Cuba has made contributions to the arts and sciences in measures many consider disproportionate to its size and relatively brief history. Every branch of the arts and letters tells a piece of the story of the Cuban people, the wealth and diversity of their roots and heritage, and their quest for national identity.
From a historical perspective, Cuba has lived through three distinct periods – the colonial, the Republican, and the Revolutionary – each shaping the island’s heritage.
The role of Spain in the governance of the island, the African slave trade and the country's movement toward sovereignty are among the most prevalent forces that shaped the history of colonial Cuba. During the 19th century, Cuba reached a high level of economic development due in part to the sugar and tobacco industries. This wealth contributed to a cultural environment that gave birth to the national identity. Syncretism characterized the music and the arts as they became vastly distinctive from their European origins. Cuba produced its first internationally renowned artists during this last century as a colony.
The long search for liberty culminated in the creation of the Republic in 1902 following the Spanish-American War of 1898 and the military occupation by the United States. Republican Cuba experienced the flowering of Cuban society as well as its struggles to sustain social and political modernity. From all over the world came praising recognition of the island’s cultural accomplishments.
This period was followed by the Revolution of 1959 and almost 50 years of a communist regime during which many aspects of Cuban culture have continued to expand in spite of the ideological constraints. Cubans have excelled in many areas, notably in literature and music as before, but also in the visual and performing arts, as their poster art and film industry exemplify, and in sports. At the same time, Cuban exiles, both in the United States and throughout the world, have nurtured a parallel culture that has achieved international recognition while maintaining distinctively Cuban characteristics.
The CHC collections contain a wide representation of all branches of the historical and cultural materials produced both in the island and by the Cuban diaspora. This presentation aims to highlight the periods that marked changes in the history of Cuba as well as some of the formats representative of the strengths of the CHC collections.