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Progress and Backwardness in Book Accumulation: Bancroft, Basadre, and Their Libraries

  • Ricardo D. Salvatore (a1)

The essay examines the conditions of book accumulation in two places in the world economy, California and Peru, through the narratives left by book collector Hubert Bancroft and librarian and historian Jorge Basadre. A reading of these reveals the complex interrelations between socioeconomic development and cultural accumulation. In California, Bancroft turned his fortune accumulated through business into a unique book collection and this, in turn, was placed at the service of a “factory of history” that produced a multivolume “History of the Pacific States of North America.” In the Peruvian case, after a fire destroyed most of the collections of the National Library of Lima, historian Basadre directed an effort of reconstruction that led him to reflect upon the state's neglect of cultural patrimony, popular disdain for high culture, and Peru's long tradition of exporting books and documents to foreign collectors and libraries. Basadre's reflections speak of the position of a peripheral intellectual within a context of underdevelopment. I examine the centripetal logic of book accumulation and call for further engagement with this neglected side of cultural history.

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