robert, ed. Handbook of Middle American Indians, 16 vols. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1964–1976.

                                 Georgette Magassy Dorn