Last Fall 2016, students Sara Plohetski (Spanish Ed.), Brian Molhoek (Sociology/Spanish) and I applied for a library Library of Congress Faculty Student Research grant with the purpose of creating a digital map showcasing the myriad of ways in which three of the most culturally productive Latin American cities –Buenos Aires, Mexico City, and Rio de Janeiro– are interpreted and represented in contemporary literature, music, and visual arts (1950-2000). This is a long-term project that will developed and expanded throughout the fall of 2017 and spring semesters of 2018 in the Advanced Composition classes and Latin American Studies classes.
Some of the questions we were seeking to address were:
- How do people perceive and imagine a community or a city through art and literature?
- How do cities impact people and their cultural production?
- How do people impact the city in which they live through the culture they produce?
- How do race, gender, and class influence the cultural perception and production of a city? (For example, do men and women perceive and represent the city in different ways? How do upper and lower classes portray the city?)
- How do politics and economy affect the cultural production of citizens?
- What neighborhoods, spaces, icons of the city seem to be more attractive for artists and writers, and why?
- The impact of art in city gentrification: how does art influence the development of specific areas of a city?
At the library, our team explored and consulted an ample variety of sources, ranging from art and literature books (poetry, essays, and novels), academic journals, newspapers, manuscripts, to prints, photos, and written music, focusing on these three Latin American cities and their corresponding cultural production. Of special interest were the encyclopedias and reference resources from the Hispanic Reading Room, where we mostly gathered the bibliographical information that was later used to locate the books at the library.
The most valuable research tool was the library’s database through which we could access a vast amount of journals and publications in electronic format. By browsing articles and bibliographies related to the artistic production in different cities, we were able to compile a long listing of texts that later on we requested from the library’s catalogue and that were easily available.
Through the analysis of the data collected at LOC, we have been able to continue to trace the historical, political and economic reasons why the different generations choose to represent the city they way they do and through the media they use, and respond to some of the questions listed above relating to race, gender, and class. These are basically the major themes and points we expect to emphasize in a written project based on our research.
Furthermore, we shared this experience with two research groups from the American University in Paris, France, and Forman College in Pakistan, institutions that are also members of the Great Lakes College Association consortia. In addition to our research, the three teams were able to visit the different reading rooms, collaborate with librarians in the research process, and have access to materials and documents not accessible to the public. Hope students, for example, were able to hold the first Spanish language dictionary written in 1611 by Sebastián de Covarrubias.
In my academic career, I have had the opportunity to conduct research in many libraries worldwide; yet, our experience at the Library of Congress was intellectually and academically rewarding; the staff was extremely knowledgeable, the space was magnificent, and the collections unparalleled. Even if one is not a researcher, the Library of Congress in Washington DC is worth visiting for it’s history and it’s architectural splendor.