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History II: Basque Studies Program 1982-1987
by William A. Douglass
From The Basque Studies Program Newsletter, no. 36, Nov. 1987

In the May 1983 issue (number 27) of this Newsletter we published an article summarizing the Basque Studies Program’s first fifteen years of activity since its inception in 1967. This June the Program celebrated its twentieth anniversary. The accomplishments over the past five years represent more than simply a continuation of previous initiatives, rather, in many respects, the BSP has matured and entered an entirely new phase of its development.

The Library Collection - The heart and soul of any serious academic program is its library. Therefore, from the outset we have placed first priority upon the acquisition of as much Basque-related library material as possible. Throughout our formative years, this effort was directed by Professor Emeritus Jon Bilbao, the world’s leading Basque bibliographer. It required an elaborate strategy. First, it was necessary to develop channels with book dealers, agencies, and institutions in the Basque Country to ensure that we received all new publications. This was not as simple as it might appear since a great deal of important published material (e.g., reports, official documents, private imprints) are not distributed widely or commercially. Second, it was necessary to acquire out-of-print items on an ad hoc basis.This meant exchanging duplicates with other libraries, acquiring private collections as they became available and establishing credibility with an extensive network of used book dealers in Europe and Latin America. Third, it was necessary to institute microfilming of rare of otherwise inaccessible material. Fourth, we began to collect unpublished material such as photographs, tape recorded oral histories, letters, diaries, and personal memorabilia. Much of this material was donated to our collection by private parties interested in its preservation for posterity.

Under Jon Bilbao’s guidance, the collection expanded at a rate of approximately 1,000 items per year. In recognition of its growing importance, the University of Nevada library assigned 1% of its total book budget to the acquisition of Basque books. The spectacular growth was not, however, without its problems. The collection required adequate space as well as proper cataloguing and care. While the space problem was resolved when the BSP received its own quarters in a new annex of the University library, the custodial problems were more difficult. Until recently, neither the BSP nor the University Library was able to afford proper staffing of the collection. There were sporadic attempts by the regular library staff to catalogue some of the books. The day-to-day management of the library was handled on a part-time basis by the BSP classified and professional staff, and by an ever-changing group of student employees. However, much of the effort was stopgap in nature. The situation seemed to worsen progressively as the collection continued to grow.

By the mid-1980s, it was apparent to the Director of the University Library, as well as the University administration, that the Basque collection required immediate assistance. Therefore, in 1986 a Basque Studies Librarian was given top priority within the request for new positions in the support staff category of the University’s budget. It was funded and we were able to secure the services of an outstanding candidate, Maria Otero-Boisvert. During the past eighteen months she has taken firm control of the collection and provided it with the professional care that was sorely lacking. As a result of her efforts, the funds available for Basque books have been doubled to 2% of the total University book budget.

In sum, through the past efforts and dedication of former staff, we were able to establish a major collection of Basque materials, which continues to attract scholars from around the world. The Interlibrary Loan system provides users from throughout the United States with access to its resources even when unable to travel to Reno. The rate of acquisition of new materials is accelerating and management of the collection is now in capable hands. The future of the Basque library at UNR appears very bright.

Visiting Scholars - The dramatic growth of academic activity in the Basque Country, and particularly the emergence of the Basque University, made it increasingly evident that the BSP had to develop stronger ties with European colleagues if it was to remain relevant within the field of Basque Studies. Consequently, over the past five years we have encouraged the residency in Reno of several colleagues from the University of the Basque Country. Anthropologist Joseba Zulaika has completed three residences with the BSP totaling almost two years in duration. He has taught one seminar and prepared a manuscript on Basque political violence for publication in our Basque Book Series. Anthropologist Teresa del Valle spent one year in Reno writing a book and teaching a seminar on Old World Basque Culture. Legal historian Gregorio Monreal spent one year in residence researching a book and several articles on Basque legal history. José Antonio Garmendia of the University of Madrid spent one semester teaching a course on Basque nationalism and conducting library research in industrial sociology.

We also instituted a plan to provide qualified Basque scholars with summer stipends of up to $1,000 in order to permit them to spend time with BSP staff and the library collection. To date, the visitors have included historian Vicente Garmendia (University of Bordeaux); journalist Inés Valdeón of Bilbao; historian José Luis Granja (University of the Basque Country-Lejona); economist Baleren Bakaikoa (University of the Basque Country-Zorroaga); political scientist Pierre Bidart (University of Pau); anthropologist Lourdes Mendez (University of the Basque Country-Lejona); linguist Eusebio Osa (University of the Basque Country-Vitoria); anthropologist Begoña Amezaga (University of the Basque Country and Princeton University); literature specialist Mari Eli Zorriqueta; historian Koldo Larrañaga (University of the Basque Country-Vitoria); sociologist Alfonso Pérez Agote (University of the Basque Country-Lejona); historian Román Basurto (University of the Basque Country-Lejona); political scientist Jasone Astola (University of the Basque Country-Lejona); and novelist Laura Mintegi (University of the Basque Country-Lejona).

The visiting scholar program is a prime means of creating bridges between European and US Basque specialists, while maximizing the use of our library collection. It is our intention to continue it and to broaden its scope.

University Studies in the Basque Country Consortium - Five years ago the BSP, in collaboration with Basque scholars at Boise State University, launched summer, semester, and year-long courses of study in the Basque Country. The following year the University of Nevada Las Vegas joined the UNR-BSU consortium with the fourth member, the University of Iowa, affiliating this year. Subsequently, Xavier University and Randolph Macon University have worked with the Consortium as well. The prime objective of the Consortium is to provide American students with a quality study abroad experience in the Basque Country. Consequently, the main focus has been at the San Sebastián campuses of the University of the Basque Country. There students are taught panic-related courses (language, history, culture, cuisine, etc.) by both Basque University and visiting professors drawn from the participating American universities. A second campus was later established at the University of Pau to accommodate those students desiring a French studies dimension to their experience.

Particularly crucial to the success of the program have been US Coordinator Carmelo Urza, Sandra Ott, the first European Director in San Sebastián, and current European Directors Felix Menchacatorre and Patricia O’Connor. The remaining teaching staff are too numerous to name, but it should be noted that they have received consistently high student evaluations.

The student body reflects a broad range in terms of both interests and geographical background. Of the more than 250 students attending the programs to date, approximately one-third were from the participating universities while the remainder were drawn from across the spectrum of American universities and colleges.

The success of the study abroad programs is reflected in the fact that the current year’s enrollment is the best to date. Indeed, we are so pleased with them that we are currently negotiating for a campus at an Italian university as well. While this will obviously not be Basque-related, if successful, it will contribute indirectly to our efforts in the Basque area by spreading fixed administrative costs more broadly.

Tutorial Ph.D. in Basque Studies - Basque Studies specialists and resources are sprinkled lightly throughout the academic world. At the same time the BSP represented one of the few concentrations or foci of this area of study. It was therefore felt that a tutorial Ph.D. program in Basque Studies at UNR predicated upon the collaboration of the departments of anthropology, history and foreign languages which also incorporated the skills of Basque researchers at other institutions, might provide a sensible formula for furthering the general academic interest in Basque Studies. The plan was accepted by the University three years ago. It was our intention to limit enrollment to one or two students annually. To date four individuals have been admitted. The first student to complete the program, Gorka Aulestia, recently defended his dissertation on the Basque bertsolari or versifier and will receive his doctorate in December. Two other students are currently engaged in doctoral studies.

Basque/English Dictionary - In 1979 Gorka Aulestia, with the assistance of several collaborators, undertook the monumental task of writing a Basque-English dictionary. At the time we felt that it would require three or four years to complete. This assessment proved unduly optimistic since we grossly underestimated the magnitude of the task. Despite the fact that a second lexicographer, Linda White, became heavily involved as well, production of the first volume (Basque to English) required eight years. It is gratifying, however, that it has been completed and is now in the publication process at the University of Nevada Press. In recognition of the importance of this project, the National Endowment for the Humanities recently provided a two-year grant for completion of the English to Basque volume. Work on it is proceeding well at present. In our estimation, completion of this project will constitute one of the BSPs most important legacies.

In conclusion, the past five years have been particularly challenging and productive for the Basque Studies Program. At the same time, from the foregoing it should be evident that the BSP is nothing more than the sum total of the efforts of many persons too numerous to name individually who have believed in the concept or profited from it. These include the many scholars, students and laymen in both the Old and New Worlds who have participated in the common effort or furthered their individual academic goals by virtue of it. At the same time, it includes the thousands of people who have provided their moral and financial support. To all of you eskerrikasko!


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