As a class, we invite you to discover a new 19th century, one that may challenge your previous knowledge about Latin America. The term “Latin America” was itself coined in the middle of the 19th century to distinguish the region as a leading force for republicanism (as opposed to Old World monarchy) and as a way to denounce destabilizing U.S. invasions of its hemispheric neighbors.
This online exhibit grants worldwide access to never before digitized items from the LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections at the University of Texas at Austin. It features letters, photographs, postcards, maps, city planning blueprints, and other valuable primary documents produced from the 19thand into the 20th century. Taken together, they highlight common themes that better help us understand the history of the region. Well-known historical actors appear who are not just from Latin America (Antonio López de Santa Anna), but also from Europe (two Napoleon Bonapartes – there was more than one), and the United States. The exhibit also provides insight into the lives of everyday people whose experiences tend to be omitted from the historical record.
The exhibit is, admittedly, heavily concentrated on Mexico. This fact raises questions about how archives are created and what sources they preserve. For the Benson, Mexico looms large yet it is by no means the only focus of its collections. Students in the class nevertheless gravitated towards Mexico’s pull on their historical imaginations. A handful of documents from other countries, including Haiti, Venezuela, Cuba, and Guatemala rounds out the exhibit. They reveal surprising regional and global connections forged by people who experienced exile during the Haitian Revolution, experimented with republicanism, or suffered racial marginalization. They also suggest how new technologies, such as photography, helped preserve information about valued cultural practices, most notably indigenous women’s weaving techniques. Combined, the selected documents suggest the significant impact the region had on the world.