Answer Key: Colonial Documents and Archives

Eloise Kadlecek and Shoshana Promer

This sample answer key corresponds to the Colonial Documents and Archives chapter. Keep in mind, in most cases, there may be more than one way to answer a question.


Exercise 2.1

What is a primary source? Can you come up with some examples? What is the difference between a primary source and a secondary source?

A primary source is a source that was created at the time in which the source is referenced by someone who witnessed the event. It can be anything from a piece of writing to a photograph. A secondary source differs from a primary source because it was not written by somebody who directly witnessed the event- it often includes secondary commentary and research after the fact. Some examples include a journal or an interview.


Exercise 2.2

When you think of a “colonial document” what images come to mind? Who are the authors of the colonial texts you know? What do these authors have in common?

Answers may vary. Possible answers may include: old manuscripts, intricate handwriting, and stamps that indicate the time period the document was written in. Sebastiana de Mendoza, Hernán Cortés, and Bartolomé de Las Casa are all examples of authors of colonial documents. Many authors of the colonial documents mention religion and local politics.


Exercise 3.1

This bill of sale is fairly standard. It was not for a particularly large tract of land nor did it involve prominent individuals. So why did Spanish officials feel the need record and preserve this transaction?

Think: why do states keep records of home sales?

Land ownership must have played a big part in society and every record that referenced it was important. It also must have been important to record the transfer of money between involved parties. Additionally, at this time, it is likely that propriety granted access to hierarchical and political benefits, so it was important to keep a careful record of land ownership.


Exercise 3.2

Can you find other bills of sale on the Ticha site? What information can you quickly glean from these documents?

(If you’re having trouble finding documents on the site, read Section 4 of the chapter on Ticha.)

Answers may vary. For example, “Bill of Sale from Santo Domingo Etla, 1702”. From looking at the metadata on Ticha’s website, the town in which this bill of sale was written in, the primary parties and witnesses involved, what date it was written, and the archive where this manuscript is located, among other things are present.


Exercise 3.3

Return to Bill of Sale from Santo Domingo Etla, 1726 ( Just looking at the metadata for this source, answer the five “W” questions.

  • Who is this document about? or, Who wrote it? Who does it include?
  • What is this document?
  • When was it produced?
  • Where was it created? [Bonus: Is the document there now?]
  • Why was it made? Why was it preserved?

This document is about Bartholomé Ezperanza and Antonia María (sellers) and Felipe Ezperanza (buyer). Scribes and witnesses are also mentioned. This document is a Bill of Sale. It was produced in 1740. It was created in Oaxaca de Juarez. It is still there in an archive called Archivo General del Poder Ejecutivo del Estado de Oaxaca. It was made to record a transaction between buyers and a seller. It was preserved because land ownership was/is important in Oaxacan society.


Exercise 4.1

The translators of the texts often identified themselves, listed their name, rank, and background and swore an oath that the information they had translated was correct. Why do you think this information is included? What do you think the role of interpreters was?

Answers may vary. For example, this information is included so people could verify that the information was correct and coming from a person who knew how to translate between Zapotec and Spanish. The role of interpreters was to make documents readable for speakers of both Zapotec and Spanish.


Exercise 4.2

Look at either the Zapotec or Spanish versions of the Bill of Sale from Oaxaca de Juárez, 1740. Try to briefly understand the content of the document in one to two sentences. Then find sections or quotes within the text that support your summary? Finally, think about what this document tells you about life at this time. Note, for example, that both men and women are included in the discussion of land sale.

This documents the transfer of land between parties. A woman, Antonia Maria, was part of a deal. Also, the testament of the interpreter is present in the document:

“Yo el ynterprete del Jusgado tradusgo este escritura que original en la YDioma zapotheco se me entregó el qual esta fielmente tradusido Y consentado de de la YDioma zapothe.”

This tells that although women were not principally included in the deals, their presence was noted in society. Additionally, this shows the importance of land ownership in the society.


Exercise 4.3

To conduct robust historical analysis, it is important to corroborate your findings. Scan the other bills of sale that you found in Exercise 3.2. What connections can you draw between the document you summarized and other sources from the site or that you have encountered previously? How do these additional pieces of information help you understand the information and perspectives in the Bill of Sale from Oaxaca de Juárez, 1740?

In the other Bills of Sale, the metadata usually contains helpful summarizing information like parties involved, where and when the document was written, and the document type. This information helps to further understand the document. Additionally, women are mentioned less than men are. By checking multiple sources, we can start to see patterns in language and content within the documents.


Exercise 5.1 What’s missing and what’s different?

Consulting manuscripts on Ticha is not the same experience as consulting them in an archive. Consider the following questions:

  • What might be missing when consulting a document on Ticha rather in the archive?
  • Are there ways in which the experience on Ticha supplements an archival experience?
  • More generally, how can a digital experience intervene in physical archival experiences?

Perhaps there are only certain archives that Ticha has access to, which would prevent access to some other manuscripts. Because of the way this archive is set up, significant information can be gleaned from a brief scan of the document. Colonial handwriting is often hard to read, so the transcription makes the documents more accessible to the average person. Additionally, analysis and translation help to supplement the document itself, making it easier to use and learn from. However, digital experience can take away from actually being in the physical archive and being in the place where the manuscript or document was written.



Caseidyneën Saën - Learning Together Copyright © by Eloise Kadlecek and Shoshana Promer. All Rights Reserved.

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