An American Archive: The Vast Collection of Venezuelan Entrepreneur Pedro Manuel Arcaya Is a Comprehensive History of the Western Hemisphere

By Kiernan, James Patrick | Americas (English Edition), November-December 2009 | Go to article overview

An American Archive: The Vast Collection of Venezuelan Entrepreneur Pedro Manuel Arcaya Is a Comprehensive History of the Western Hemisphere


Kiernan, James Patrick, Americas (English Edition)


The Arcaya Collection of more than 147,000 volumes was once the largest private library in Latin America. Until his death in 1958, when the collection was given to the National Library of Venezuela. Pedro Manuel Arcaya--lawyer, sociologist, historian, and politician--had amassed a library of incalculable value which included not only books but manuscripts, newspapers, magazines, archival documents, pamphlets, leaflets, and maps. This special library within the National Library offers an iconographic wealth that reflects the immensely wide vision and life-long dedication of its collector. The collection is clearly defined in its direction: it has Venezuela as its central focus and then expands geographically and temporally to encompass all of the Americas over the past 500 years, and then again to a wider but essentially European past and longer temporal focus. It includes first-hand narratives of discovery and conquest; chronicles of adventurers, missionaries, pirates, traders, religious and scientific explorers; studies of indigenous peoples and civilizations; histories and personal remembrances of the wars of independence of the American republics, their emerging histories, and the political philosophies associated with them; accounts of conflicting boundary claims and disputes; judicial commentaries; and reports of the dealings of the Americas with the widening world.

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Pedro Manuel Arcaya (1874-1958), scion of a wealthy, traditional family, was born and raised in the colonial town of Coro (now a UNESCO World Heritage site). He received his legal degree in 1890 and his doctorate degree in political science from the Central University of Venezuela in 1895. Parallel to the life-long trajectory of his legal and political career, which included state senator, attorney general of the republic, drafter of the national civil code and the code of criminal procedure, and eventually ambassador to the United States (1930-1935), be conducted a series of studies on the history, ethnography, sociology, and linguists of Venezuela and perused what was to engage him until his death--the collection and formation of his library.

As a journalist and public intellectual, he formed, along with Jose Gil Fortoul, Laureano Lanz Vallenilla, and others, what was known as "Venezuelan positivist generation," positivist intellectuals who were essentially apologists for the governments of dictator Juan Vicente Gomez (1908-1935), and tent a certain polish to the regime's facade. As positivists they believed that it was first necessary to bring order to Venezuela and establish conditions for progress and material advance and that without economic growth, political democracy was a sham. The surge in petroleum production brought wealth and the positivists became the leading propagandists for Juan Vicente Gomez. After the passing of Gomez (in 1935) and Arcaya's subsequent spirited defense of the person and governments of the dictator, he largely retired from public life.

Pedro Manuel Arcaya devoted his remaining years to the study of the jurisprudence, sociology, and the history of Venezuela. To serve this purpose and because he remained an unrepentant bibliophile, his library continued to grow in size and quality, for which Venezuela is eternally indebted.

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INDIAN SNAKE CATCHER

The Indian Tribes of Guiana (London, 1868)

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PATAGONS DU SUD

Historia de la Patagonia, Tierra del Fuego e Islas Malvinas (Barcelona, 1841)

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THE KURAHUS IN CEREMONIAL DRESS

22nd Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology (Washington, 1904)

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UN INDIO

Atlas Geografico del Peru (Paris, 1865)

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

LES GRANDS BOIS DE LA GUYANE

Voyages Dans l'Amerique du Sud (Paris, 1883)

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

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ACCAWAY-MADCHEN AUS BRITISH GUAYANA

Ethnographisches und Verwandtes aus Guayana (Leipzig, 1893)

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FUNERAILLES D'UN INDIEN GUARAUNOS DE L'ORENOQUE

Terre-Ferme, Amerique Meridionale Moeurs et Coutumes des Peuples (Paris, 1814)

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CORDILLERENPLAD

Von Tropische Tieflande zum Ewigen Schnee (Leipzig)

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IROQUOIS SCALPANT SON ENNEMI MOURANT

Canada, Amerique Septentrionale Moeurs et Coutumes des Peuples (Paris, 1814)

CARIBI

Raccolta di Viaggi dalla Scoperta del Nuovo Continente (Prato, 1840)

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CARIBI CHILD SEIZED BY A CQUGAR

The Indian Tribes of Guiana (London, 1868)

TETE D'INDIEN MAUHES

Preparee par les Mundurucus (Rio-Arinos, Bresil) Expedition dans les Parties Centrales de l'Amerique du Sud (Paris, 1855)

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PRECIPITOUS DESCENT OF A CORDILLERA OF THE ANDES

Journal of a Residence and Travels in Colombia (London, 1825)

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CHIOTAY

Chef des Cherentes, Rio Tocantins, Bresil Vues et Scenes Recueilles Pendant l'Expedition dans les Parties Centrales de l'Amerique du Sud (Paris, 1853)

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

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1) TAMARIN A FRONT JAUNE (Midas ftavifrons)

2) TAMARIN DE WEDDELL (Midas weddellii)

3) TAMARIN DE DEVILLE (Midas devilli)

Expedition dans les Parties Centrales de l'Amerique du Sud (Paris, 1855)

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CATTLEYA MENDELLI, var.

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