The Guatemala Collection

Government and Church Documents for Sacatepéquez (1587-1991)

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)

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Project Adviser:
David Carey Jr., Loyola University Maryland
Librarians, scholars, and educators of teaching and research institutions with programs in history, sociology, anthropology, political studies, linguistics, geography, and indigenous studies that are concerned with trans-Atlantic and global social history and Latin American studies and particularly those institutions with devoted Latin American studies departments and degree programs.
Project adviser David Carey Jr. holds the Doehler Chair in History at Loyola University Maryland. In addition to writing more than two dozen peer-reviewed articles and essays, he is the author of five books, including I Ask for Justice: Maya Women, Dictators, and Crime in Guatemala, 1898-1944, which was a co-recipient of the 2015 Latin American Studies Association Bryce Wood Book Award. His publications have won numerous other awards from academic and professional organizations. Informed by his collaborative spirit, he has also edited three books: Distilling the Influence of Alcohol: Aguardiente in Guatemalan History; Latino Voices in New England (with Robert Atkinson); and Violence and Crime in Latin America: Representations and Politics (co-edited with Gema Santamaría). His most recent book is Oral History in Latin America: Unlocking the Spoken Archive. His teaching and research interests include immigration, gender, ethnicity, indigenous peoples, environmental change, health and illness, and oral history.
"The Guatemala Collection is an unparalleled digital resource for scholars of race, ethnicity, and nation in Latin America. Making available some four hundred years’ worth of historical documents from Guatemala’s majority-indigenous Sacatepéquez department, the collection illuminates indigenous peoples’ everyday lives, profoundly enriching our understandings of indígenas’ complex engagement with state authorities and ladino would-be modernizers over the longue durée. Importantly, by spanning the colonial and national periods, this carefully curated selection of documents breaks down the artificial divide between the “before” and the “after” of Spanish rule while also inviting reflection on how the insights provided by these records are mediated, in most cases, by the fact of their non-indigenous authorship. Offering a new pathway into the historical experiences of the Kaqchikel, The Guatemala Collection safeguards and shares the precious history of one of Mesoamerica’s most historically significant indigenous populations." - Kirsten Weld, John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences, Harvard University
"It is truly wonderful when a younger scholar deviates from pursuing their own personal research interests to provide an extraordinary collection of indigenous documents to students and scholars alike. In addition to this being a treasure-trove of information, including valuable and unique insights into indigenous women, David Carey Jr. has carefully integrated numerous digital links to this material in his detailed description, significantly increasing its accessibility and utility to anyone interested in these topics. These documents will surely provide insights which extend beyond indigenous groups in Guatemala." - Roderic Ai Camp, Philip M. McKenna Professor of the Pacific Rim (Government), Claremont McKenna College
"Here at our digital fingertips we have access to five centuries of documentation of the interaction of municipal, departmental, state and church interaction with the indigenous people of Sacatepéquez. These documents cover the joys (celebrations and festivals) and the woes (natural disasters, epidemics, and crime) of life in Sacatepéquez. Though these records are largely penned by non-indigenous officials, they expose the strategies employed by the indigenous peoples to defenderse (“protect themselves”) and superarse (“to improve their lot”), as well as the ploys and policies of the elites to maintain their own power and exploit indigenous labor and lands. In addition to the original documents, the collection includes a series of secondary sources, academic analysis and commentary on the holdings and their implications. Having this resource online makes it available not just to those researchers who can physically visit the archives and gain permission to view hard copy. It allows international scholars direct access to primary materials, at the same time that it opens these records to the culture bearers whose histories they reveal. The documents present a rich panorama of life in Sacatepéquez, a microcosm for the country of Guatemala, over five hundred tumultuous years." - Judith M. Maxwell, Ixq'anil, Louise Rebecca Schawe and Williedell Schawe Professor of Linguistics and Anthropology, Tulane University
"This is a priceless collection. It brings together materials from various archives in Guatemala and Spain, including the Guatemalan ecclesiastical archives which in recent years have been largely inaccessible to the public. Extensive in both chronologic and thematic scope, the collection illuminates a broad range of issues in colonial, national, and transnational history. The archival documents themselves offer a great depth of detail and richness of native voices. Notes and commentaries by several distinguished scholars, along with the introduction by David Carey Jr., provide valuable background and analysis. This collection will be a treasure trove for researchers in history, anthropology, Latin American studies, and indigenous studies." - Catherine Komisaruk, Professor of History, University of Texas at San Antonio
"The Guatemala Collection: Government and Church Documents for Sacatepéquez (1587-1991) is a unique and rich collection of primary and secondary source materials covering a wide range of topics and periods. As one of the few collections of digitalized archival documents available outside of Guatemala, this collection offers an unparalleled window into the history of Mesoamerica for scholars and students alike. Based on decades of meticulous research, this collection will be of special interest to those interested in unraveling the complex history of ethnicity, race, class, and gender relations during Guatemala’s transformative nineteenth and early twentieth centuries." - Julie Gibbings, Professor of History, University of Manitoba
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