OLL Blog — My path to librarianship and the Oliveira Lima Library

Earlier this month, Fine Books & Collections posted an interview with me as part of their series Bright Young Librarians. While my tendency toward self-deprecation would lead me to question those qualifiers – months of sheltering-in-place I has got me feeling particularly dim and old – I was nevertheless thrilled to be featured in a publication of such note among my colleagues. It was a wonderful chance to speak about both the work Dr. Nathalia Henrich and I have been doing at the Oliveira Lima Library and the circumstances that brought me here. In the interest of highlighting the immense value of our collection and our role in maximizing that value, I’d like to take this opportunity to expand a bit on my remarks.

Apart from my love of history, what most drew me to the the field of librarianship was the social commitment of the library, the idea that the guarantee of access and use of library materials should be the driving force behind the development and implementation of theory and practice. To me, that idea is best expressed in the concept of stewardship. As Sharon Farb puts it, stewardship is, among other things, ‘service on behalf of users and on behalf of society.’ As library professionals such as Daniel Greenstein and Meg Bellinger have noted, while the Digital Age has challenged us to rethink our notions of preservation and ownership, it has also offered us opportunities to think of documented cultural memory in terms of interconnected networks, where the movement and exchange of knowledge takes precedence over the mere guardianship of materials.

This idea of stewardship has greatly eased my own personal anxieties and insecurities as a professional still relatively wet behind the ears. I often agonize over just the right content and structure of catalog records, wading through the mire of numbers and codes. In publishing a new record to our online catalog, I hope to create something laudable and unassailable by my peers. While these are certainly worthy goals, they should never get in the way of access. If I am uneasy about a record I have just created, I can rest assured that by making available to the public materials previously unknown, I am starting a conversation that will never end. Whatever gaps in my knowledge will be filled by those who come to use our collection. Nothing, certainly not my work as a cataloger, is written in stone. Beyond that, if our society’s current discussion has taught me anything, monuments to the past neither are nor should be protected from serious conversations.

In a way, this last point informs the work of Dr. Henrich and I. To be sure, we have been bestowed with the responsibility of keeping alive the memory of Manoel and Flora de Oliveira Lima; we are not, however, in the business of apotheosizing their memory nor the materials in their collection. The purpose of our work is to offer our holdings to the scrutiny of those wishing to undertake the serious and responsible endeavor of scholarship, regardless of their academic titles and honors. I find this in keeping with the legacy of Dr. Oliveira Lima, a man who was neither diffident in debate, intransigent in his political and social views, nor lacking in humor, even when it came to the caricatures of himself which often exaggerated his corpulence.

OLL Blog – Visual Depictions of Amazonian Boundary Commissions – Jeffrey Erbig

Visual Depictions of Amazonian Boundary Commissions

Jeffrey Erbig

Assistant Professor

University of California Santa Cruz

Department of Latin American & Latino Studies

Within the walls of the Oliveira Lima Library there sits a unique collection of watercolors attributed to Spanish mapmaker Francisco Requena y Herrera. The watercolors depict Luso-Hispanic mapping expeditions commissioned under the 1777 Treaty of San Ildefonso to draw a border between Brazil and Spanish South America. Requena was the ranking official of a Spanish mapping team sent to the Amazon, one of many that stretched the ten-thousand-mile border. His watercolors are perhaps the only visual records that portray the labors of the boundary commissions and were likely part of Manoel de Oliveira Lima’s original donation to the library. Oliveira Lima reportedly purchased them in 1914 from Dutch poet and essayist, Martinus Nijhoff, who in turn had acquired them in Spain (Smith, 33). If this account holds true, then Requena most likely brought them with him upon his 1795 return to Spain. Meanwhile, Requena’s maps are scattered across libraries in the United States and Europe, and while some include the same figures as the watercolors, most omit them entirely (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1: Francisco Requena, Mapa geográfico de la mayor parte de la América Meridional, 1796. Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center Collection.

Beyond being a unique media, Requena’s watercolors are significant for the information they present. Whereas the boundary commissions’ maps provide little indication of the labor involved in their production, these watercolors affirm what is more readily apparent in the diaries of demarcation officers, the expeditions’ account books, and administrative records of the spaces through which they traveled. They demonstrate complex sociocultural interactions that go far beyond Luso-Hispanic diplomacy or scientific knowledge (Siquiera Bueno and Kantor, 253-61). More specifically, they point to the actions of Indigenous and African Americans in response to Iberian efforts to partition the continent. Whereas several dozen diplomats, geographers, cosmographers, astronomers, engineers, and other royal officials produced the expeditions’ documentary corpus, each of the dozens of mapping teams included as many as several hundred guides, contracted laborers, slaves, and armed escorts. Moreover, they traveled through lands claimed and controlled by Indigenous peoples, who alternatively offered resistance or aid (Costa, 117-23).

Take for example the ninth watercolor in the series, titled Cascadas del Río Cuñaré (Fig. 2). From left to right, Requena identifies “Indios Omaguas” rowing a canoe full of provisions, Portuguese officers surveying the landscape with the support of numerous laborers, and Requena himself consulting with an Indigenous man while an African descendant interpreter conversed with two Native women. The image alone provides few details to explain the scene, but in his correspondence, Requena recounted having consulted with Omaguas men and women via a guide (prático do país) named Fernando Rojas. According to Requena, Omaguas communities maintained deep ties to nearby Franciscan missions, trading frequently with them in captives and in goods, and ostensible animosity toward the Portuguese (Quijano Otero, 192-93). Rojas, along with Juan de Silva, were Black men who had reportedly escaped slavery in the Brazilian captaincy of Pará, were fluent in nearby Indigenous languages, and had become principal guides for the Spanish demarcation teams (Roller, 119-20).

Fig. 2: Francisco Requena, Cascadas del Río Cuñaré. Oliveira Lima Library, The Catholic University of America.

Cascadas del Río Cuñaré captures much of what I found in the research for my book, Where Caciques and Mapmakers Met: Border Making in Eighteenth-Century South America, and for that reason I chose it as the cover image. While Requena’s teams and their Portuguese counterparts surveyed the Amazon, most of the expeditions worked farther south, in the Pantanal (Mato Grosso, Paraguay, and Bolivia) or in the grasslands and forests of southeastern South America (Santa Catarina/Rio Grande do Sul, Argentina, and Uruguay). By situating the southern expeditions within a deeper spatial history of this last region, I found that Native peoples engaged the boundary commissions with their own territorial imaginaries. Rather than part of an ever passing landscape or mere informants, as Iberian mapmakers depicted them to be, Indigenous peoples engaged the boundary commissions to advance their own interests. Guaraní mission-dwellers tend to garner the most attention in this regard, due to a three-year war that they waged against Spanish and Portuguese armies in response to the first attempt at partition. Yet all throughout the purported border, sovereign Native nations asserted their own claims, a fact that forces us to reframe border-drawing not merely as interimperial politics, but rather as interethnic affairs.



Costa, Maria de Fátima. “Viajes en la frontera colonial: Historias de una expedición de límites en la América Meridional (1753-1754).” Anales del Museo de América 16 (2009): 113–126.

Quijano Otero, José María. Límites de la República de los Estados-Unidos de Colombia, vol. 1. Sevilla: Francisco Alvarez y Cía, 1881.

Roller, Heather F. “River Guides, Geographical Informants, and Colonial Field Agents in the Portuguese Amazon.” Colonial Latin American Review 21, no. 1 (2012): 101–126.

Siquiera Bueno, Beatriz Piccolotto, and Iris Kantor. “A outra face das expedições científico-demarcatórias na Amazônia: o coronel Francisco Requena y Herrera e a comitiva castelhana.” In Oliveira, Francisco Roque de, ed. Cartógrafos para toda a Terra: Produção e circulação do saber cartográfico ibero-americano. Lisboa: Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal, 2015, 243–64.

Smith, Robert C. “Requena and the Japurá: Some Eighteenth Century Watercolors of the Amazon and Other Rivers.” The Americas 3, no. 1 (1946): 31–65.


OLL Blog – Brazilian Incunables?

The word ‘incunable’ comes from the Latin incunabula, which means ‘swaddling clothes’ or ‘cradle’. In the context of books, the term refers to the printed word in its infancy, which began with Gutenberg’s invention of movable type some time around 1450 and was first manifested in 1455 by Gutenberg’s 42-line Bible. Starting in Mainz, printing presses with movable type quickly spread from Germany to all of Europe throughout the 15th century: Spain in 1474, England in 1476 and Portugal in 1487. Strictly speaking, the period of incunables ends in Europe in 1501, a date by which many of the trappings of a printed book as we know it today – title page, numbered pages, illustrations and, importantly for catalogers, publication information – had been firmly established in European printing.

Montalboddo’s ‘Paesi Nouamente Retrouati….’ (1507)

However, beyond this restricted sense the word incunable is often adjectivized to describe early printing in a specific geographic or cultural area. In Margaret Bingham Stillwell’s opinion, it is eminently proper to speak of incunabula in the context of the Americas because both Gutenberg and Columbus “altered the course of history more effectively than anyone since the birth of Christ.” (p. x) This seems especially apt when we consider that history itself is nothing more than the documentary record of human memory and furthermore, that during the Age of Exploration the printed word was essential to publicizing the so-called discoveries of the various European powers in the New World, both enabling them to stake their claims and igniting the imaginations of rival European monarchs with the possibility for commerce and evangelism and goading them into the fray of imperial conquest.

We may thus initiate the period of American incunables with Columbus’ arrival in the Americas and the subsequent publication in 1493  his Epistola Cristofori Colom… In 1500 the first Europeans, led by Pedro Álvares Cabral, set foot on the land that would come to be called Brazil. The first printed account of Cabral’s voyage is to be found in Fracanzano da Montalboddo’s Paesi Nouamente Retrouati…. in Venice in 1507. It is the oldest printed book in the Oliveira Lima Library’s holdings.

As Stillwell notes, throughout the 16th century the majority of works on the Americas were still being printed in Europe, but by 1700 “the art of bookmaking…had become an established and influential factor in colonial life” in both North and South America. For many bibliographers, the various independence movements in the colonies during the late 18th and early 19th centuries mark the end of early printing in the Americas.

‘Warhafftige Beschreibunge aller und mancherley sorgfeltigen Schiffarten…’ (1567)

So when did printing begin in Brazil? How long did its period of early printing last? The answer to this question, like that of so many others, is deceptively complex and provides one of a host of examples of Brazil’s truly unique and cosmopolitan development.

Rocha Pitta’s ‘Historia da America Portugueza’ (1730)

The history of printing in Brazil offers a peculiar example within the context of the other European colonies in the New World, for whereas printing presses appeared within decades of the establishment of colonies in Spanish and English America, none would be officially recognized in Brazil until the arrival of the Portuguese court to Rio de Janeiro in 1808, a full 300 years after the arrival of Europeans in Brazil.

That is not to say that this Portuguese colony did not pique the interest of learned Europeans throughout its first three centuries of existence, nor that the inhabitants of Brazil did not publish works during the colonial period. The Oliveira Lima Library’s holdings provide a wealth of material as evidence to the contrary, such as Hans Staden’s Warhafftige Beschreibunge aller und mancherley sorgfeltigen Schiffarten… published in Frankfurt am Main in 1567 and Sebastião da Rocha Pitta’s Historia da America Portugueza, desde o anno de mil e quinhentos de seu descobrimento, até o de mil e setecentos e vinte e quatro, the first history of Portuguese America written by a Brazilian, published in Lisbon in 1730. Yet the fact nevertheless remains that it took 300 years for printing to be officially established in Brazil. Why is that?

Van Baerle’s ‘Rerum per octennium in Brasilia’ (1647)

At the risk of nuance, the lack of publishing houses in colonial Brazil can be attributed to two major factors. The first was the Portuguese crown, which jealously guarded the benefits of the mercantilist system which maintained Lisbon as the center of political, economic and cultural power of Portugal’s immense and far flung empire. Though this apprehension on the part of the Portuguese metropole was shared by Spain, Portugal’s policies seemed particularly restrictive of the production or entry of books into its colony. The second force at play was that of the Holy Office of the Inquisition, whose censorial power focused on ensuring that no publication run afoul of the Inquisition’s moral strictures.

Despite these eminently unfavorable conditions, three attempts were made at establishing printing houses in Brazil prior to 1808. The first was initiated by the Dutch during their brief reign over northeastern Brazil in the 17th century. It was fruitless, for Pieter Janzsoon, the printer hired for the task, died weeks after his arrival in Brazil in 1643. While unsuccessful in producing any books inside of Brazil, Dutch rule did produce many accounts of Brazil published in Europe, including Caspar van Baerle’s wonderfully illustrated Rerum per octennium in Brasilia… printed in Amsterdam in 1647.

A second attempt at establishing a press was made in Recife, Pernambuco, though the only evidence of its existence lies in two royal orders, the first from 1706 and the second from 1747, to seize the press’s materials.

The last and only successful attempt at printing in Brazil before 1808 was undertaken by Antonio Isidoro da Fonseca, who, for reasons as of yet uncertain, departed Lisbon in 1746 to found a publishing house in Rio de Janeiro. This daring endeavor would last a mere two years, from 1747-1749, producing a few pamphlets and the first book ever printed in Brazil, Relaçaõ da entrada que fez o excellentissimno, e reverendissimo senhor D. Fr. Antonio do Desterro Malheyro Bispo do Rio de Janeiro. According to Jerônimo Estrada de Barros (2012), the Oliveira Lima Library’s is one of less than ten known copies in the world.

‘Relaçaõ da entrada…’ (1747)

The arrival of the Portuguese court to Rio de Janeiro in 1808 led to the founding that very same year of Brazil’s first officially sanctioned publishing house and resulted in an explosion of books in the colony. Indeed, between 1808 and 1822, the Impressão Régia (Royal Publishing House) “would print nearly 1,500 books and over 700 laws, decrees, alvarás, royal letters, etc” an output which exceeded that of its counterpart in Lisbon. (Gauz, p. 43) Among the Oliveira Lima Library’s many books and pamphlets printed by the Impressão Régia during the waning years of the colonial period is Reflexões sobre alguns dos meios propostos por mais conducentes para melhorar o clima da cidade do Rio de Janeiro, the first book printed by the Impressão Régia in 1808.

‘Reflexões…’ (1808)

By 1822, Brazil had all but achieved independence. No longer beholden to the colonial metropole or the censorship of the Inquisition, publishing would greatly expand, marking the end of the period of early printing in Brazil and the beginning of a period of growth in the book industry in which academics and bibliophiles such as Manoel de Oliveira Lima surely must have reveled.


Borba de Moraes, Rubens. Bibliographia brasiliana: rare books about Brazil published from 1504 to 1900 and works by Brazilian authors of the Colonial period. Los Angeles: UCLA Latin American Center Publications, 1983.

Estrada de Barros, Jerônimo Duque. Na oficina de Antônio Isidoro da Fonseca: levantamento e análise das obras produzidas pelo primeiro tipógrafo da América portuguesa. Fundação Biblioteca Nacional, 2012

Gauz, Valéria. Early Printing in Brazil.

Stillwell, Margaret Bingham. Incunabula and Americana, 1450-1800: a Key to Bibliographical Study. New York: Cooper Square, 1961