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History of the Basque Studies Program 1967-1982
by William A. Douglass
from The Basque Studies Program Newsletter, No. 27, May 1983

The Basque Studies Program was conceived in 1961 when the University of Nevada System decided to create an independent research division to be known as the Desert Research Institute. Several consultants of national prominence were brought to Nevada to advise the University regarding establishment of the new institute’s research priorities. It was decided that the focus should be placed upon arid lands and regional western U.S. studies. Three consulting anthropologists (Dr. Robert Heizer of the University of California, Berkeley, Dr. Omer Stewart of the University of Colorado, and Dr. Fred Eggan of the University of Chicago) recommended that the Desert Research Institute establish a Basque Studies Program. They reasoned that the Basques were present throughout the region and that their close identification with the sheep industry made them a key human factor in any attempt to evaluate the ecology of the Great Basin and adjacent areas. The fact that the Basques also were one of Europe’s most fascinating peoples was viewed as another potential for research. In short, the consultants believed that Basque Studies offered an unusual and unique area of opportunity, particularly since no other American university was engaged in them.

The University of Nevada accepted this recommendation and in theory became committed to the establishment of a Basque Studies Program. However, given the lack of specialists in the field it was not possible to implement the concept immediately. In the early 1960s Robert Laxalt, director of the University of Nevada Press, planned a year’s sabbatical leave in the Basque country to write a book about the area. He was commissioned to make initial contacts in Europe and to ascertain the availability of library materials dealing with the Basques. Through his efforts the University of Nevada was given the opportunity to acquire the personal library of the Basque scholar Philippe Veyrin.

In 1967 the Desert Research Institute hired William A. Douglass to launch and coordinate the Basque Studies Program. Douglass had previously conducted social anthropological research in two Basque villages (Echalar, Navarra and Murelaga, Vizcaya). The following year Professor Jon Bilbao, the world expert on Basque Bibliography, joined the staff. Douglass and Bilbao jointly initiated a study of the historical movement of Basques into the New World.

Until 1972 the BSP remained a function of the Desert Research Institute. William H. Jacobsen, Jr., a linguist in the English Department of the University of Nevada Reno, became linguistics coordinator for the program. Eloy Placer, an Alavese Basque and Basque literature specialist, joined the faculty of the Department of Foreign Languages. Yoshiko Hendricks, a professional librarian with a longstanding interest in the Basques, became a staff member of the University library and took an active part in the BSP.

In 1972, in light of the fact that the Program had developed many non-research activities such as instruction, maintenance and development of a library collection, a summer school in Europe and a book series, the BSP was transferred from the Desert Research Institute to the University of Nevada Reno campus.

Since the transfer there have been several personnel changes. Eloy Placer’s sudden death deprived us of an enthusiastic and productive colleague. Juan Magunagoicoechea, Dr. Placer’s replacement in the Department of Foreign Languages, continued our efforts in the area of Basque literature. In 1976 he decided to leave the university. That year Gorka Aulestia joined the staff as our Basque language and literature specialist. Between 1974 and 1979 Virginia Jacobsen served as assistant coordinator, as did Darlene Ammons between 1979 and 1981. Jill Berner and Linda White provide the program with efficient and dedicated service in their capacities as secretaries and library assistants.

Over the years the BSP has accorded Adjunct Professor status to several Basque specialists who are either situated at foreign universities or who were not currently affiliated with a four-year American institution. These have included Dr. Maggi Nicholson of the College of Marin, Dr. Constancio Castro of the University of Caracas, Dr. Sandra Ott of Oxford University, and Drs. Richard H. Lane and Dorothy Legarreta.

Research Projects
Since its inception the Basque Studies Program has conducted several research projects. Jon Bilbao has continued his bibliographic work since joining our staff. While in Reno he has published ten of the eleven volumes of his massive Eusko-Bibliographia. This is today the major reference work in Basque Studies, and his presence here makes the BSP a major world clearing house for Basque research. Professor Bilbao currently directs the Institute of Basque Bibliography and Institute of the Basque Diaspora in Vitoria (Alava). Both were outgrowths of BSP activities and the respective staffs continue to collaborate closely.

In 1968 William A. Douglass and Jon Bilbao initiated research on the historical movement of Basques into the New World. It required approximately five years to complete and took them throughout the American West and to Europe, Mexico, Columbia, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, and Venezuela. This research resulted in publication of the book Amerikanuak, Basques in the New World. However, in many respects it is ongoing since the BSP regards investigation of Basque settlement in the New World and the contributions of Basque-Americans as one of its primary missions. Between 1979 and 1981 the Program sponsored archival research in California, Nevada and Idaho with grant support from the U.S.-Spanish Joint Committee for Educational and Cultural Affairs. In 1979 Douglass published Beltran, Basque Sheepman of the American West, a biography of a Basque sheep rancher in eastern Nevada.

William A. Douglass has continued his research into the nature of Old World Basque rural society. Periodically, he revisits the two villages in order to determine the social changes that have transpired. He has also done fieldwork among the Basque sugarcane cutters of Australia and is preparing a book about Basque history in that part of the world.

William H. Jacobsen, Jr. has initiated research on several aspects of the language, and particularly tonality as a clue to reconstruction of proto-Basque. This work is potentially of considerable importance to our understanding of the origin of the language and its dialectal variations. He has reported his findings at several conferences and in a number of publications.

Both Eloy Placer and Juan Magunagoicoechea published findings on several aspects of Basque literature, and particularly the work of the famed novelist Pio Baroja.

Robert Laxalt has continued his well-known literary approach to an understanding of Basque society and culture. During the past several years he has published one book and two National Geographic articles dealing with life in the Pyrenees.

In 1973 Richard W. Etulain, an historian at Idaho State University, joined the BSP for one year as a post-doctoral fellow supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Etulain has subsequently published articles on the nature of Basque-American society and the image of the Basques in the literature of the American West. He and William A. Douglass recently edited an annotated bibliography of Basque-American studies.

In 1976 Robert Herman began a project on Basque-American musicology, supported by the Nevada Council on the Arts and the Gannett Foundation. Richard Lane, formerly a professor in the Anthropology Department of the University of Idaho joined our staff as an adjunct professor. He spent several years engaged in the photo documentation of the life of the Basque sheepherder. His photo book on life in the sheep camps is currently under preparation.

In 1979 Gorka Aulestia began preparation of a major Basque-American dictionary. The Basque to English volume (containing approximately 60,000 entries) is now completed and is undergoing word processing and editing prior to publication. Preparation of the English to Basque volume continues at present. Once completed, the dictionary will represent one of the most significant contributions of the BSP.

Also in 1978–79, Jon Bilbao conducted several months of field and archival research among Basques in the Philippines.

During the current academic year Joseba Zulaika is in residence as a post-doctoral fellow, preparing the results of his anthropological research in Itziar (Gipuzkoa) for publication.

In addition to its staff research efforts the BSP has served in a consulting capacity to several organizations engaged in some aspect of Basque Studies. These include National Geographic magazine, Time-Life Cookbooks series, Sunset magazine, Modern Maturity magazine, The New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, the Associated Press, the NBC Today Show, The Smithsonian Institution, and the Spokane World’s Fair. The BSP has also served as a consultant to three documentary film projects dealing with the Basque sheepherder.

The Library
From the outset it was our belief that no serious effort could be launched without first establishing an adequate library. Most major American universities possess 20 or 30 items dealing with the Basques. In 1967 the Basque Studies Program acquired the personal library of Philippe Veyrin (about 750 items). This became the foundation of our collection. It contained many rare and out-of-print works. In 1973 we acquired the private library of another Basque scholar, Ramon Goni. Since Goni’s collection included primarily Spanish Basque materials, it was a nice complement to Veyrin’s predominantly French Basque holdings. At the same time the university provided a generous book budget (currently $10,000 annually) which allowed us to acquire most of the contemporary publications as they appeared, and purchase rare books whenever they became available. Many agencies and private individuals in Europe, Latin America and the United States have donated items as well. Finally, we have an ongoing microfilm project designed to fill in the gaps.

Today our holdings number over 15,000 titles and 400 serials and comprise one of the best Basque collections in the world. In general terms it is more comprehensive than any existing European collection. In specifics it possesses the best collection anywhere of information regarding New World Basques. The collection also includes many rare books, unpublished documents, and several thousand photographs. Scholars from around the country and from abroad regularly spend lengthy periods of time in Reno utilizing the library. At the same time, most of the books are available on interlibrary loan and may be acquired from us through your public librarian.

Basque Publications
From the outset it was clear that one of the greatest needs was to provide comprehensive English language works dealing with the Basques. It was therefore decided to create a Basque Book Series within the University of Nevada Press. The series is edited by William A. Douglass. To date there have been eight publications:

Rodney Gallop, A Book of the Basques
Robert Laxalt, In a Hundred Graves: A Basque Portrait
Stanley G. Payne, Basque Nationalism
William A. Douglass and Jon Bilbao, Amerikanuak: Basques in the New World
Gustav Henningsen, The Witches’ Advocate
Robert P. Clark, The Basques: The Franco Years and Beyond
Beltran Paris and William A. Douglass, Beltran: Basque Sheepman of the American West
Rachel Bard, Navarra, the Durable Kingdom

There are currently six additional titles under consideration or in various stages of production.

The Basque Book Series has enjoyed phenomenal success. The average press run for a university press book is 1000-2000 copies. The smallest run for any title in our series has been 3000 copies, and the Gallop work has been through four editions totaling 8000 copies. This is particularly gratifying since it is our prime means of meeting one of the BSPs major goals, that of bringing information about the Basques to the general public.

The Basque Book Series has a life of its own in that the profits go toward the production of future titles. In the case of Robert Laxalt’s book the author’s royalties revert to the series. Douglass and Bilbao used their royalty to establish a research and student scholarship fund for the Basque Studies Program.

Four other publishing projects are worthy of mention. In 1972 the program sponsored a linguistics seminar in Europe. The resulting student and faculty papers were published by the Basque language institute Seminario de Filología Vasca “Julio de Urquijo” of San Sebastián. In August of 1974, a Basque-American studies workshop was held in Reno. As a result of that gathering William A. Douglass, Richard W. Etulain and William H. Jacobsen, Jr. edited a total of nineteen essays that appeared as a volume in the Social Sciences Publications series of the Desert Research Institute. The volume is entitled Anglo-American Contributions to Basque Studies: Essays in Honor of Jon Bilbao. As a result of archival research conducted under the auspices of the BSP, the Instituto de la Diaspora Vasca of Vitoria has published three works regarding Basques in the United States. Co-authored by Iban Bilbao and Chantal Eguiluz, they are entitled Vascos Ilegados en el puerto de Nueva York, 1897-1902. Vascos en el censo de población de California 1900. Finally, the BSP has instituted an Occasional Papers Series. The works will be co-published by Associated Faculty Press (the parent company of Kennikat Press). The first title, a sociological study of the Basques of San Francisco, is currently in press and should be available by this summer. Four additional titles are under preparation at this time.

The Basque Studies Program publishes its Newsletter twice annually. It has a readership of approximately 8000 subscribers throughout this country and abroad. While the Newsletter is primarily designed to inform the public of BSP activities, it also contains articles of intrinsic educational and literary value. The BSP also publishes the specialized newsletter of the Anglo-American Basque Studies Society which is distributed to over one hundred subscribers.

Courses and Summer Programs
The Basque Studies Program provides courses on an intermittent basis in three departments of the University of Nevada Reno. These include Basque linguistics, literature and language in the Department of Foreign Languages, Old World Basque culture in the Department of Anthropology, and Basque history in the History Department. Some of these courses have been offered in other Nevada communities through university extension. In light of considerable interest in our courses outside of the State of Nevada, in 1969 we resolved to offer a Basque Studies Summer Session Abroad in Europe. This program has been held on five occasions. Between 15 and 35 students have enrolled in the program. Most are from somewhere in the American West, about one-half are of Basque descent. We plan to continue this program on a once-every-three year basis. In the past this program has received financial assistance from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Lynne Fereday Scholarship Memorial, Inc. of Boise (in the form of student loans).

In 1974 the BSP sponsored a Basque language summer course in Reno that was taught by Jon Oñatibia who was brought from the Basque Country for the purpose.

During the coming academic year the program is co-sponsoring (with Boise State University) a year-abroad program for American students to be held beginning in September of this year at the San Sebastián campus of the University of the Basque Country. Ten other American universities are currently contemplating joining the consortium, and it is our intention to make it a regular, on-going program.

Public Service
Staff members of the Basque Studies Program are constantly asked to lecture to service clubs, schools, church groups, etc. both within and outside of the State of Nevada. The current N.A.B.O.-sponsored slide shows are an example of the way in which we try to service the public demand for information regarding the Basques.

To finance this diverse range of activities over the fifteen-year period of its existence the Basque Studies Program has received support from many sources. Initial funding was provided by the Desert Research Institute with monies that originated with the Fleischmann foundation. The first year approximately $10,000 was raised from private donors which permitted purchase of the Veyrin collection and program development. In succeeding years we have been fortunate to receive additional private donations. Most notably, the Gastanaga family of Reno established a fund that for a several-year period provided the BSP with a monthly stipend. Other individual donors have been most generous. Also, several families have established funds in memory of their deceased loved ones. To date private donations have approximated a quarter of a million dollars. These funds have provided the BSP with the flexibility that made it possible to develop new and innovative directions in Basque Studies. Without this support there would have been no Basque Book Series, no Newsletter, no Basque Studies Summer Sessions Abroad, no Basque-English dictionary project, and our library collection would be much smaller than it is today.

At the same time the basic funding for the BSP rests heavily upon state of Nevada appropriated monies. Since the 1972 transfer of many BSP activities to the Reno campus, the Program is a part of the regular university budget. Currently, the state of Nevada provides two professional positions, one secretary, and a modest operating budget.

A particularly critical source of funding over the years has been federal, state and private foundation grants. In 1969 Douglass and Bilbao received approximately $30,000 from the National Institute of Mental Health to conduct a study of “Ethnicity Maintenance among Basque-Americans.” In 1971 Douglass received a ten-year Career Development Award (1971-1981) from NIMH which included funding for various aspects of Basque research in the American West, Europe and Australia. In 1974 Richard W. Etulain received a year of support from the National Endowment for the Humanities for a year’s residence in Reno. In 1975 the BSP received approximately $50,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Hilliard Education for preparation of a Basque-English dictionary (unfortunately the project had to be cancelled due to the unavailability of key personnel). In 1975 N.A.B.O. provided half of the costs of producing two slides and a traveling library module. The Banco de Vizcaya provided $5,000 for the same project. In 1976 Robert Herman received approximately $5,000 from the Nevada State Council on the Arts and $6,000 from the Gannett Foundation for a study of Basque musicology. Between 1979 and 1981 the BSP received approximately $40,000 from the U.S.-Spanish Joint Committee for Educational Cultural Affairs for archival research of nineteenth century Basque immigration in the American West. In 1980 William A. Douglass received approximately $60,000 from the National Science Foundation for a comparative study of Basque and Italian immigration in Australia. In 1981 the Summer Institute of Linguistics provided $9,000, the Hilliard Foundation $14,000, and the University of Nevada Foundation $5,000 for the Basque-English dictionary project. The National Endowment for the Humanities has just awarded $64,000 for cataloguing of the Basque library collection.

There is another form of support of the Basque Studies Program which deserves special mention. Since its inception the BSP has benefited from literally thousands of hours of donated time. For many individuals, participating in our activities has been a labor of love. Interested persons have volunteered for such thankless jobs as babysitting the telephone when staff was not available (there was a time when financial support was so minimal that we had a major problem keeping the doors open during business hours). Some time contributions have been major. For example, Virginia Jacobsen donated ten to twenty hours weekly for two years before becoming a member of our staff. Betsy Zane, a faculty wife, worked steadily for four years on a bibliography of Basque publications in English. Janet Inda worked for more than a year on the N.A.B.O.-sponsored slide show. Several women from the Reno Basque Club have helped label and sort the mailings of our Newsletter. It is this kind of dedication that makes the Basque Studies Program unique in many respects.

In conclusion, we would like to emphasize that we do not regard the BSP as a strictly University of Nevada undertaking. While the program is housed in Reno, its activities are regional, national, and even international in scope. We hope that you will regard the Basque Studies Program as your program and feel free to call upon our staff in any fashion. If you happen to be in the Reno area, we would welcome a visit. We are housed on the second floor of the University Library in room 274.

Note: The Center for Basque Studies is currently located on the third floor (north entrance) of the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center. Map


Copyright © 2000 the Center for Basque Studies, University of Nevada, Reno. All rights reserved. Updated 13 June 2000. E-mail: