Paula Hattox Covington was baptized, confirmed, educated and married at Bishop’s. She went to Syracuse University (B.A Latin American History), and ultimately to Vanderbilt University, where she earned a Master of Library Science and became the Latin American Bibliographer. At Vanderbilt, Paula has taught, done research in Latin American history (obtaining a Master’s degree in history), served as a consultant to the Bodleian Library at Oxford, and published books, articles and reviews. She travels to Latin America frequently in search of materials and collections. Her husband of 45 years, Robert, is a professor of law at Vanderbilt. Paula is part of a multinational project to preserve and digitize colonial Latin American slave society records, and her primary research interest is 19th century women travelers to Latin America.
What sparked your interest in Latin American studies?
That interest began with an article I read in the Weekly Reader in third grade, dealing with Hiram Bingham and Machu Picchu. My interest grew in Mrs. Keeler’s history class at Bishop’s.
What have you learned about 19th century women travelers to Latin America?
My research certainly changed my view of what women were like in the Victorian era. They were tremendously varied in attitudes and interests, and often were keen observers with insights their male colleagues did not have. They were artists, journalists, business operators, diplomats’ wives, and more. They have contributed in many ways to our understanding of the social history of Latin American nations.
What is the impact of preserving colonial Latin American slave society records?
This Vanderbilt project, in partnership with institutions in Cuba, Colombia and Brazil, preserves a variety of records regarding slaves and free blacks in those countries. Funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the British Library Endangered Archives Program, and the Mellon Foundation, these records are now digitally available to scholars and used extensively by historians of Atlantic World history. In addition, people can trace slave forebears throughout the New World and follow their ancestry. I helped digitize some of the records in Cuba—some were so fragile that they no longer exist in physical form. We also train archivists and students in those countries to digitize additional materials that will preserve their history.
A highlight of your Vanderbilt career?
The relationships with students and faculty. Being able to put them in touch with resources they need for their research is a truly satisfying experience, and has led to many long-term friendships in the US and in Latin America.
How did your Bishop’s experience inform your career choices?
Mrs. Keeler directed me to Syracuse, which led to my interest in Colombia, and proved ultimately to be a perfect “fit” for Vanderbilt, with its strong Colombian collection. Mrs. Bradford directed an independent research project at UCSD, piquing my interest in libraries. Bishop’s also fostered an interest in the problems of the world we live in, leading me to a 20-year involvement with Our Little Roses Home for Girls in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, a life-changing experience.