While researching the role of the Inquisition in Spanish literature, Professor of Hispanic Studies Reyes Coll-Tellechea became intrigued by an anonymously written novel, Lazarillo de Tormes. It was one of only two books with no religious theme that was banned by the Inquisition. “Nobody knows who wrote it, why it attracted the attention of the Inquisition, and how it managed to survive it,” Coll-Tellechea said. "So I went in search for answers to my questions.”
Over the course of three years, Coll-Tellechea visited archives and research libraries in Boston, New York, and Madrid, with no luck. “It became clear that the work of modern literary critics and traditional philologists had carried out on Lazarillo was not going to help me answer my questions. I needed to explore the work of historians, particularly those historians interested in book history.”
Her new direction led her to Spanish historian Mercedes Agulló y Cobo, who specializes in the history of Spanish books. But Agulló’s work had been printed only by small presses in the 1960s-1980s and was not available in any libraries. So Coll-Tellechea wrote to Agulló, who agreed to share her articles, books, documents, and archives. “That is when I realized that the outstanding work and tremendous knowledge of this Spanish historian was out of reach for most researchers and in danger of disappearing—not due to lack of interest, but to limited circulation,” Coll-Tellechea said.
Coll-Tellechea took her concerns to University Librarian Daniel Ortiz-Zapata. “All this work had been done and we didn’t know,” Ortiz-Zapata said. “Many of these publications had very small run and didn’t get distributed or sold, so they end up in some back room and covered in dust.”
Along with librarians Joanne Riley and Andrew Elder, they worked with Agulló and her publishers to get permission to archive her material, forming the Mercedes Agulló y Cobo Digital Library as a joint effort between the Hispanic American and Iberian Studies Department, the Provost’s Office, and the Joseph P. Healey Library. The goal of the project is to offer researchers around the world access to indices to primary sources and other research done by Agulló, which includes the areas of international relations, printing and publishing, and the arts.
“This digital library contains within it examples of what individuals, who are deeply engaged in the art of learning, can accomplish on their own. It also speaks to the ways in which knowledge can now be shared, how the fruits of research can be uncovered, and how the love of learning produces many riches for audiences that refuse to recognize borders,” said Provost Winston Langley.
Last month, Coll-Tellechea, Ortiz-Zapata, and Provost Langley travelled to Cadiz, Spain, to unveil the Mercedes Agulló y Cobo Digital Library with Cadiz Mayor Teofila Martinez and Agulló herself.
At age 87, Agulló is retired but has continued her work as a researcher. The group presented her with a plaque naming her a distinguished fellow of the university archives. “She is a woman of vast knowledge, someone I admired for a long time, someone revered among specialists. She is also wise, warm, generous, and very funny,” Coll-Tellechea said.
The project relies on the Boston Library Consortium Open Content Alliance; all the material that has been digitized is available is openly accessible and available in multiple formats . “We think that what we’re doing is in tune with the movement in higher education to have massive online open courses. We’re applying the same to the idea of open libraries to further research, scholarship and citizenship,” Ortiz-Zapata said. “We’re putting it out there for everyone to see.”
“This is something that we embarked on hoping that we can take the name of UMass Boston and show the quality of excellence that we have here,” Ortiz-Zapata said. “We decided it was a great thing to do to try to showcase what the campus is able to do these days. It’s an example of what we can achieve with the help of others.”