News | October 12, 2021

Cal State LA, USC Receive Grant to Digitize Mesoamerican and Spanish Colonial Material

Credit: Cal State LA Special Collections & Archives/Mesoamerica and Colonial Mexico Rare Book Collection

Manuscrit Mexicain by Henri de Saussure.

Los Angeles — Cal State LA and USC have been awarded a nearly $500,000 grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources to digitize Mesoamerican and Spanish colonial materials.
Through the three-year Digitizing Hidden Special Collections and Archives grant, Cal State LA and USC will receive support for the digitization of cultural artifacts, rare books, and photography collections from their libraries. The project aims to preserve a diverse and visually compelling record of Mesoamerican and Spanish colonial cultures and many facets of the region’s complex history.  
“The work to digitize and preserve our unique and distinctive collections has been a strategic priority for the University Library and we are excited and honored to have been selected to receive the Council on Library and Information Resource’s Digitizing Hidden Special Collections and Archives award,” said Carlos Rodriguez, dean of the University Library at Cal State LA.
The grant will help digitize, physically preserve, and provide digital public access to rare books and artifacts from Cal State LA’s Mesoamerica and Colonial Mexico Rare Book Collection and MAW Collection.  

The Mesoamerica and Colonial Mexico Rare Book Collection is comprised of papers and research works of Wayne Ruwet, an anthropology scholar and book collector; John B. Glass, an authority on pre-Columbian hieroglyphic manuscripts; and H.B. Nicholson, a scholar of the Aztecs. The H.B. Nicholson collection includes approximately 10,000 slides originally housed in the Cal State LA Archaeology Laboratory.
The MAW Collection contains clay, stone, and metal artifacts representing the Tlatilco, Las Bocas, Chupícuaro, Mezcala, Olmec, Mixtec, Shaft Tomb, Tlapacoya, Zapotec, Maya, and Teotihuacan cultures and traditions from the pre-classic, proto-classic, and classic periods.
Mario H. Ramirez, head of special collections and archives at the University Library at Cal State LA, said the grant will help “highlight the profound connections between the histories of Mexico, Central America, and the diverse communities of Southern California.”
Through the grant, the Cal State LA-USC team will highlight the contributions of Aztec, Maya, Shaft Tomb, and other Indigenous cultures. The digital collections also trace contacts with Spanish colonial entities, the changes in the Mesoamerican built environment over time, and the role of the Mesoamerican past in the formation of Latinx identities in the United States.
Ramirez and Azalea Camacho of Cal State LA will lead the joint project team, along with Barbara Robinson of the USC Libraries’ Boeckmann Center for Iberian and Latin American Studies. Team members include Jamie Zeffery of Cal State LA and Bill Cunningham, Wayne Shoaf, Louise Smith, Tim Stanton, and Michaela Ullmann of the USC Libraries.   

The joint team will also collaborate on digital humanities projects utilizing the open-source Scalar platform, primary source literacy initiatives, and exhibitions. The team will work with a number of K-12 schools in the greater Los Angeles area and community partners to expand access to rich materials documenting the Mesoamerican past.  
The rare materials from the archival collections held by both Cal State LA and USC will eventually be freely accessible via the Cal State LA digital library, the USC Digital Library, Calisphere, and the Digital Public Library of America.