Thinking Inside the Boxes: The Latin American Political Pamphlets Collection at Senate House Library
by Christine Anderson (Latin America Research Librarian) and Julio Cazzasa (Special Collections Cataloguer), Senate House Library
On 23 February 2016, Senate House Library will be hosting “Thinking Inside the Boxes“, a series of talks about its extensive Latin American Political Pamphlets Collection, which documents some of the most troubled years of twentieth-century Latin America. The event, featuring Anthony Pereira (KCL), Guillermo Mira (Salamanca), Vinicius Mariano de Carvalho (KCL), Thomas Rath (UCL), Anna Grimaldi (KCL), Thomas Rath (UCL) and Aquiles Alencar (British Library), hopes to demonstrate the relevance of these documents across a number of research topics and contexts. But we invite all researchers and postgraduate students to consider consulting the archive in their own research.
The majority of the collection consists of the former holdings of the Contemporary Archive on Latin America (CALA), which from its inception in 1976 sought to build up a combination of academic and ‘alternative’ sources of information for the use of students, teachers, researchers, solidarity and human rights committees, journalist, development and volunteer agencies, television programme producers, trade unionists and the like. It maintained contact with documentation and educational centres in Latin America and beyond, housing of rare materials jeopardised by political developments in the region. This ensured that its collections were uniquely rich in their depth of coverage.
By 1981 however, the archive faced an irretrievable funding situation and was forced to close. Originally its collections had been destined to be divided between Latin America Bureau, the Institute for Race Relations, the CARILA Latin America Resource Centre, and the Nicaraguan Ministry of Planning, but these organisations were unable to organise the retrieval of the material before CALA’s closure. The Institute of Latin American Studies stepped in as “the only institution involved which had the will and the means to save this material in time and to house it.”
Since then the original collections have been augmented by fresh donations and the re-classifying of political ephemera within the main library stock, but with the amalgamation of new material the Institute has sought to maintain the onus of the original CALA collection.
In 2003 the University of London Vice Chancellor’s fund agreed to provide the money for a joint project between ILAS and the Institute of Commonwealth Studies (ICOMM) aiming to improve access to and use of their collections of political ephemera. This has involved the creation of item-level catalogue records on the School of Advanced Study Library Catalogue (SASCAT) and the uploading of collection-level archival descriptions to both the Archives Hub and AIM25 databases.
Although the collection (which consists mainly of items in Spanish, Portuguese and English) covers every country in Latin America, it is particularly strong in certain areas. There are currently around 140 boxes of materials. The Chilean boxes, for example, are mostly concerned with the build-up to and the aftermath of the 1973 coup, including election posters for Salvador Allende and pamphlets written by apologists for the Pinochet regime. In addition, there are many contemporary and obscure items produced by leftist opposition groups in the 1970s.
Another strength of the collection is its coverage of human rights bodies in Central America in the late 1970s and 1980s. Much of this material came as a result of the links between the Latin American organisations and solidarity and support groups in this country. A similar situation pertains for countries like Argentina and Brazil.
The Latin American political ephemera collections have an impressive variety and depth, and they hold a great deal of material that is either difficult or impossible to obtain elsewhere. They are open for reference purposes to all researchers and postgraduate students, and anyone wishing to consult them or just to get further information should feel free to contact us here at Senate House Library.