the hiatus ends

I have been derelict in my blog duties this summer– really since my last week in Quito. I started a long post on spending a day in Quito’s Centro, and how much has changed since the last time I was there. Included in those changes were a whole host of elements that pointed to this day in history some 200 years ago– 10 de agosto 1809, the opening salvo of Quito’s version of the Age of Revolution. I’m hesitant to call it the first date of Ecuadorian Independence because, despite nationalist historiography’s appropriation of the 10 de agosto movement for its arc of Independence, that is not what was going on. But more on that in a new post here, which includes sections from my book manuscript on this very topic.

For now, a brief recap of the accomplishments of the June trip to Quito. By the numbers:

total images: 19,122

total manuscript pages: @34,000

This included approximately 780 folios or volumes from the following archive series: Criminales, Indígenas, Hospitales, Prisiones, Gobierno, Fondo Especial (papers of the Audiencia Presidency), Incorporación de Abogados, Juicios de Primer Notaría, and Matrimoniales. That still leaves a bit more work to do– finishing the Fondo Especial, adding Juicios from the other numbered Notaries, and looking through a bit more of the Gobierno documents. On the whole, though, I was able to accomplish a tremendous amount of work.

There are some real gems amongst those thousands of pages too– a number of sodomy cases, including a second female-female case, which added with one I’ve written about previously makes two secular criminal prosecutions of women for the crimen nefando that I’ve come across in the literature. The papers of royal law licenses included a number of big names for the late eighteenth century through independence– Melchor Rivadeneyra, Pedro Quiñones, Jose Ascusabi, Niclas Mosquera, Jose Maria Lequerica, and Manuel Rodriguez de Quiroga. I found three or four bestiality cases, including one unfortunate teenager who was surprised by his mother having “aceso a una burra.” I found a large cash of documents related to the founding and funding of the Poor House, but also of the Royal Tobacco Factory in Guayaquil. Interestingly, the Tobacco Factory served not only as a source of income for the Bourbon State, but also as the key institution of correction and imprisonment– cheap labor, as detainees were most often ordered to serve their sentences without pay or daily rations. There is a certain disjuncture between the rhetoric of correction and the reality of hard labor, even if that hard labor was rolling cigars. I found a large number of homicide cases, which will be very interesting in for documenting changes in the state’s understanding of both criminal culpability, and in the integrity, control, and presence of its bodily subjects. Included in those cases are a number that involved the death of pregnant women, almost exclusively at the hands of their husbands or lovers. Such cases led to extensive legal argumentation over the stage of fetal development. Though it is common knowledge in some circles, it bears repeating that the church and the secular authorities of imperial Spain did not accord status to the fetus until sometime in the second trimester– documented in the testimony of these cases. Ii was able to locate a small handful of witchcraft cases. Finally, in addition to hundreds of run-of-mill concubinage and adultery cases, I also found a treasure trove of jail censuses, from the 1740s through the 1840s. All told, I’d guess I have an additional 60 years or so of weekly jail censuses from the Audiencia, Cabildo, and Women’s jails of Quito. I think it may actually be possible to do some mathematical, statistical analysis of those records that has weight given the extent of the records now.

There are certain advantages to approaching the archive in the manner I did for my dissertation, and for my current work. If you’ve read any of my other posts on research, you’ve probably caught on that I love to take digital photos of documents– of whole documents. This is very easy to do at the Archivo Nacional del Ecuador, because the staff of the archive is very accommodating to researchers who want to use their stuff. They are looking for people, hoping for people to come use the collection, and if the best way to disseminate their information is by allowing digital cameras – then have at it!

I tend to scrape manuscript pages like spiders scrape information on the web– by the thousands, with the hopes that in sifting through all that info I will be able to see patterns to knowledge production, cultural practices, etc., especially patterns that illuminate unspoken assumptions on gender, race, culture, class, etc. Its the form of history that I love, and it requires massive amounts of data. But, massive amounts of quantitative data. So, the digital camera is my friend.

Despite the glory and majesty of findings like those above, there are also disadvantages to this approach. I spent about a year in Quito accumulating documents for my dissertation– which from this point forward I have to call my manuscript, because I’ve sent it in and it’s official under consideration at a press. I’ve never counted, but I bet I took some 40-50,000 pictures. I spent the last 5-6 years reading those documents, writing the stories in those documents, crunching the numbers in those documents, growing accustomed to the fading brown ink and off white paper of those documents. I also finished my PhD, grew our family by one cool kiddo, got the t-track job, worked on revisions, wrote some articles, etc. But I didn’t go back to Quito because, well, I didn’t exactly have to and life just seemed to be constantly intervening.

That’s the disadvantage– losing site of the physical place. Well, on the Saturday of Inti Raymi I set off on a sunny morning to the centro in hopes of finding some indigenous dancing that I heard would be taking place in the plaza of the San Francisco convent/church. I never quite made it to the dancing because it had been so long since I’d been in the colonial section of Quito that I spend the whole day wandering from church to church and old barrio to barrio, seeing the places where the many stories of my precious documents took place. Street corners I know from assault cases. Churches I know from political conspiracies and uprisings. Convents and monasteries that acted as places of refuge, as banks, as prisons. Places were open that have never been open during the 10 or so trips I’ve made to Quito- so I got lost in place. It was a great anitdote to the monotony of the daily archive picture merry-go-round grind. It also made me feel love for Quito again, in a way I had not for quite some time.


Associate Professor of Early Latin America Department of History University of Tennessee-Knoxville

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Posted in Latin American History, Processes, Research and Writing
2 comments on “the hiatus ends
  1. Terry Brock says:

    out of curiosity, what type of camera are you using?

  2. ctb says:

    Hi Terry–

    I used a Canon SX10IS. Here’s an example image.

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Hacer juicio ú dictamen acerca de alguna cosa... significando que el objeto excita el juicio ú dictamen en la persona que le hace.

Deducir ante el Juez la accion ú derecho que se tiene, ó las excepciones que excluyen la accion contrária.

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Chad Black

I, your humble contributor, am Chad Black. You can also find me on the web here.
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