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"Los archivos de las Indias: Seville and Mexico City".

My archival story is not one of finding that singular document that solves the conundrum but rather of multiple discoveries that unfold slowly. Much of my research has been on the archive itself: the founding of the Archive of the Indies in Seville, Spain, and the Archive of New Spain in Mexico City. (11) Rather than delving into those histories, I would like to quickly sketch out two narrative threads about my work in these archives as they pertain to research and to teaching.

First, let's turn to research and writing. I have an ongoing project on Enlightened archives in the Ibero-American eighteenth century, with a focus on the founding of the Archivo General de Indias (AGI), and the Archivo General de Nueva Espana in Mexico City. I completed research at the AGI in 2002 and 2004 for the dissertation I wrote with Karen Stolley at Emory University. I knew that histories had already been written of the archive, so, why go? While histories had indeed been written, I was attempting to 'read' the archive as a kind of text itself in a different kind of way. So, what made the difference in actually going there?

It felt lacking to write about the founding of the AGI without actually being there. It was important to read in context--not only to read the Ordenanzas, for example, which are published an easily accessible without going to the AGI, but to read the letters written about them, the rationale for the organizational method of the Ordenanzas, draft versions, deadline pressures, etc. There was also great value in seeing the quantity of texts in the legajos of the Indiferente General section, even the repetitive ones. One can read a history of the archive easily enough, but there is no substitute for reading the mundane in context: monthly reports from archival officials between 1802 and 1805, as the work of the "founding" continued, including their request to have uniforms; to read about how maps, books and papers were sent from various colonial offices to the AGI, maintaining the original structure of their provenance. Even more than expanding my understanding, reading the minutia of archival practice expanded my imagination of the AGI.

In the archive, one learns about details such as the shelves crafted especially for the AGI, made of mahogany from Central America, or the controversy that surrounded the renovation of the sixteenth-century Casa Lonja into the home of the new Archivo General de Indias, for example. In the archive, one reads of Juan Bautista Munoz's deep engagement with histories written by William Robertson, Juan Nuix, and others. I knew of these themes in the histories of the archive before traveling to Seville, but part of the 'aha' moment for me was reading them in context, seeing what kind of documentary group in which they were filed, understanding the structure and space of the archive.

I learned similar lessons during my research in 2003 in Mexico's national archive, the Archivo General de la Nacion. My objectives were to read the process of that archive's founding and structure as being based on the AGI and to see in the documentary record how closely the viceroy Count Revillagigedo II was relating the archival project to other public works such as building a botanical garden and other updates to the urban infrastructure in Mexico City. My slowly advancing moments of discovery were dots connected across these institutions, which leads me to what I would like to share about archival research and my teaching.

I teach undergraduate students at Berry College, a comprehensive liberal arts college in Georgia. On one occasion, in 2007, I taught a graduate seminar on the Spanish American eighteenth century at the University of Kentucky. Almost always, when I do archival research, I take some time to 'play' a bit in the archive. At the Archivo General de Indias, I looked up some sixteenth- and seventeenth-century texts, just to see what they were like in their materiality and in their context, to wrestle with the paleography of reading those old texts. But with regard to the impact on my teaching, I will focus on my attention in Archivo General de la Nacion in Mexico City.

The archive is housed in what used to be the Lecumberri prison, a place which has its own stories to tell. Much of what I was looking for in the Mexico City archive was in a collection of documents marked in pencil with the words "nada de interes." While this might have been true for the one who illegally inscribed this commentary, I found in that collection exactly what I needed to read, and it certainly helped shape my story from this Ibero-American archive. Having finished up most of the work I needed about the viceregal archive's founding, I spent a day reading through Inquisition files. There is no telling what I skipped over in that short amount of time, but I came across two sets of documents that I still use in my teaching.

Pedro Jose Velarde was arrested in 1768 and served several years in jail after writing a poem that lamented the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1767, calling for the people of Mexico City to stand up against such tyranny: "A la arma, a la arma, guerra guerra." The documents described Velarde as "de oficio poeta y coplero" He hired out his services for clients in the city who wanted verses written for special occasions. He was a known figure who read his own poems publicly in the streets. On this occasion he penned a poem that publicly mourned the exit of the Compania, an expulsion of what he considered to be the city's very best. Here is an excerpt from his poem:
   Llora, Ciudad americana.
   La violencia, y el rigor
   Con que te metio en temor
   La intolerable cuartana
   De aquella gente inhumana
   Que con tanta tirania
   Ultrajo la Compania
   Y aquellos benditos Padres,
   Que eran de Gracia raudal es
   Por su Ciencia, y Energia. [...]

I learned not long after returning from the Archivo that an excellent Mexican scholar had already published the poem in an article that studies Velarde's case. So, it was not so much of a discovery for our field, but it was very much of a personal discovery, and it has significantly shaped how I teach the expulsion of the Jesuits in the context of New Spain. We know from the expulsion documents how the priests were able to take very little with them, except for perhaps their chocolate, tobacco and various other items, but to read of the impact it made on the people of Mexico City was a learning moment for me, and I try to share that sense of discovery and identification with my students.

I will not spend so much time on the other example, the Segunda Pragmatica de Matrimonios, which was a document written to give priests direction about who can marry whom among different castas in eighteenth-century Mexico City. Again, I did not discover the Segunda Pragmatica for eighteenth-century studies--not even close. However, it has expanded my grasp of the subject and shapes to how I teach casta in my classes even now. Casta can be a difficult concept for students to grasp, but when they start reading about how young adults their own age had to navigate cultural and ecclesiastical rules about whom they can consider for marriage, they are hooked. Having those documents as photocopies from the archive changes the act of reading for them and gives them a kind of context that is often lost in a textbook.

I will close my reflection with four ideas, four "take-aways" from my time researching in these two archives, although these ideas also apply to work that I have done in the Archivo General de la Nacion in Lima, and other archives and libraries. First, the structure of the archive matters. It is not just the discovery of the singular gem of a document, but it is the way the document fits into the larger collection that can also tell a story. Second, archival discoveries sometimes advance like a glacier. Little by little pieces fit together. And sometimes they simply do not fit together well at all. Third, some archival 'discoveries' make themselves more clear as projects progress. Take good notes and make copies of what you can, because you might not know what you will need or what it will mean down the road for your project or future projects. Finally, there is a valuable pedagogical element to archival research for scholars and students of the eighteenth century that can find expression in our classes and even in chats with students over coffee.


Berry College

(11) Slade, David F. "An imperial knowledge space for Bourbon Spain: Juan Bautista Munoz and the founding of the Archivo General de Indias." Colonial Latin American Review 20.2 (August 2011): 195-212.
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Author:Slade, David F.
Publication:Dieciocho: Hispanic Enlightenment
Date:Sep 22, 2016
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