Archive algebra

Another summer, another trip to the archives, yay! As a result, I’ll be blogging again about the research trip. Frankly, I may just be blogging for my grandma and myself, but hey, that’s two people!

Pre-trip, I will be hanging on the beach around Valencia with family, having some very needed downtime after finishing the 2nd year of the PhD. But after that, I’ll be in Pamplona for six whole weeks (!!!) to do research both in the Archivo Diocesano de Pamplona (ADP) and the Archivo General y Real de Navarra (AGN). It’ll be the longest that I’ll have been able to spend time in the archives there, so I’m looking forward to having the time to get through the cases I’ve identified ahead of time that I definitely want to get through and having time to order cases and documents that strike my curiosity. Every time previously has been just a race to get through everything that I had identified ahead of time!

But given that I have 32 days in the archives total and that I had to say exactly which days I was going to be in what archive since the ADP has limited spaces now, I needed to do some “archive algebra” to figure out how many days I needed in the ADP. So below is the research, plan, and math I did so I can actually start my research in a couple weeks!

Archivo Diocesano de Pamplona

Every trip to Pamplona where I know I’m going to the ADP means that I need to consult the magisterial catalog of the ADP created by don Jose Luis Sales Tirapu, the former archivist of the ADP. Anyone who has known me and my research for a while likely knows about the catalog, but it’s worth it to harp on it because it really is such an excellent catalog and example of how much research and labor archivists do that my research builds on. While he was the archivist, don Jose Luis essentially read all of the court cases in the archive and then wrote short descriptions summarizing what happened in the case, often noting documents of interest. Each volume (there are at least 40, though I only use the first 21) is indexed by names, places, and (most crucially) topics.

Because it is indexed by topic, at this point I have a spreadsheet of every case indexed under “libros” (books) in the ADP, every case mentioning an inventory (about 600 across the first 21 volumes), and most recently, every case mentioning learning and schools. And since last year I used some money from an award I got from my school, I have my own copies of the first 21 volumes, meaning that I did not need to ILL copies from all over creation as I did last year. Thank goodness in the Institute of Historical Research had a full run when I was doing my master’s in London…

Libreros/Literacy spreadsheet

As for the cases that I am actually consulting this year, I am focusing on schools and learning. I’ve gone through all of the cases of real interest to me already involving booksellers and private library inventories where I know there are books. I’m looking at education now because I’m interested in gauging literacy levels in Navarre, and I think it’s a better way of getting at the perennial problem of estimating the prevalence of literacy in the early modern period.

A “classic” way to look at literacy is to take a random sample of documents in an archive and then count the number of times where someone is able to sign their name versus the times someone can’t sign their name. The percentage of people that can sign is your rough literacy rate. It’s not the worse way to do it, but when you think about how literacy worked in the early modern period, it’s not the greatest. Nowadays, we tend to think that reading and writing go hand in hand. You start scribbling your ABCs at the same time as when you’re beginning to try and read. In the 16th and 17th centuries, however, these were different skills. You might be able to read but not write, and you might sign your name without being able to read. So someone who couldn’t sign might have been able to read, and someone who could sign might not have. The former undercounts for reading and the latter overcounts.

There are other approaches, but you have to be lucky with your documentation. My favorite study on literacy is Sara Nalle’s “Literacy and Culture in Early Modern Castile” (Past & Present, No. 125 (Nov., 1989), pp. 65-96) where she uses Inquisition sources to determine literacy. This works much better than the signatures because the questions the inquisitors ask are questions we’d probably ask to gauge how well someone could read. Nalle states that:

In the 1560s, coinciding with the outbreak of religious wars in France and riots in the Netherlands, Spanish Inquisitors began to ask virtually all defendants if they had travelled abroad. In addition, defendants had to declare if they knew how to read and write, and how they had learned to do so. After 1570, defendants also had to reveal if they owned books and what their titles were (pp. 72-73)

That’s a heck of a lot of information that book historians care about! And these sources revealed higher literacy rates and book ownership rates overall, especially among the non-aristocratic or professional classes of society. Similar documentation isn’t available (as far as I know of…) at the AGN and ADP (though maybe I should swing down to Logroño on another trip since that’s where the tribunal for Navarre was), so I’m taking a different tactic by looking at schools.

My logic here is that if I can see where they were teaching literacy, then I’ll have a better idea of where booksellers’ customers outside of Pamplona and other major towns in Navarre were located and where literacy rates might have been higher. Finding documentation to show this is again made easier by the fact that “enseñanza” (teaching) is indexed in the ADP volumes.

Going through the catalog, I’ve found a total of 76 cases from the mid-16th century to the 17th century dealing with learning. Some are more important than others. For this summer’s stint at the AGN, I’m going to try to get through 19 cases ranging from 9 folios to 1,870. Fairly common are towns suing their “maestrescuela” (often times one of the priests in their parish) for somehow not completing their duties in regards to teaching reading, writing, and Christian doctrine. Other cases hint at some very interesting information and general attitudes towards literacy. Take for example the description of C/1534 N. 9 from 1592 in Oyarzun:

La justicia y regimiento de la valle de Oyarzun, solicitan la conmutación de una disposición testamentaria de Juan de Arbide, muerto en Indias, quien dejó una renta anual de 400 ducados para casar doncellas necesitadas. Los solicitantes piden que, separando 100 ducados de dicha cantidad, se destinen a salario de un maestro de escuela, que enseñe a los niños a leer, escribir, y contar, así como la doctrina cristiana. Se accede a la petición.

Essentially, a man called Juan de Arbide who died in the Americas left an annual fund in his will for 400 ducados to be spent to help pay the marriage expenses (assuming dowries here) of young women in need. However, Oyarzun want to set aside 100 ducados to be used to pay for a school teacher that would teach the village’s children to read, write, and basic math (reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic) as well as Christian doctrine. And it appears their petition was successful.

Now I find this case very interesting because a whole town decided that literacy for their children was worth at least as much as marrying off young women in their town and fussed enough to change the rules of the endowment/bequest. This is different from the vision of the early modern period that only wealthier individuals/families were literate and invested in acquiring some level of literacy. It’s a pretty short case (17 folios), but I’m looking forward to seeing what the town’s petition and any witness testimony says about literacy and why they want a schoolmaster.

One of the other standout cases I’m interested in is C/995 N. 5. On some level, I’m planning on ordering the case because it’s 1,870 folios long! I just want to see the freaking stack of paper! Typically, the cases in the ADP and AGN are stacks of paper with a piece of twine through two holes to keep everything together and in the right order. So as you flip through the case, you have to keep moving the twine through. This isn’t bad for the little cases, but for 600-800 folios (think like a 6 inch stack of paper), it’s not the easiest task. So what the heck is 1,870 folios going to be like??? The case itself is about the Colegio de la Asunción in Pamplona. I believe it has 60 years worth of documents and accounts of the running of the college. Don Jose Luis notes that there are some inventories in there, though he does not say whether they are of books. My hope is that the accounts might have records of transactions with booksellers/printers since that certainly will help get at what booksellers were selling to people, but it would be nice if there’s an inventory of the college’s library or book collection, if not multiple!

So that’s the outline of the research at the ADP. Once I had identified the 19 cases I was going to look at this time, I needed to do some math to figure out how many of the 32 days I needed to devote to being at the ADP. I knew from last year that I had gotten through 3 little cases and one larger 100-folio-ish case in 2 days. So I divided the cases by size into less than 40 folios, 40-100 folios, 100+ folios, and 1,000+ folios. That worked out to

  • 8 cases with <40 folios
  • 7 cases with 40 to 100 folios
  • 3 cases with 100+ folios
  • 1 case with 1000+ folios

I figured I could do 4 of the smallest cases in a day, so that works out to 2 days. For the 40-100s, I thought I could do 2.5 cases/day which works out to 2.8 days and so I rounded to 3. The 3, 100+ cases I estimated would take 2 days total, and then I gave myself 3 days for the 1,800 folio case. So in total, 10 days! It’s important to note that I won’t transcribe or read every folio that’s there for every case while I’m there which is why I could get through a 1,800 folio case in 3 days. For example, the first time I went to Pamplona in 2016, I ended up working through 12 cases in 5 days. Sometimes there are documents that I’m simply not interested in or that don’t provide that much information. I also tend to focus on transcribing the folios that give me the gist of what happened in the case (e.g., first couple folios and last couple folios) and any inventories while I’m there in the actual archive, and then I note down other folios of interest to ask for scans later so I can transcribe them outside of the archive.

My plan is to work through the smallest cases first since those will hopefully take less time, leaving more time to work on the 1,870 folio case. And if I end up finishing everything before my 10 days are up, then I’ll dip into my spreadsheet of inventory cases to see if I can’t find some more book owners in Navarre. At this point, I’ve transcribed all the cases that don Jose Luis had noted as having books in the catalog, but given that many people may have owned just a few books and that these were likely mixed in with the rest of the household goods in the inventory (as is the case for María de Ceniceros from my previous research), I doubt they came to his attention while writing the catalog. And these book owners are just as important as my countess, Mariana Vicenta de Echeverri, or the lawyer and ambassador Pedro de Ollacarizqueta. Frankly, they’re more important since they give an idea of what “normal” people might have had.

So that’s the plan for the ADP. 19 cases, 10 days, and hopefully I’ll come out understanding a little bit more about the education system and adquisition of basic literacy in Navarre from the late 16th century to the end of the 17th century.

Archivo General y Real de Navarra

Spending 10 days in the ADP therefore leaves 22 days in the AGN. Here, the focus will be more squarely on my intended topic of booksellers in Navarre. I started working through some of the bookseller cases last year, but since I only had 5 days in the AGN, I only got through 11 cases. This time I’m aiming for 43 cases!

To identify the cases I wanted to see this year, my contact at the AGN was kind enough to do a search on “libreros” (booksellers) in the AGN’s database and sent me a list of the 70+ cases for the 17th century that mention libreros in the description. I had also worked through the footnotes in Javier Itúrbide Díaz’s Los libros de un reino to see what cases he had found on booksellers that would be relevant to my interests. Between those two sources, I have 130 cases in the AGN that might be useful for my dissertation. And once I had read through the finding aid descriptions or what Itúrbide Díaz had used them for, I rated 43 as “high priority,” meaning that I want to see them this summer. These are cases where I think an inventory might pop up (again, I’m most interested in exactly what books were passing through booksellers in Navarre) or anything about their business practices. For example, n. 100528 is apparently about Ana Martínez selling cartillas (primers for learning to read). That will hopefully be an especially cool case since it’s a woman selling books, and she’s selling popular ephemera (aka, small cheap stuff meant for everybody).

Those 43 cases add up to 1,183 folios, meaning that there are about 31 folios/case. Using the formula from the ADP, I’d expect to get through at least 4 cases a day then, which works out to 11 days. Really, a lot of them are less than 15 folios, so they’ll hopefully take no time at all.

That leaves 10 more days in the AGN. Those extra 10 days will give me some wiggle room if my calcultions were off, but it also give me the space to work through documents that are not court cases: the protocolos notariales. Previously, I hadn’t used this type of document, 1) because I didn’t know they existed, and 2) you have to look through the finding aid to these documents at the AGN. In other words, in order to consult them, you need to have exploratory time, and I’ve never had that. Every time I’ve gone to Pamplona, I have a list of what I need to get through and I spend the time working as fast as possible to finish. I only started transcribing from the protocolos last summer because I knew exactly where the documents I needed were due to Itúrbide Díaz’s footnotes. But this time, I get to “play” in the archives a little bit more and see where it takes me.

That’s all for pre-beach research. Stay tuned for more!


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