The Guatemala Collection
Project Advisor: David Carey Jr., Loyola University Maryland
Populated predominantly by indígenas (indigenous peoples) who speak Kaqchikel-Maya, Sacatepéquez department offers an excellent window into Latin American and Native American history. Located in the central highlands of Guatemala, it was home to two colonial capitals and is contiguous with the nation’s contemporary capital. Throughout the colonial and national eras, indigenous people farmed to feed themselves and the regions (and capitals) that surrounded them. Through arduous and often corvée labor, they also built much of the infrastructure in their communities and nation. Crucial to Guatemala’s colonial and national development, indígenas were largely discounted and denigrated. Despite such discrimination and disadvantages, many found ways to survive and thrive. Often converging at the nexus of modernization and tradition, the documents in this collection convey the complicated hybrid history of a nation striving to present itself as progressive and civilized in an Atlantic world that seldom associated those qualities with indigeneity. Penned primarily by non-indigenous elites, authorities, and scribes, the documents in this collection explore complex ethnic, racial, class, and gender relations and how they changed over time.
Spanning more than four hundred years, The Guatemala Collection: Government and Church Documents for Sacatepéquez (1587-1991) concentrates primarily on the national era, particularly 1824-1948. The vast majority of the documents—correspondence, annual reports, statistics, letters, litigation—found within The Guatemala Collection are copies from the Archivo General de Centroamérica and the Archivo Histórico Arquidiocesano “Francisco de Paula García Peláez” (formerly known as Archivo Eclesiástico de Guatemala) in Guatemala City. In recent years, the latter has seldom been opened to the public. Colonial documents mainly come from the Archivo General de Indias in Seville, Spain. A few of the documents and transcripts come from the Centro de Investigaciones Regionales de Mesoamérica (CIRMA) in Antigua. In general, the documents are organized by place, theme, and chronology.
The Guatemala Collection comprises ten series. Eight of the series are titled after the department or municipality to which the documents correspond. The remaining two series—Colonial Documents and Secondary Sources—are titled descriptively. Although they also present findings and information concerning Sacatepéquez and its municipalities, for reasons of chronology and the nature of the documents, these series have been set apart from the main collection. The secondary source documents, which were authored primarily by the donor and historian Christopher Lutz, scholar and researcher Héctor Concohá, historian Wendy Kramer, and anthropologist Sheldon Annis, are notes, commentaries, descriptions, indexes, syntheses, and analyses of materials included in the collection itself or from the archives. Across these ten series, the documents of the collection are organized into fifty-seven distinct classifications that include such themes as economy, agriculture, forced labor, complaints, crime, annual reports, natural disasters, municipal affairs, education, elections, military, public works, religion, public health, lands and estates, development, resignations and solicitations, regulations, festivities, and maps. The majority of the documents are labeled by Concohá as to their years and subject matter.
Although Lutz initially was explicit in his research requests, after his exile from Guatemala in 1980, the project took on a life of its own as Concohá continuously widened the parameters of the research. Consequently, The Guatemala Collection houses a rich array of government, church, and civil documents that bear testimony to an indigenous population’s struggle and success with the changing social, economic, political, and religious dynamics of colonial and independent rule.
Image artwork: Caroline Salvin, Dueñas de la puerta de la casa, octubre de 1873 (Dueñas from the house door, October 1873; watercolor)