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Jean & Alexander Heard Libraries

Special Collections
and University Archives

Latin American Collections

The Jean and Alexander Heard Libraries’ Latin American collections are particularly distinctive and strong, reflecting in part Vanderbilt’s founding of the first Institute of Brazilian Studies in the United States (1947) after Chancellor Harvie Branscomb’s 1945 trip to the country. That program grew into the Center for Latin American Studies, now recognized by the Department of Education as a comprehensive National Resource Center for the study of Latin America. A centerpiece of that distinction is the renowned Latin American collection which supports programs in history, politics, Spanish and Portuguese literature, fine arts, and anthropology.

For questions about these collections, please contact Paula Covington, Bibliographer for Latin American and Iberian Studies and Senior Lecturer in Latin American Studies, or the Special Collections staff.


J. León Helguera Collection of Colombiana Helguera Sucre

The J. León Helguera Collection of Colombiana at Vanderbilt University includes unique primary sources on 17th to 20th-century Colombian history and culture. The result of a half-century of collecting on three continents by the late J. León Helguera, professor of history and ardent bibliophile, the collection is one of the largest and most wide-ranging in the United States. The collection includes books, manuscripts, broadsides, pamphlets (including novenas), royal cedulas, programas, and newspapers.

There is an online database that includes a selection of full text searchable broadsides, pamphlets, and programas. Some additional records for materials that have not yet been scanned are also included in the database.


Manuel Zapata Olivella Papers

Another significant Colombian resource chronicles the life and work of the “Dean of Black Hispanic Literature,” Manuel Zapata Olivella. Zapata Olivella was an Afro-Colombian novelist, physician, and anthropologist who championed the preservation of Afro-Hispanic culture and traditions throughout Latin America. An organizer of the World Congresses of Black Culture, he produced ethnographies, novels featuring African-descended characters, radio programs, street theater, and a wide range of other materials. His papers fuel the research of students of racial identity, black literature, anthropology, sociology, and history throughout the Americas. Because the collection is of interest to scholars in many countries, the Heard Libraries are working to make it available digitally.


Other Collections

Vanderbilt’s increasing emphasis on Atlantic world history complements the libraries' Latin American and Caribbean focus. Special Collections has acquired several manuscripts relating to early plantation life in the Caribbean and the slave trade. The library also hosts the Slave Societies Digital Archive project, which seeks to preserve and digitize primary records of enslaved and free black experience in Cuba, Colombia, and Brazil.

Latin American travel literature is also a strength of the collections, from accounts penned by early explorers and conquistadores to those by later settlers and voyagers. Travelers’ depictions have shaped our views of the region, from the very first accounts of “the great encounter” and the European conquest of the New World, to essays of nineteenth-century botanists studying Amazonian plant life. In addition to shaping stereotypes, these accounts help researchers reconstruct the history of these nations from the Colonial era to the present day.

These other collections can be found in ArchivesSpace, our finding aid database.