Just occasionally (and no more than just occasionally) book reviews should become frankly celebratory in tone, and this is just such an occasion. The appearance of a considerable aid to scholarship, which itself is a considerable work of scholarship, is very far from being an everyday event, and this observation is uncomfortably true of the field labelled “Latin American Studies,” lashed as it is by the frequent and tiresome blizzards of ephemeral fashion. Peter Walne’s superb compendium, however, is a quite admirable example of what the perennial virtues of scholarship can accomplish. The amount of scrupulous, painstaking effort employed by Walne and his various collaborators must have been prodigious, and one should remember that for none of them was it a full-time occupation. It was, in a real sense, a labor of love; and they have placed all historians working on Latin American topics very deeply and permanently in their debt. Let us give them the unqualified praise they deserve.
Outside Latin America itself, and also, of course, the Iberian Peninsula, it is probably true to say that no country offers so much in the way of primary sources for the study of Latin American history as does Great Britain. There are many obvious reasons why this should be so. The lengthy colonial connection with the Caribbean; the recurrent rivalries with Spain; the occasional forays against the Spanish American Empire; the tangential involvement in the Creole straggle for independence; and, not least, the extensive commercial predominance enjoyed in the Latin American states in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries—Great Britain’s history has touched Latin America’s at many points and in many periods. British sources (or documents which have ended up in the British Isles) can throw, and have thrown, a great deal of light on these various points of contact, and a certain amount of light on the internal history of Latin America itself. Indeed, the very richness of British sources carries certain dangers for British scholars themselves; it has done something, in the past at least, to restrict the study of Latin America in Great Britain to those themes best suited to observation through a British lens—and those themes are by no means the whole story.
Walne’s Guide is based on a meticulous county-by-county survey of all existing British (and Irish) records relating to Latin America and the Caribbean—the book would inevitably have been somewhat slimmer had the West Indies been left out. The great London manuscript collections, especially the Additional Manuscripts at the British Museum and the various notable series housed at the Public Record Office, occupy a foremost place, as might be expected. But there are plenty of fascinating materials to be found elsewhere: in the great copyright libraries (notably Cambridge, Oxford, and Edinburgh), in the county record offices, and in numerous private collections. Each entry is admirably clear and concise, and there are useful explanatory notes about the principal collections. There is also an excellent survey of Business Archives (pp. 442-493), expertly prepared by Christopher Platt of Oxford.
This Guide is a model of its kind. It reflects the highest credit on its editor, on those who helped him, on the Institute of Latin American Studies in London, and on the Oxford University Press. It is as nearly definitive as such a work can be, and it is likely to be consulted, used, and blessed by historians for decades to come.