The Search for Latin America: Sources at Princeton

This guide focuses upon major holdings of primary sources available for students and scholars at Princeton. These sources are held in the Rare Books and Special Collections Department of the Princeton University Library, the Art Museum, and the privately owned Scheide Library. They include a broad range of texts essential for understanding the New World in the 16th century as well as an abundance of materials from later centuries that document the evolution of society, government, and economic life. This guide gives details about the strengths of these collections and identifies areas of research that they can support. Additional primary sources and extensive secondary sources are held in the general collections of the Princeton University Library.


Cultural life of the 20th century is best documented in the extensive collections of correspondence held in the Manuscripts Division. Literature, cinema, and translation are the primary topics. All collections are fully cataloged in the Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections (MASC) online database, and also have detailed finding aids. Books reproducing the works of a select group of photographers and on the history of photography are in the Marquand Library of Art and Archaeology, as are books on colonial art and architecture and on Mexican muralists.

Description and Travel

As colonization progressed and the vast mineral and commodity wealth of the Americas reached Europe, Asia, and Africa, interest grew among Europeans in gaining accurate details about the Spanish and Portuguese possessions. From the late 17th century through the 19th century, numerous travelers, government agents, and business entrepreneurs recorded impressions and details that today form the body of a substantial group of publications printed throughout Europe and occasionally in the Americas. These works, widely read and circulated, influenced economic decision-making and provided invaluable information for political and territorial encroachment on the Iberian New World empires. Most of these works are in the Rare Books Division and the Scheide Library.


Economic history and policy topics are addressed in printed and manuscript holdings. Extensive collections of texts from the late 15th century through the 18th century, often accompanied by illustrations, charts, and diagrams of tropical commodities and minerals and their processing, discuss the economic potential and resources of the New World. Reference to labor systems, especially African as well as Indian enslavement and tributary systems, appear in many of these works. Holdings in the Scheide Library and in the Rare Books Division (especially the Grenville Kane Collection) are of major significance. The Iturbe e Iraeta and Prieto-Maíz collections in the Manuscripts Division document commercial activities from the late 18th to the early 20th centuries. The Numismatics Collection holds specie from the colonial period.

Twentieth century economic and development policy, often related to foreign policy, is covered extensively in the Public Policy Papers in the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library. Of particular interest are the Kemmerer papers, concerning the establishment of central banks and the gold standard in various Latin American states; economic development topics are addressed in the Hirschman Papers.


Spanning the period of initial European contact in the New World through the exploration of coasts and interiors to the ultimate subjugation of indigenous peoples under European imperial systems, the collections include most major texts, often in various editions. Among the authors are conquistadores, representatives of the crown, missionaries, and geographers. These early accounts often mix fact and imagination in text and illustration. Some transcriptions of indig enous and early post-conquest manuscripts are in the Garrett Collection of Manuscripts in the Indigenous Languages of Middle America (uncataloged). As conquest of the region progressed, issues of government and economy joined those of religious conversion and description. Atlases document the development of geographic knowledge and provide information on colonization. The Scheide Library and the Rare Books Division, especially the Grenville Kane Collection, have extensive holdings of these printed materials.

Human Rights

Concerns and discussions over human rights in the Americas begin soon after European contact with indigenous peoples and continue until the present. Works by clerics provide the basis of discussions, with those of Bartolomé de las Casas being the most prominent. Subsequent writings of other clerics, as well as European critics of Spain, document many ethical, legal, and philo sophical questions concerning the evolving populations of the New World. Major holdings are in the Scheide Library and the Rare Books Division. For the 20th century, Public Policy Papers at the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library reflect official and dissenting views on topics such as censorship and state control. The Rare Books Division holds collections of ephemera on political change in Latin America that contain materials on torture, disappeared persons, and political action. In the Manuscripts Division, the archive of the P. E. N. American Center documents censorship. Correspondence in collections of literary manuscripts covers the issues of state violence since 1945.

Indigenous Peoples

Materials documenting various aspects of life begin with a few pre-Columbian examples, continue through a range of manuscript and printed materials devoted to linguistic and religious topics, and end with contemporary materials on customs and survival strategies. The Garrett Collection of Manuscripts in the Indigenous Languages of Middle America (uncataloged) in the Western Americana Collection contains some originals as well as transcriptions of many 16th- and 17th-century works on land and culture. Printed works from the colonial period and 19th-century travel accounts frequently address topics related to indigenous peoples and are held by the Scheide Library and the Rare Books Division. Contemporary ethnographies and linguistic studies are in the Western Americana Collection.


Through religious texts, grammars, and works created for recording their history, indigenous peoples and those involved with the religious conversion process have created a substantial record of printed items. These documents provide not only a basis for the study of language but an invaluable record of extinct or transformed societies. Most works are in the Scheide Library, the Rare Books Division, and the Western Americana Collection. Facsimiles of pre-Columbian and early post-conquest codices devoted to indigenous themes are found in the Western Americana Collection, the Marquand Library of Art and Archaeology, and the general collections of the Library. Printed works in various Mayan languages are in the Western Americana Collection.


Twentieth-century Latin American fiction holds a prominent position among world literatures. Preeminent collections at Princeton of literary manuscripts and correspondence of major writers include not only drafts of works, but notebooks and diaries recording the genesis of ideas for essays and fiction. Extensive correspondence among prominent writers and intellectuals documents the debates of the day, offers critiques of contemporary culture, and exposes the private lives of the famous and near-famous. The papers of Mario Vargas Llosa, Carlos Fuentes, José Donoso, Guillermo Cabrera Infante, and Reinaldo Arenas are among the holdings that include more than 25 separate collections. Finding aids are available and catalog records are maintained in the MASC database. The Manuscripts Division adds continually to these collections.

Natural History and the Environment

An environmentally focused reading of many traditional texts of discovery, conquest, description and travel, and indigenous life yields new interpretations of Latin American ecologies and how they are affected by human habitation. While these texts are often dispersed amidst other topics, they remain invaluable sources for understanding the flora and fauna as well as the physical environment of the New World. Most materials are in the Rare Books Division and the Scheide Library. Some photographs and manuscripts are also found in the Public Policy Papers.

Politics: Government

With the important exception of Brazil, which first became an empire (1822) and then a republic (1889), most Latin American colonies became republics during the first quarter of the 19th century. Reflecting the strong economic and political interests of the United States, collections of printed materials and manuscripts tend to emphasize those areas, as well as foreign relations. Topics related to the Cold War and Mexico remained prominent for most of the 20th century. Dispersed coverage of Latin America is in the papers of George McGovern, Edwin W. Kemmerer, Allen W. Dulles, Woodrow Wilson, and John Foster Dulles, all held in the Public Policy Papers in the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library.

Politics: Political Parties and Movements

Throughout much of the 20th century, Latin Americans experienced dictatorships, which not infrequently received U. S. government support, along with various forms of opposition to these anti-democratic regimes. With the Cuban Revolution of 1959 and a subsequent array of pro -democracy movements elsewhere in Latin America, a substantial grass-roots documentation appeared in the form of flyers, posters, serials, and similar ephemera, particularly from the popular sectors in urban areas. The Rare Books Division holds extensive coverage for Chile including photographs taken during the Pinochet dictatorship (1973­1990); other countries similarly represented are Uruguay, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, and Peru. Some of these materials as well as many not included in these collections have been preserved on microfilm by the Library. Holdings of the Manuscripts Division include the Peruvian Presidential campaign archive of Mario Vargas Llosa, Fidel Castro's 26th of July Movement documents in the Carlos Franqui Papers, and correspondence in other collections.

Printing and Publishing

The study of works published in the Americas during the colonial period can provide insights into the diffusion of information as well as the development of intellectual and spiritual life. Many important religious texts as well as works devoted to the administration of the colonies are present, particularly in the Scheide Library. The archives of Charles Scribner's Sons and the correspondence of various writers with their literary agents and publishers provide insights into post-1945 publishing. Extensive documentation on the "Boom" writers of the 1960s covers important aspects of the internationalization of Latin American literature through extensive translation and publication in Europe and the U. S. The archive of the Americas Society's Review covers additional aspects. These collections are in the Manuscripts Division.


Documentation of religious practices, doctrine, and missionary activities is provided by 16th- and 17th-century texts, many of which also provide insights into indigenous spiritual life. Some of these works served Catholics in their daily spiritual observances; others are likely to have been used exclusively by the clergy. The Rare Books Division and the Scheide Library hold most of these imprints. For the study of Protestants in the Americas, the Speer Library of the Princeton Theological Seminary is the principal repository.

Guide compiled in February 1998 by Peter T. Johnson, Bibliographer for Latin America, Spain, and Portugal.