WASHINGTON (CNS) — The Catholic University of America in Washington hosts one of the largest collections of Portuguese and Brazilian art and printed works in the world in its Oliveira Lima Library.
The reading room of the library, which was founded in 1920, is temporarily closed because of an intensive reorganization process that will last throughout the summer, but its director talked to Catholic News Service about the library’s enormous collection of manuscripts, rare books, pamphlets, maps, broadsides and religious artifacts.
All the materials were gathered by a Portuguese-Brazilian diplomat named Manoel de Oliveira Lima, who lived from 1867 to 1928. Oliveira Lima spent much of his life traveling for education and for business.
“The goal of the library is to provide access to a rich collection of printed and art materials for the international research community,” said the library’s Thomas Cohen, “to collaborate with peer institutions for promoting interest in Portugal and Brazil, and to be a resource for scholars and the public for research on Portuguese and Brazilian exploration.”
Over the decades, Oliveira Lima collected thousands of works, most of which were focused on Portuguese and Brazilian history, culture, politics and economics. A lover of original sources, Oliveira Lima also collected hundreds of first editions of books and manuscripts, including literature from the old Brazilian Empire.
Cohen, who is the library’s third director and an associate professor of history at Catholic University, wrote a guide to the collection and collaborated with experts to catalog most of the works in the library. As director, he has extensive knowledge of the library and its contents. The library also has a website, http://libraries.cua.edu/oliveiralima.
“Oliveira Lima was farsighted,” Cohen told CNS. “He didn’t just collect rare books, but also ephemera (paper items). So we have a large collection of pamphlets, news clippings, postcards … even menus from the places he visited as a diplomat.”
The rarities and memorabilia provide a significant historical insight into the politics, culture, society and economics of early Portuguese and Brazilian life. From the first written account of the discovery of Brazil to the first written account of its struggle for independence — Portugal first claimed Brazil in 1500 — Brazilian artifacts make up the bulk of the collection. It also includes travelers’ accounts of early 19th-century Brazil; every letter from Jesuit missionaries stationed in Brazil; and biographies of early Jesuit martyrs.
The letters, accounts and pamphlets form a complete picture of conquest, colonization and Catholic Church history in Portugal and its colonies.
The religious artifacts, including paintings of wars, religious figures and religious events, all combined with the collection of letters give an interesting look at colonialism and evangelization by the Jesuits in Portugal and Brazil.
The library also contains 17th-century books and pamphlets about the Dutch invasion in 1624 and its colonization of northern Brazil; pamphlets concerning Brazilian independence; the minutes of the first representative assembly; and the records of the Brazilian legislature since 1823.
Brazil first declared its independence from Portugal in 1822; this was formally recognized with a treaty signed by both Brazil and Portugal in late 1825.
The library, however, is not confined to books and other printed works alone. It has 18th-century maps of the New World and hosts a vast collection of rare watercolors and other paintings, including a 1669 landscape painted by Dutch master Frans Post, who was the first European artist to paint landscapes of the Americas.
The library also often loans materials to museums all over the world, but much of the collection has been digitized and is accessible online for public viewing. While most of the collection has yet to be digitized, many of the texts and artifacts are available via the Washington Research Library Consortium at http://catalog.wrlc.org.