This text is adapted from "The Manuscripts Collection of the Latin American Library, Tulane University," by Guillermo Náñez Falcón, a paper presented at the Seminar on the Acquisition of Latin American Library Materials, (SALALM) June 2, 1994, in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The Latin American Library's manuscripts collection started in 1924 with the University's purchase of the William Gates collection to form the nucleus of a research facility for the newly established Department of Middle American Research (DMAR), whose focus of investigation was to be Mexico and Central America. Gates, an inveterate collector of Mexicana, decided to sell his collection of books and manuscripts at auction through the American Art Association in New York. Before the public sale, Samuel Zemurray, President of the Cuyamel Fruit Company, purchased the entire collection for Tulane. The value of the Gates collection to the incipient library cannot be underestimated. His collection contained several thousand books, including dozens of Mexican incunables and other rare colonial imprints; hundreds of late-19th century government publications that he had acquired from other collectors, such as Antonio Peñafiel (including laws, statistics, documentary compilations); volumes relating to the Maximilian period and to the Porfiriato; and contemporary works and ephemera of the Mexican Revolution. There were also several thousand manuscripts that complemented the collection of books, which formed the core of the library's open-stack and rare book collections.
The manuscripts were selectively culled, according to physical format and according to their potential interest to faculty. It was decided that manuscripts large enough to stand on a shelf, or bound in some manner, would be catalogued and interfiled with the rare books. Among the items catalogued in this manner were the Codex Chalco, a finely executed 19th-century pictorial manuscript; Fray Andrés de Olmos' 288-leaf manuscript Arte de la Lengua Mexicana from 1547, two 17th century choral books, several grammars and catechisms in Mexican Indian languages, and many others. The remaining manuscripts were catalogued separately. They fell into several distinct groups. Among these were Gates' extensive collection of colonial Mexican manuscripts; his file of several hundred letters from the military commandants of Yucatán (late-18th to early-19th century); the papers of the U.S.-born journalist and diplomat Ephraim George Squier; correspondence of the Iturbide court; the Moctezuma Family Papers; and hundreds of pieces of printed ephemera of the Mexican Revolution, including several dozen original Posada engravings.
Tulane acquired other manuscripts as well. In the early 1920s, it purchased the Rudolf Schuller papers, which consisted of the notebooks, field notes, vocabulary lists, manuscripts, and photographs of an Austrian-born linguist and ethnographer who worked primarily in the Huasteca region of Mexico. This collection fit in the Mesoamerican focus of the DMAR. The papers of U.S. ethnologist and archaeologist George Hubbard Pepper, relating largely to his work with Southwest Indians and in the Chaco Canyon, while of exceptional research value, were outside the general scope of the DMAR collection.
In the 1920s and early 1930s, the DMAR acquired other important collections relating to Mayan Mexico and Central America. During those years, the DMAR was sending regular archaeological expeditions to Yucatán and to other Mayan areas of Mexico and Central America. Often, Frans Blom, the Director of the DMAR, had the opportunity to purchase ancient documents that today would be prohibited from leaving the country. Among these were several manuscript dossiers of land disputes, the Crónica de Maní, the Crónica de Yaxcukul, and the Crónica de Chicxulub. These contain documents from the 16th to the 18th century, and the Maní is said to be the oldest example of writing of the Mayan language in Spanish characters. From the Mixtec region of Oaxaca came the so-called Codex Tulane, (Códice de Huamelulpan) an Indian manuscript from the mid-16th century that is painted on a 12-foot strip of deer skin. In 1933 the DMAR acquired Fray Pedro de Oroz's priceless 1585 manuscript history of the Franciscan order in New Spain. In addition to individual manuscripts, the DMAR purchased collections of documents. From Porrúa, in 1932 it acquired a collection of about 3,000 miscellaneous, but historically valuable, dossiers dating from the mid-16th century to early Independence, from all parts of Mexico and covering a gamut of subjects. Porrúa also provided, in 1934, a collection of 44 volumes of administrative records from New Spain, including a 400-leaf volume of minutes of the Royal Audiencia from 1575 to 1602. In 1933, also, the DMAR purchased from the daughter-in-law of Captain Callender Irvine Fayssoux, aide-de-camp to William Walker, records of Walker's armies and of the invasions of Nicaragua in 1855, 1857, and 1860.
The Latin American Library manuscript holdings and finding aids are searchable via our Special Collections online database. Access our Manuscripts Collections Inventory to see a list of our Collections and finding aids. A manuscripts card catalog on-site provides further biographical, geographical, and topical access points to aspects of the collection.
Among the jewels of the Library’s manuscripts is the collection of original Mexican painted manuscripts dating from the early colonial period, as well as rare copies of unknown, lost or damaged pictorial manuscripts and maps. In conjunction with a comprehensive collection of codex facsimiles, this collection of Mexican codices in the native tradition is the most important in the United States.
The manuscripts collection continues to grow through gifts and purchases. A number of scholars have left their research collections to the Latin American Library, including José Díaz Bolio, Lewis Hanke, Fernando Horcasitas, Seymour Liebman, Ross Parmenter Donald and Martha Robertson, Merle Greene Robertson, and Mary Elizabeth Smith. Our holdings also include collections of personal papers of important business and political figures in Latin America like those of Erwin Paul Dieseldorff, General Rafael E. Melgar, Francisco Morazán, and William Spratling. Other donors have given materials that span a variety of disciplines and time periods: the letterbooks of President Joaquín Zavala Solís of Nicaragua, a collection of autograph documents of Independence leaders of the Andean republics, papers relating to Bolivian Communist parties and the death of Che Guevara, and the Alan Boss Collection of Cuban Ephemera, to name only a few.