The San Carlos University in Guatemala, is the biggest and oldest university in Central America, with well over 150,000 students at present.
Each faculty (i.e. department) has it’s own library, and I would have loved to have seen the history department’s library, except the area seemed to be closed down for the summer.
So, instead, I visited the university’s general library. The facilities were fine, and on the inside looked like any other U.S. university library built in the 1960s. The book collection, however, was both quite limited and quite worn. In some sense, it is a good sign that the books are well worn. I don’t know if this is because students here spend a lot of time in the library reading, or if, perhaps, private purchase of books is less common that reading book in the library, or other factors at play, like lack of climate-controlled stacks. At any rate, most every book seemed to have been read 10 times over, creased, run through the laundry cycle, and put back on the shelf.
I sought out the history section. As one would expect, most of the history books in this general library are about central American history. The history of the United States section is maybe 100 books, mostly focusing on U.S. diplomacy, imperialism, and expansion. The standard Tindall and Shi was there.
I looked for a philosophy of history section, or books on methods and I found short list. Again, I would expect more in the library of history faculty.
The ones I came across were an odd lot: out of date and all from the 1950s or so. All of these were in English (copies probably seldom read)
Social Science Research Council: Theory and Practice…Report..
G.J. Renier, History, It’s Purpose and Method
Collingwood, The Idea of History
Jacques Barzun: The Modern Researcher
I was expecting to find Marx there, but I’m sure he’s elsewhere. Nothing in English (or apparently in Spanish) on the philosophy of history, or historical methods from past the 1960s was available. I’m a bit surprised that Collingwood and Barzun, both fairly conservative historians, were on the shelves. Then again, perhaps no body bothered to read them and expel them.
Works by Schlesinger and Hobsbawm were available, on the shelves, and in Spanish translation. Also on the shelves was a multi-volume works of Kim Il Sung, printed in Pyonyang in Spanish in 1983.
Outside of the history department, and around the campus are murals depicting scenes in the history of the class struggle.
Sometimes, its easy to notice bias or propaganda when you are visiting a new place, but you don’t recognize it in your own backyard. I’m sure the American and Catholic statues around Georgetown University push a certain message that I’m hardly aware of. Yet, I like to think of history as a fairly neutral ideological discipline. From the mid 1950s, San Carlos was the dream university of the central American socialists. It became official a Marxist university. I wonder if non-Marxist history was tolerated? Because what is history with only one school of thought, one prescribed answer? It is no longer much of a search for truth.
I’m really eager to know what books the history faculty holds. What is the status of the philosophy of history and historical methods in the Spanish-speaking world?