- Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl and the Mexican Archive
Portraits of colonial scholars in New Spain often depict Spanish and Creole men surrounded by books and manuscripts.1 With quill in hand they are poised to pen the history of America on European paper by candle light. Generations of historians have closely followed this image by imagining colonial intellectuals—normally cloaked in religious habits—as bookish men and antiquarians ensconced in their convent and college libraries. But do the printed and unedited materials surrounding these men offer an alternative vision of scholarly activity in New Spain? The four books under review complicate traditional views of colonial scholars by recognizing the collaborative process of intellectual production and the formation of personal archives. They provide the context in which some of these collections were compiled and their link to the development of both Creole patriotism and Mexican nationalism. They convincingly demonstrate that Creole discourses were not entirely their own but that they were shared narratives with the multiethnic populace.
A central figure in the development of colonial archives was Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl (ca. 1578–1650), a local governor, interpreter in the Real Audiencia (High Court) and colonial historian of mixed racial background from San Juan Teotihuacan with links to the Tetzcocan nobility. He plays a key role in all four books under review and is the primary focus of Amber Brian's Alva Ixtlilxochitl's Native Archive and the Circulation of Knowledge in Colonial Mexico. According to Brian, so-called Native and Mestizo historians have been unjustly marginalized in the "lettered city,"2 both supposedly developing a "vision of the vanquished"3 that was entirely distinct from the cultural patriotism of creoles and other Spanish émigrés. Her goal is to diversify the scholarly community of New Spain by focusing on what she calls the "colonial economy of letters" (10), by which she means the social networks, exchanges and dialogues taking place between intellectuals of all socioracial backgrounds. To understand the collaborative endeavours of viceregal times, she centres on a key event in the development of creole patriotism: the transition of Alva Ixtlilxochitl's "native archive" to Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora's (1645–1700) "creole archive." What is in this archive and how was it compiled?
Brian defines the "native archive" as "knowledge native communities collected in an effort to preserve their connection to the pre-Hispanic past in the context of European domination" (14). Alva Ixtlilxochitl, then, was a "material keeper of the historical record" (24) who acquired alphabetic and pictographic texts. His archive of manuscripts was inherited by his son Juan de Alva Cortés (b. 1624) who, in turn, gave it as a gift to Sigüenza y Góngora, a Creole savant deeply interested in the pre-Hispanic past. Upon his death, Sigüenza y Góngora entrusted Alva Ixtlilxochitl's collection to the Jesuit college of San Pablo y San Pedro, which the Jesuits eventually transferred to their other Mexico City college of San Ildefonso. By the early nineteenth century Alva Ixtlilxochitl's writings and collected documents had been dispersed to various parts of the world, forcing Creoles to work with transcriptions the Milanese scholar Lorenzo Boturini Benaduci (1698–1755) had made at San Pablo y San Pedro in the eighteenth century. This "native archive" was used by Creole patriots to write the history of New Spain and is among the most important collections for scholars of central Mexico today.
It is impossible to know the extent of Alva Ixtlilxochitl's "native archive," but the original documents Boturini worked with were discovered in three vellum-bound volumes in the library...