Arbol cronologico geografico del descubrimiento de las Americas, 1864
BY JOSHUA G. ORTIZ BACO
Among many, many other objects, the Arbol cronologico geografico del descubrimiento de las Americas reminds me of how the collections at the Benson can come to life for our students. The lithograph is a snapshot of what can feel to students like a distant and foreign past because it was published in 1864 and represented the Americas as branches of a genealogical tree. However, the first time I saw its peculiar combination of cartography and historical interpretation was not on the paper originally published in Veracruz, Mexico, but through a student-curated digital exhibition that was part of a course taught by Dr. Lina del Castillo. That semester, the CLIR Postdoctoral Fellow at the time, Dr. Jennifer Isasi, had pulled the map for a show-and-tell for undergraduates and it inspired one of the students to learn more about our collections.
These kinds of experiences, as well as the digital projects that I worked on at the Digital Scholarship Office, taught me the importance of making our collections accessible online. Because the students had seen the map up close, they could notice the smudges that reveal the hard-to-describe details of the life of a map. The orientation itself tells a story of how differently people could conceive the world they live in, since the map is aligned as a tree instead of the more conventional map projections. At the same time, the digitized image provided a way for the students to share what they had learned. They could easily rotate the map on their computers to see that it roughly followed the shape of the continents, and they could confirm their reading of the handwritten notes through the transcriptions in the metadata. In this way, students connected with the history of Latin America in a language familiar to them and created new paths to reach our collections.
Joshua G. Ortiz Baco was graduate research assistant and manager of the LLILAS Benson Digital Scholarship Lab (2018–2020).
IN HONOR OF THE CENTENNIAL of the Benson Latin American Collection, staff members submitted short descriptions of some of their favorite items in the collection.