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Brown Library Fortifies Latin American Collaborative Venture

A project aimed at building a major research tool for the global study of Latin America at The University of Texas at Austin has just gotten a significant new academic partner.

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A project aimed at building a major research tool for the global study of Latin America at The University of Texas at Austin has just gotten a significant new academic partner.

The John Carter Brown Library (JCBL) at Brown University will join the Primeros Libros project, which strives to build and preserve a digital collection of the first books (primeros libros) printed in Mexico before 1601.

Primeros Libros was initiated in 2010 by a consortium of institutions led by the Benson Latin American Collection at The University of Texas at Austin, Biblioteca Histórica José María Lafragua at the Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla and the Cushing Memorial Library and Archives at Texas AandM University.

The monographs in the collection represent the first printing in the New World, and are primary sources for the research of cultural history, linguistics, religious studies and related fields.

Of the 220 distinct works believed to have been produced in Mexico before 1601, approximately 135 surviving titles are held in institutions around the world.

The project seeks to acquire at least one example of each title, while also digitizing as many duplicate copies of these works as are available. Duplicates facilitate scholarly inquiry, since marginalia, typographical variants, ownership marks and other copy-specific attributes are often critical for interpretation by scholars.

At least 369 surviving primeros libros are believed to be in existence. However, in the course of the project, previously unknown holdings have been revealed in the collections of project participants.

The prestigious John Carter Brown Library brings more than 70 additional exemplars to the primeros libros collection, the largest contribution of any member institution. The 10 other project participants include Biblioteca Palafoxiana, Universidad de las Américas Puebla, and Universidad Autónoma de San Luis Potosí in Mexico; the Biblioteca Histórica Marqués de Valdecilla at the University Complutense in Madrid, and the Biblioteca Nacional de Chile.

Each institution participating in the project receives the complete set of digitized images and their derivatives from the collections of all the project partners for use locally by researchers and scholars. The project thus makes a unique and significant contribution to the repatriation of Mexican patrimony by returning through digital surrogates material that has been absent in some cases for hundreds of years.

“The contribution of the Brown Library provides a substantial boost to a promising new resource for the study of Latin America — both for our researchers and students and those of our partners in the Western Hemisphere, as well as for the greater international community,” says Mark McFarland, director of the Texas Digital Library and associate director for digital initiatives at the University of Texas Libraries.

“Just as important,” adds McFarland, “is the expansion of the project to a larger pool of resources that will make it possible to return a greater share of dispersed cultural materials to the people of Mexico.”

The project Web site  — which was built and is hosted by the University of Texas Libraries and the Texas Digital Library — holds digital copies of these works in a variety of formats (e.g., JPG, JPF, PDF). It also offers book viewers, navigational aids and metadata describing the materials. The digital collections of Primeros Libros are made freely available to the world.