From indigenous subjects to indigenous citizens: digitising state-society relations in the State Archive of Oaxaca (EAP568)

Aims and objectives

This project is intended to save, secure, and digitise the colonial and post-Independence documents of the Archivo del Poder Ejectivo del Estado de Oaxaca (AGPEEO). In order to do this, the project will train Mexican archivists in methods of preservation, cataloguing, digitising and disseminating endangered archives; provide equipment for a large-scale digitisation project; move documents into acid free boxes for their safety; and disseminate information about the project to other state and ecclesiastical archivists.

This digitisation project is designed to save and secure over 300,000 pages of endangered documents detailing state-society relations in Oaxaca during the colonial period and the nineteenth century. These documents, which look at the complex cultural, political, and economic negotiations between all tiers of society, are of fundamental use to historians, anthropologists, and linguists concerned with discovering the continuities and disjunctures in indigenous life during the shift from colonial to post-colonial world. The records reveal how isolated Spanish administrators exploited, engaged with, and often had to give in to indigenous lords, peasants, and traders; they provide a rare insight into changing patterns of governance and racial relations in New Spain. Nineteenth and early twentieth century records attest to the state’s manifolds attempts to “modernise” and reshape state-indigenous relations. Finally, legal disputes over land tenure, which comprise nearly 100,000 pages, are of great use to historians attempting to understand the process of nineteenth-century disentailment and privatisation.

At present the documents are stored in the AGPEEO in an old, converted convent. Around 70,000 colonial pages are catalogued, stored in boxes, and shelved. Most of the other documents are bound in bundles and are in rough piles. There is no climate control, and they face damage by termites, ants, mould, dust, occasional floods and rodents. Despite the rather dire situation of the archive, there is no physical reason why the documents cannot be digitised. Furthermore, with recent political changes, more professional state administrators are keen to secure the archive.

This major research project will be implemented by Dr Benjamin Smith and the head archivist of the State Archive, Anel Jarquín Méndez. Dr Smith has worked in the archive for ten years, while Anel Jarquín Méndez has been attempting to order and save the collection for over twenty. The director of the archive strongly supports the project and brought the perilous state of the collections to Smith’s attention.

The outcomes of the project will be threefold. First, digital copies of approximately 303,800 pages in the archive will be produced. These will be stored on external hard drives and a server in the AGPEEO. Digital copies on external drives will be sent to the British Library and Michigan State University. Second, 233,000 of these 303,800 pages, which have yet to be properly stored, will be catalogued and stored in acid-free boxes. Third, an international conference about the project will be convened and a small pamphlet produced in both Spanish and English.


Due to proposed changes the project was unable to proceed as planned and the grant was terminated.