Richard Oram

Comedias sueltas from the Harry Ransom Center's collection.

Photo Credit: Anthony Maddaloni

The Harry Ransom Center released one of the largest collections of “comedias suelta,” individually-printed Spanish plays, online for research late June.

Acquired during the 1920s and 1930s, the collection today exceeds more than 15,000 plays and includes over 2,500 Spanish authors, according to Madelin Sutherland-Meier, associate professor in Spanish and Portuguese. While most of the collection dates back to the mid-19th century, some plays, like one by playwright Juan de la Cueva, can be traced back to the 17th century.

Sutherland-Meier said the comedias sueltas can help researchers better understand the history of printing of Spain and also reveal the interests of everyday Spanish readers during that time period.

“Not everyone who lived in Madrid in the 18th century and liked, say, the plays written by Lope de Vega, could afford to buy a book of plays,” Sutherland-Meier said. “But they probably could afford to buy one play, read it and enjoy it, and maybe six months later, they could afford to buy another. They can show us what average people, not just a highly-cultured elite, read.”

Richard Oram, associate director of the Harry Ransom Center and Hobby Foundation librarian, said the collection would also interest researchers in theater history and the history of the book.

Sutherland-Meier said annotations, music sheets and illustrations included inside the plays has attracted attention from scholars covering a wide range of fields.

“A number of the texts have musical scores, so musicologists, especially scholars who study the genre known as the zarzuela, will also find much of interest in the UT collections,” Sutherland-Meier said.

Sutherland-Meier said the collection had been known to many scholars, but was previously inaccessible. In 2010, the Harry Ransom Center received a $137,015 grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources to create an extensive database searchable by author, title and keyword. Oram said the cataloguing of the collection was critical for providing greater accessibility.

“You might as well not have them if they cannot be used, “Oram said.

Jacob Hakim, classics and Latin senior and a fan of traditional theater, said he would be interested in looking at the collection of comedias sueltas to understand the culture and history behind the plays.

Sutherland-Meier said the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, the Department of Hispanic Studies at Texas A&M University and the Ransom Center will host a conference celebrating the cataloguing of the collection on September 29 and 30.

The Harry Ransom Center began processing a renowned science fiction novelist’s archive last month. Bruce Sterling, one of the founders of the cyberpunk movement ­— a science fiction genre focused on technology in a dystopian setting — gave part of his paper archive of books and manuscripts to Center. Richard Oram, associate director at the center, said the archive includes manuscripts of “The Difference Engine,” which Sterling coauthored with William Gibson, another founder of the movement and a complete collection of Sterling’s “Cheap Truth” newsletter, which he printed in Austin in the 1980s. “Bruce created [‘Cheap Truth’] before the word cyberpunk had even been developed,” Oram said. “He sort of initiated the cyberpunk movement, which started in Austin.” Oram said there were lots of people writing and reading Sterling’s anthology, “Mirror Shades.” “I think there aren’t a huge number of literary movements of national importance and this is one that came out of Austin,” Oram said. “Bruce was behind a lot of these things.”