Curtis, A. Wilgus, 1898-1981

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Curtis, A. Wilgus, 1898-1981

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A. Curtis Wilgus was born in Plattville, Wisconsin in 1898. Wilgus, an educator, bibliographer, historian, author, lecturer and delegate to several Pan American conferences, contributed to the development of Latin American studies in the United States. He developed an interest in Latin American history during his years as a graduate student, and received a doctorate in Latin American history from the University of Wisconsin. From 1924-30 Wilgus taught history at the University of South Carolina, established a night school and organized the South Carolina History Association.

From 1930-51, Wilgus held a teaching position at the George Washington University. He served as academic dean for two years and organized and directed the Center for Inter-American Studies. The Center, which opened in 1932, coordinated and promoted the teaching of Latin American affairs. Through the Center, Wilgus arranged annual seminar conferences. These symposium classes, taught by leading authorities, drew graduate students from around the country. Wilgus edited the seminar lectures, published by the University Press in the following volumes: Modern Hispanic America, The Caribbean Area, Argentina, Brazil and Chile Since Independence, and Colonial Hispanic America.

As director, Wilgus also arranged exhibits of Latin American textiles and art, promoted Latin American studies in high school history clubs, and supplied high schools with books, pamphlets and photographs. He cultivated relations with Latin American diplomats and with other Pan American organizations, and organized the Center's "Pan American Day" programs.

Upon leaving George Washington University, Wilgus accepted a post at the University of Florida at Gainseville where he organized and directed another Latin American Center, the School of Inter- American Studies. Wilgus began another series of annual conferences and also edited lectures for publication. During his years at the University of Florida, Wilgus focused on Caribbean studies, organizing several conferences on this topic.

Throughout his career, Wilgus concentrated on bibliographic work. He viewed this scholarship as the key to the progress of Latin American studies. He prepared a number of special bibliographies published by the Pan American Union, and with other scholars he established the U.S. Office of Education's Inter-American Bibliographical and Library Association (IABLA), which published the Hispanic American Historical Review (HAHR). Wilgus also established the "Door to Latin America," a bibliographical segment published in several magazines, and later published separately as a pamphlet.

In addition to these activities, Wilgus lectured on historical and educational topics at more than fifty-two universities and colleges around the country. He wrote hundreds of works on Latin America including book reviews, articles, books, bibliographies, syllabi, maps, charts and other teaching materials. He edited World Affairs and The Caravan, and served as editor, or consultant on Latin America, to several publishing and encyclopedia companies. He corresponded with Latin American scholars from several different countries in order to coordinate activities. Wilgus also served as director or founder of a number of Latin American organizations. He received decorations and honors from various Latin American governments and organizations, and held important posts, serving as a consultant to the United States Department of State and the United States Office of Education. Wilgus was appointed by President John F. Kennedy to serve on the Board of Foreign Scholarships, and served with Vice President Nelson Rockefeller as coordinator for the Office of Inter-American Affairs.

In 1967 Wilgus left the University of Florida and moved to Miami where he continued to write and to act as a consultant on Latin America. He also participated in public relations and fund raising activities for various organizations. Wilgus sold his private library containing thousands of volumes to several universities in the South Florida area, and began works on other aspects of Latin America.

He died in January, 1981.


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