Preservation and digitisation of the archival material in the Historical Archive of the San Marcos National University, 1551-1920 (EAP507)

Aims and objectives

This project aims to preserve, catalogue, digitise and make available for researchers an important part of the remaining archival material held in the Historical Archive of the San Marcos National University, dating from its foundation in 1551 to the University Reform started in 1919, in order to avoid its further physical deterioration and loss. During this long period, San Marcos University was the only institution of higher education in Peru and hence its Historical Archive holds important documents on several scarcely studied aspects of Peruvian and Hispanic American history. Access to these papers will contribute to a better knowledge and comprehension of such processes as Enlightenment and the development of modern sciences in a peripheral country by fostering a renewed interest in the study of the ways in which Peru embraced modernity.

Amongst the rich collections of the archive, the target of this project is specifically the papers related to academic matters, being especially valuable sources for the history of science in Medicine from the colonial through to the independence period. The documents to be preserved and digitised contain information on curricula, professors, students and studies, including the changes experienced as the result of university reforms reflecting scientific new paradigms and ideological re-orientations.

The colonial collection includes documents on the establishment of the University (in Spanish and Latin), as well as manuscripts about the functioning of the University (royal decrees, statutes, records, inventories, and appointments). Especially important are the papers dealing with Protomedicato, the first institution of controlling medical professions in Peru and South America. Even though there are only two books preserved, they hold very important information for the history of Medicine in a time when new ways of thinking were challenging the old scholastics. On the other hand, after the War of the Pacific (between the 1880s and 1920s), the archive has documents regarding scientific activities in various disciplines and, especially, in Medicine, and theses defended by undergraduate and graduate students.

The archival material that will be digitised is held in three repositories:

  • 1. The Historical Archives of the University;

    2. The Museum and Historical Archive of San Fernando Medical School of the University;

    3. Special Collections Section of the Central Library of the University.

Although San Marcos University is the main university institution of Peru and one of the oldest universities in the New World, the historical documentation of the San Marcos National University has suffered from diverse problems, both natural and human, and the University has no resources for preserving, conserving, and providing access to the remaining materials for researchers. The historical archival material remains at risk of further deterioration and even loss since there is neither a proper catalogue nor trained staff.

The manuscripts and theses are housed in old colonial buildings in inappropriate rooms. The material is exposed to humidity, fungi, dust, insects, rodents, and earthquakes. One of the aims of the project will be to re-house the original material in acid-free boxes. Archival conditions should be improved as this project has the full support of the University authorities.

Another goal of the project is to train both the permanent staff and the four auxiliary members of the project in the conservation, cataloguing, and use of the technology to digitise and preserve the holdings, by specialists of the Centro de Investigación para el Desarrollo Archivístico y Gestión de la Información (CIDAGI). The project includes also a series of conferences by historians of science and technology on the historical significance of the collection. In addition, the project will exhibit part of the archival materials digitised at the three locations of the project: the Historical Archive, the Museum and Archive of San Fernando Medical School, and the Central Library of the University.


The project digitised approximately 26,000 pages of theses and dissertations dating from 1857-1920. Four historical documents dating from 1551-1821 were also digitised.

The Historical Archive of the University is now in better condition, with the risk of physical deterioration reduced due to the acid-free boxes and implementation of technical procedures. Linked to this is the cataloguing that was undertaken and, hence, increased capacity to serve documents.

The Historical Archive has a new area of technical work with the equipment purchased through the project (two computers, a digital camera, a copying stand, etc.).

This was the first digitising project dealing with archival historical documentation in the University. The project permitted five students of the History Department to be trained in digitising processes, one of whom is now working permanently for the archive.

In addition, part of the training has been organised to benefit the staff of other historical and non-historical archives of the University, namely the staff of the Museum and Historical Archive of San Fernando Medical School of the University (Facultad de Medicina “San Fernando”).

Digital copies have been deposited with the Historical Archives of the University; the Museum and Historical Archive of San Fernando Medical School of the University; the Special Collections Section of the Central Library of the University; the National General Archive; and the British Library.

The records copied by this project have been catalogued as: