The week of July 18th was a very busy one. Since I found out that the Archdiocese’s archive was about to close to move to another site in about ten days I decided to focus on their material which I had never explored before. Exploring this archive also gave me the opportunity to make a list of the type of index titles that could hold documents relevant to my research interests. This exploration expanded my understanding of the role the Catholic Church played during the colonial period. The Church in the Province of Caracas functioned not only as a mean to manage the spiritual development and the moral behavior of its parishioners, it also served as a secular court mediating payments dispute, and thefts. Not surprisingly, the ecclesiastical courts also served enslaved people’s claim for freedom. During this week I was able to take digital photos of several of these cases that took place at the Province of Caracas from 1780 to 1790. I will have to return to this archive to continue collecting more cases and exploring other types of documents that contains Afro-descendants’ claims of honor.
The week went by before I could meet any of the historians I had planned to meet. However I was able to establish e-mails contacts with most of them, hopefully, I will meet at least some of them next week.
The anecdote of this week was the exhumation of the remains of Venezuelan and South American independence hero Simón Bolívar. His remains had been placed in an old church with the rest of other major independence heroes. This took place few days before the celebration of his birthday (July 24th). According to the official version the exhumation took place to find out the real causes of his death in 1830 (natural or poisoned). In addition, the government spokespersons affirm that it was about time to find out if those are the remains of Bolívar. A rumor claims that the government wants to find out if Bolívar was of mixed heritage, contrary to what the official version had always claimed. Opposition sectors find the exhumation as an abomination. However, supporters of the government feel exited about the possibility to learn more about the “Father of the Nation.”
During the week of July 25th I began exploring the General National Archive (perhaps the largest one). They recently relocated to a new better equipped site, however a database of their subjects still remains to be created. Their materials are listed on index cards, organized by alphabetical order by theme and subject. For instance if you want to search for documents related with slaves (esclavos), you have to search the drawer with the letter “E.” Unfortunately, the index card only tells you where to find documents related with “slaves,” not the nature or the content of the document, which means that in order to cover your basis you need to explore them all, there are more than a thousand entries.
The other drawback is that the drawers used to be outside in the previous location, nowadays they are no longer to the direct view of the user, therefore on must request the letter of interest, and wait about five minutes for the staff to bring out the drawer. I envision that I will spend many hours here. In addition to “Slaves” several other sections will require my attention such as “Causas de Infidencia,” certainly “Disensos Matrimoniales,” and more. I can’t believe they don’t have an index of subject available to the users, I’ll keep asking for it, they staff is very friendly, I hope that eventually someone will say, “oh yes, there is one.” By the end of the week I was able to collect several documents.
This week was a bit more productive in term of meeting historians. On Monday the 26th I met with Maria Cristina Soriano, NYU Ph.D. candidate, who is finishing writing her dissertation, who gave me some suggestions. Later during the week although I lost a day due to indigestion, I was able to meet on Friday July 30th historian and Prof. Dora Dávila. She completed her doctorate in history in Mexico and teaches at the “Universidad Católica Andrés Bello.” Her work is quite extensive covering aspects such as gender, health and slaves’ petitions for freedom during the turn of the eighteen century. I had already been told by several that her book about this last subject is a must for me. Dávila’s current work study a family of slave owners, the lives of the people they enslaved. Dávila looks at slave’s lives experiences both during enslavement and as they became free after the death of the owners.
Next week I am scheduled to meet with historian Luis Felipe Pellicer, director of the Archivo General de la Nación, whose work coincidentally focuses on honor, and on Thursday I am scheduled to meet with prolific historian Inés Quintero, whose work focuses on many aspects of the colonial period of the Province of Caracas.
Posted by Evelyne Laurent-Perrault – PhD Candidate in History at NYU