Collecting on the Americas began after the end of World War I and at first included items from the governments of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Costa Rica, Panama, and Peru, who were represented at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. Additional materials were later received from nine other Latin American states and from four British colonies in the Caribbean.
In the following years, library representatives continued to collect materials in the United States and also made expeditions to Latin America in order to establish a network of resident agents there, especially in countries where the book trade was poorly organized. As a result a number of important collections came to Hoover, including the Inquiry Papers, an extensive set of documents of a group of American scholars and experts, and the Documents of the Special Neutrality Commission of the Pan-American Union. By the mid-1930s the library possessed a significant Latin American collection.
The acquisition of materials related to the United States was active during World War I, resulting in the acquisition of letters, memoranda, and documents relating to the activities of governmental boards and agencies; books and pamphlets dealing with U.S. military participation in the war; manuscript reports, records, and personal narratives by American combatants; and official histories.
From the beginning of World War II, the Institution collected materials on that conflict. This included the papers of military leaders and documents on methods of U.S. psychological warfare, as illustrated by many collections of propaganda leaflets acquired from both the Pacific and the European theaters. Various aspects of civilian opposition to and participation in the war were documented through the acquisition of publications and records of political groups, committees, peace societies, relief organizations, churches, women's organizations, and business firms.
After World War II, the Institution emphasized the themes of communism, anticommunism, and socialism in the United States; U.S. foreign relations; and military policy. Concerted attention was given to the Korean and Vietnam Wars, for which holdings include position papers, policy statements, newspapers, and journals reflecting national and international movements and associations. Papers of individuals and private organizations have been collected, as well, particularly as they relate to ongoing efforts to establish peace.
As the United States became involved in World War II, interest and activity in Latin American studies decreased, resulting in a dramatic reduction of the Institution's collecting in that area. In 1954 it was agreed that Stanford University Libraries would be responsible for Latin American materials. Hoover accordingly transferred most of its holdings on Latin America to the university library, with Hoover continuing to collect archival materials on Latin America. This arrangement was in effect until 1962, shortly after Fidel Castro took power in Cuba, when the Hoover Institution resumed its collecting activities on Latin America.
Thus, Joseph Bingaman was made curator of the collection in 1963 and continued in that position until 1986. In 1986 William Ratliff became curator. In 1994, collecting responsibility for Latin American library materials was again transferred to Stanford University Libraries, though Hoover continues actively acquiring archival materials from the area. The interests of the past continue today, but since the beginning of the 1990s, attention has been focused on the emergence of democratic governments and market economies in the region and the impact of globalization.
The Latin American portion of the Americas Collection consists of approximately 36,000 books, thousands of pamphlets, and more than two thousand periodical and newspaper titles, as well as manuscripts and other archival materials: microfilms, ephemeral publications, posters, photographs, phonograph records, moving picture and television films, and tape recordings. During most of the Institution's history, collecting concentrated on the ideology, organization, and activities of communist, socialist, Trotskyist, and other Marxist-Leninist governments, political parties, organizations, and individuals; urban and rural guerrilla organizations; anti-United States "national liberation" movements; pro-Castro groups; and foreign relations in the region, especially those of the United States, Cuba, the Soviet Union and China. The principal languages of the materials are Spanish and English.
On a more selective basis, the Hoover Institution collected on the ideology, organization, and activities of parties of the right, the democratic left, the radical left, and the Christian left; radical student movements; trade union movements; foreign relations, with an emphasis on border disputes; and antileftist groups, including anti-Castro refugee organizations and the anti-Sandinista Resistance (the so-called Contras) in Nicaragua. Of particular note are the vast clipping and pamphlet collections of the Institute of Hispanic-American and Luso-Brazilian Studies, which is a unique depository of sources dealing with developments in Spain, Portugal, and Latin America during the 1948–1964 period, and the files of the Yearbook on International Communist Affairs, compiled and published at the Hoover Institution between 1966 and 1991.
Since 1990 special attention has been given to democratic and free market reforms in the region, among the major holdings being thousands of classical neoliberal commentaries by hundreds of authors on the reforms of the 1990s and early 2000s—many released by the Agencia Interamericana de Prensa Económica (AIPE)—and records of the transitions of onetime guerrillas into active participants in democratic systems. A collection on legal reform in Latin America and the law and economics of development was largely assembled by Edgardo Buscaglia. Hundreds of recorded interviews with political, revolutionary, and intellectual leaders (including a dozen presidents) were conducted by Ronald Hilton, Timothy Brown, Frank McNeil, William Ratliff, and others. In particular, there are scores of interviews that Elisabeth Burgos conducted with the most important Latin American guerrilla leaders of the 1960s through the 1980s and with some of the government/military officials who opposed them (some of these materials are temporarily closed). Interviews with U.S. government officials dealing with Latin America include Robert Hill, U.S. ambassador to Mexico and Argentina; NSC Latin Americanist Roger Fontaine; State Department FSO P. Peter Sarros; and AID official and analyst Lawrence Harrison, as well as with other Americans and diplomats from other countries.
The United States Collection, the dominant area represented in the North American Collection, contains approximately 25,000 books and nearly three thousand periodical and newspaper titles, as well as a large holding of personal papers and archives. The main emphasis has been on the domestic developments and international policies of the United States during the two world wars, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and specifically U.S. foreign policy toward the Soviet Union and other countries through the period of the Cold War and into the time of the expanding world market. Invaluable materials on U.S. politics and government are abundantly present in this collection. Documentation of American intellectual life since the end of World War II, as well as recent American conservative thought, is available in a number of collections, including records of the American Spectator Educational Foundation (currently closed) and broadcast tapes of the Firing Line television program. This collection is also the repository for an extensive body of materials on American education.