SALALMistas at the California Rare Book School, August 9-14, 2015

SALALM members Sarah Buck-Kachaluba (UCSD), Ashley Larson (UCLA), and I participated...

SALALM members Sarah Buck-Kachaluba (UCSD), Ashley Larson (UCLA), and I participated in the latest offering of the California Rare Book School's “History of the Book in Hispanic America, 16th-19th Centuries” course. Taught by Daniel J. Slive of Southern Methodist University's Bridwell Library and David Szewczyk of the Philadelphia Rare Books and Manuscripts Company (PRBM) over the week of August 8 through August 14, it gave us the opportunity to study the cultural, social, and indeed material history of books in Latin America alongside librarians, archivists, and scholars from across the country. The course mixed in-class seminar discussions with field trips to examine selections from the UCLA Special Collections, the Huntington Library, the Getty Research Institute, and a portion of Szewczyk's own wares, allowing us to get up-close with examples of the illustrating, printing, and binding techniques we studied in class.

The course allowed us to take full advantage of Los Angeles's wide-ranging scholarly collections. The first day we examined selections of European incunabula from the UCLA Special Collections to help familiarize ourselves with the fifteenth and sixteenth-century printing techniques that informed early Latin American printing. It was also a wonderful chance to get up close and personal with some fantastic materials, including a Gutenberg Bible and Hartmann Schedel's Liber cronicarum (the famous Nuremberg Chronicle of 1493). The following day we took a field trip to the Huntington Library where we examined Latin American publications from their collections, including multiple works by Archbishop Juan de Zumárraga (who brought the press to Mexico), the famed monk/ethnographer Bernardino de Sahagún, and multilingual works in Spanish, Latin, and various indigenous Mesoamerican languages aimed at fostering the conversion of the indigenous population. Though the museum was closed that day, the trip to the Huntington did leave us some time to explore the grounds and take in the beautiful surroundings.

Perhaps the greatest highlight of the course was Wednesday afternoon, when David Szewczyk let us get hands-on with a suitcase full of books, pamphlets, and broadsides that he brought with him from the PRBM's offices. David has both a deep scholarly interest in Latin American print and manuscripts and a wealth of lively stories about the book trade that provided us with a vivid picture of the production and circulation of books in colonial Latin America and their collection in subsequent eras. His collection branched out beyond New Spain and Peru to include materials from the Caribbean, Venezuela, and the Southern Cone. We were able to see planning documents from colonial Havana, satirical pamphlets from nineteenth-century Mexico, and broadsides from Venezuela's struggle for independence from Spain. It was also nice to be able to get our hands on the materials, considering the material nature of the book was one of the focuses of the course. As David said when asked why he trusted us to handle such valuable materials, “we're all professionals here.”

Thursday gave us our second trip into the UCLA Special Collections, this time to examine their historic Mexican collections. In addition to colonial texts we also got to explore nineteenth-century materials made using what were then state-of-the-art techniques for printing, binding, and illustrating. Highlights included the beautiful full-color chromolithographic title pages and tinted lithographic reproductions of early colonial codices in a three-volume 1844-1846 edition of William H. Prescott's Historia de la conquista de México, the sumptuous tinted lithograph illustrations of the region around Mexico City in Mexico y sus alrededores (1855-1857), and a collection of children's books featuring color cover illustrations from José Guadalupe Posada (or at least his firm) published in the Biblioteca del niño mexicano (1899-1900).

For our last day we went to the Getty Research Institute to see their special collections. Their materials included an early (1524) European publication of Cortés's letters informing King Ferdinand of the conquest of the Aztec Empire, a rare Mozarabic liturgy from eighteenth-century Mexico, and an 1832 edition of Antonio de León y Gama's 1792 Descripción histórica y cronológica de las dos piedras… featuring one of the earliest print reproductions of the famous Aztec calendar unearthed in Mexico City in 1790. We also had time to enjoy the gardens and to take in two exhibits that were tangentially relevant to the course, one about medieval illuminated manuscripts and the other about printed images of Louis XIV's France.

Visiting multiple collections allowed us to view multiple editions or copies of books and to note the differences between them. For example, we saw how the engraved foldout image of the funeral monument described in Alejo de Alvitez's Puntual descripción, funebre lamento, y sumptuoso túmulo, de la regiadoliente pompa (Lima, 1757) had been produced poorly in the Getty's copy of the book versus the clean reproduction that made it into the copy Szewczyk had for sale. In addition we got to see up close the details that allow us to identify woodblock, copper plate, or lithographic reproductions of images, discern between type and other means of producing letters, and examine various sorts of bindings, from cheap contemporary loose vellum covers to deluxe gold-embossed Morocco binding from the 19th Century. These experiences will prove invaluable, whether we are helping patrons working with original printed materials or evaluating facsimile or digital reproductions. And of course, we made time to catch up with our SALALM compañeros, touring the HAPI offices and grabbing lunch with Orchid Mazurkiewicz and Daniel Schoorl, and catching up with Jennifer Osorio over drinks and snacks after class. It was a fantastic experience intellectually and socially, and we will take the skills and connections we made with us as we continue our work into the future.