- Alva Ixtlilxochitl's Native Archive and the Circulation of Knowledge in Colonial Mexico by Amber Brian
On September 17, 2014, Mexico's Instituto Nacional de Antrolopología e Historia (INAH) announced to the public the purchase of the Códice Chimalpahin from the Bible Society in London, where they had been held since the nineteenth century. Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl, a mestizo and direct descendant of the indigenous rulers of the city of Tetzcoco, in New Spain, gathered this collection of indigenous alphabetic and pictorial texts along with his own historiographical works during the first decades of the seventeenth century. The "repatriation" of this collection of manuscripts from London back to Mexico, as explained in Amber Brian's Alva Ixtlilxochitl's Native Archive and the Circulation of Knowledge in Colonial Mexico, forces a welcomed reconsideration of Indian intellectuals and native knowledge's "role in the writing of Mexico's history" (140). In this book, Brian decenters the creole narrative as the main discourse of knowledge and national identity and illustrates the networks of alliances and relationships created among a myriad of scholars in colonial Mexico.
Amber Brian's main intention in this book is to reframe the scholarly discussions around Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl's collection of indigenous manuscripts in order to rethink what Ángel Rama called "the lettered city." As the counterpart of the physical city—the ordered, urban space of the colonial city—the lettered city comprised the urban-elite men of letters or letrados. Mainly creole men (criollos), they were active participants in the production of knowledge and culture that maintained, discursively, colonial structures. Brian's rethinking of this core concept in the scholarship of colonial and modern Latin America redefines not only the social and ethnic scope of its members during the seventeenth century—in order to incorporate Indian and mestizo intellectuals—but also the circumstantial dynamics that determined and influenced their mutual collaborations. By focusing on the creation of networks of intellectuals around Ixtlilxochitl's collection instead of on its linear and "teleological advance" as "an emblem of authority" in the production of early Mexican patriotic discourses (140, 137), Brian effectively presents to the reader both a window into the historical dynamics forging the production, use, and appropriation of this collection across the seventeenth century and a nuanced critique of the study of criollismo or creole consciousness as the driving force behind the creation of national identity in Mexico. For Brian the "lettered city is founded on an exchange and dialogue between those who occupied the centers of power and those who existed at the margins. As such, the lettered city should be appreciated as a manifestation of various sorts of relationships and collaborations rather than a dichotomy" (8). [End Page 197]
Brian's theoretical approach to Ixtlilxochitl's collection of manuscripts pivots on two core characteristics: its role as a "native archive" and, as a result, source of authority in Mexican scholarship, and its nature as a gift that fashions relationships, exchanges, and alliances. Through this framework, the author reconstructs the complex historical and local circumstances in which Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl gathered his collection of indigenous manuscripts, how this "native archive" passed from the Ixtlilxochitl family to the hands of the creole scholar Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora, and how it was appropriated as a "creole archive" in the production of patriotic discourses during the second half of the seventeenth century.
In chapter 1, "Creoles, Mestizos, and the Native Archive," Brian defines the term "native archive" as a type of archive produced by indigenous populations in the colonial context to safeguard their history, memory, and knowledge. Most importantly, the author highlights the fact that Alva Ixtlilxochitl's collection of manuscripts—one of the foundational archives of Mexican patriotism and nationalism—originally emerged and functioned as a "native archive." For readers interested in the early genealogy of Alva Ixtlilxochitl's collection, this chapter provides valuable information as Brian, in dialogue with past and recent scholarship, reconstructs both Alva Ixtlilxochitl's and Sigüenza's archives paying...