Archaeology of a Book: An experimental approach to reading rare books in archival contexts

Path: Collection

The study of provenance, or the record of ownership of a book or artifact, can provide a close view of Mexican intellectual history and cultural heritage. By considering how a single object, like an exemplar of the Advertencias, has moved through the world, we can find insight into shifts in the use and value of these books over time. These shifts may point to broader currents in history related to changing political, intellectual, and economic climates.
In this project, we divide the problem of bibliographic provenance into two periods: colonial and postcolonial. This path focuses on the colonial period, which extends from the production of the Advertencias at Tlatelolco through its collection in religious and private libraries across Mexico, many of which functioned as centers of learning and education for Mexico's (indigenous and creole) elite. 
Provenance during this period can be traced using two key sources. Bibliographic or institutional records provide lists of library holdings that help us to understand what a historical collection may once have looked like. This is the case of the library at Tlatelolco, whose catalog has been reconstructed through the use of these archival sources by Michael Mathes. (See "The Library at Tlatelolco" or follow this path for a further discussion of this library.) By considering a catalog like this one in its entirely, we locate a text like the Advertencias within a larger body of intellectual work, reconstructing the imaginative sphere of the lettered city.
Marcas de Fuego, or firebrands, can provide insight into the colonial provenance of an individual exemplar. In a system similar to the branding of cattle, many religious institutions (and some individuals) designed their own unique symbol and used it to mark books that belonged to their collections (or perhaps, books that were sent to other collections). In this path, we partner with Mercedes Isabel Salomon-Salazar, the coordinator of special projects at the Biblioteca José María Lafragua, to explore the history of the Marcas de Fuego, and to look closely at one marca from the Primeros Libros collection.

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