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Essay on Sources Primary Sources My interest in pearl fishing in the Caribbean began when I came across a document in the Archivo General de Indias in Seville, Spain (the Spanish empire’s colonial archive), describing the labor regime of Caribbean pearl diving. It soon became clear that situating the production and circulation of this jewel in context would take me not only throughout the Caribbean but far beyond it. As the book argues, this arena of American colonial expansion was embedded from its earliest years in networks of labor and commerce that were regional, Atlantic, and global. As I traced the paths of pearls and people into and out of the pearl fisheries, I realized that the project would not evolve in a single imperial context. Since beginning toworkon this project, I have sought pearls in archives in Spain, Portugal, England, Scotland, the Netherlands, and Venezuela. If I had greater language skills and infinite time and resources, global archives from India to the Midde East and East Asia would surely yield interesting stories about pearl use in these regions, long centers of their own thriving trade in the jewel. My focus on the Caribbean and Atlantic worlds reflects both the constraints of time and training and my interest in how the encounters of the post-­ Columbus era shifted patterns in the trade. The logic behind my archival peregrinations is not only that merchants and consumers from these regions purchased Caribbean pearls—although they did—but also that the history of pearls could not be told through a reliance on official accounts of their production or merchant accounts of their purchase and sale. Much like the jewel itself, records about pearls are varied and hard to find. In many ways, the most complete record of pearls’ popularity and abundance in the early modern period is the immense body of sixteenth - and seventeenth-­century artwork depicting the jewel—pearls bedeck men and women in secular and religious settings around the globe, pointing to a lively trade in the jewel and its popularity worldwide. Archival sources on pearls are incomplete and irregular in their reflection of pearls’ particular qualities and the related difficulty of keeping track of them. Pearls easily evaded taxation; jewel merchants avoided announcing valuable shipments of the jewel when possible; individual owners of pearls did not always, or often, advertise their valuable possessions. As the microhistories recounted in this book indicate, when people sold pearls, they often { 260 } Essay on Sources sought to do so in secret, for reasons about which we can only speculate. The stories of who used pearls and how they used them appear in the interstices of imperial archives, in community archives, in travel accounts and the writing of early royal chroniclers, in incomplete personal letters and diaries, and in the odd merchant ledger. They emerge in discussions of production, of consumption, of regulation, and of diplomacy. Often they surface in the most interesting ways in discussions about something else entirely—such as Inquisition records or court cases about local scandals. It is not uncommon to find records of pearls in the bureaucratic aftermath of shipwrecks and unexpected deaths, when survivors and investors suddenly had a reason to register the loss of goods whose presence they had preferred not todeclare when they assumed they would reach their destination. Concretely, even as I failed to find clear accounting of Caribbean pearls’ yearly production and distribution, I was drawn to other types of evidence. Scattered among Seville’s notarial and imperial archives, and in the invaluable source compilations produced by historians such as Enrique Otte and H. Nectario María, was evidence of pearls’ utility and prominence in many different kinds of transactions. Concerns about pearls’ abundance and their scarcity led to court cases about oyster harvests, American officials’ constant litanyof complaints about life and labor in the fisheries, council deliberations about specie shortages, and royal letters concerning the distinct uses of particular types of pearls. Evidence from archives around Spain and elsewhere in Europe further complicated the story of pearls, suggesting that the jewel’s worth encompassed more than could be recorded in a ledger. In the Spanish state archives in Simancas, pearls surfaced in correspondence between anxious diplomats who used the jewel in times of duress. Inquisition records in Lisbon and Madrid underscored pearls’ accessibilityand illuminated the networks of local contacts and global merchants that moved pearls from household to household, pawned and sold and gifted, between neighborhoods and across oceans. I followed these global...


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