Alva Ixtlilxochitl?s Native Archive and the Circulation of Knowledge in Colonial Mexico

Alva Ixtlilxochitl?s Native Archive and the Circulation of Knowledge in Colonial Mexico

by Amber Brian

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Alva Ixtlilxochitl?s Native Archive and the Circulation of Knowledge in Colonial Mexico by Amber Brian

Modern Language Association's Katherine Singer Kovacs Prize, Honorable Mention, 2016

Born between 1568 and 1580, Alva Ixtlilxochitl was a direct descendant of Ixtlilxochitl I and Ixtlilxochitl II, who had been rulers of Texcoco, one of the major city-states in pre-Conquest Mesoamerica. After a distinguished education and introduction into the life of the empire of New Spain in Mexico, Ixtlilxochitl was employed by the viceroy to write histories of the indigenous peoples in Mexico. Engaging with this history and delving deep into the resultant archives of this life's work, Amber Brian addresses the question of how knowledge and history came to be crafted in this era.

Brian takes the reader through not only the history of the archives itself, but explores how its inheritors played as crucial a role in shaping this indigenous history as the author. The archive helped inspire an emerging nationalism at a crucial juncture in Latin American history, as Creoles and indigenous peoples appropriated the history to give rise to a belief in Mexican exceptionalism. This belief, ultimately, shaped the modern state and impacted the course of history in the Americas. Without the work of Ixtlilxochitl, that history would look very different today.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780826520975
Publisher: Vanderbilt University Press
Publication date: 07/12/2016
Pages: 208
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Amber Brian is Assistant Professor of Spanish at the University of Iowa and coeditor of The Native Conquistador.

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Alva IXTLILXOCHITL's Native Archive and the Circulation of Knowledge in Colonial Mexico

By Amber Brian

Vanderbilt University Press

Copyright © 2016 Vanderbilt University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8265-2097-5


Creoles, Mestizos, and the Native Archive

On May 21, 2014, three volumes of manuscripts that had belonged to don Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora centuries ago were to be auctioned by Christie's in London. Known as Bible Society Manuscripts 374 (BSMS 374), the first and second volumes contain the original manuscripts of don Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl's five historical works, while the third volume contains don Domingo de San Antón Muñón Chimalpahin Quauhtlehuanitzin's Historia, o chronica mexicana. There are additional texts interspersed throughout all three volumes. The day before the sale, the set was removed from the auction list and sold privately. On September 17, 2014, press releases and subsequent news stories revealed that Mexico's Instituto Nacional de Antroplogía e Historia (INAH) had purchased the three volumes for one million dollars. In celebration of the seventy-fifth anniversary of INAH and the fiftieth anniversary of the Museo Nacional de Antropología, the three volumes were reintroduced to the Mexican public with the new title of "Códice Chimalpahin," highlighting one author of the manuscripts' contents.

In a press release titled "The Mexican Government Recovers the Códice Chimalpahin" [El gobierno de México recupera el Códice Chimalpahin], INAH announced these details:

These invaluable documents were acquired by INAH, last May 20th, from the Bible Society in London, which had held them since the nineteenth century. Their acquisition builds the Mexican bibliographical patrimony and represents the first repatriation of a foundational document for the nation, an example of the country's historical and cultural patrimony.

[Estos documentos invaluables fueron adquiridos por el INAH, el pasado 20 de mayo, a la Sociedad Bíblica de Londres, que los poseía desde el siglo XIX. Su adquisición incrementa el patriomonio bibliográfico mexicano y representa la primera repatriación de un documento fundacional de la nación, patrimonio histórico y cultural del país.] (INAH 2014)

Scholars and politicians alike have now recognized the importance of these three volumes to Mexican historiography and cultural identity by ensuring their return to a Mexican institution. In this sense, the repatriation of the "Códice Chimalpahin" foregrounds the foundational role of these materials in the Mexican cultural archive.

In many ways, the archivo (archive) has maintained the resonance of its etymological roots in the Greek arkheion (residency of the magistrates) by bringing to mind a building that houses public records in the service of government (Corominas 1961, 59). Joan Corominas, the great philologist of Spanish, indicated that the term entered Castilian vocabulary in 1490, serendipitously just two years before Columbus's first voyage. The introduction of "archive" as a term and a process into the language of the Catholic monarchs would become intimately connected with the reality of governing the distant territories they and their heirs came to possess. The state archives, first at Simancas and then later in Seville, were established to house the mountains of papers produced in the governance of the vast Spanish Empire. Record-keeping was both a product of empire and a factor in its governance.

Of course, grand state institutions were not the only archives during the period of Spain's rule over the Americas. There were also local archives, in small towns and cities throughout the viceroyalties of New Spain and Peru. This chapter addresses an archive on yet a smaller scale, though tremendously significant nonetheless: Alva Ixtlilxochitl's native archive. By "native archive," I refer to the knowledge native communities collected in an effort to preserve their connection to the pre-Hispanic past in the context of European domination. Just as Corominas links the archive to public power and office holders, the native archive contained knowledge preserved by the power-holders of the native communities as links between oral and written traditions both before and after the arrival of the Spaniards.

Alva Ixtlilxochitl's archive of native pictorial and alphabetic texts offers an example of the physical genealogy of knowledge about the pre-Columbian world in Mexico. In that sense this archive also works as a theoretically potent image for thinking about the archive as an institution and an intellectual endeavor. The concept of the archive has been a touchstone for influential work on colonial Spanish American literature (González Echevarría 1998 [1990]; Higgins 2000; More 2013). While commenting on Corominas's entry for "archive," mentioned above, Roberto González Echevarría condenses the central argument of Myth and Archive: "Power, secrecy and law stand at the origin of the Archive" (1998 [1990], 31). Anna More (2013) focuses on the formation and articulation of what she calls a "creole archive" in the works of don Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora, where Sigüenza positions himself as a privileged interpreter of material history related to the native past and thus a founding voice in patriotic Mexican history. Antony Higgins is also interested in the role of native knowledge in creole writings; in his study of Juan José de Eguiara y Eguren (1696–1763) and another neo-Latin poet, Rafael Landívar (1731–1793), he posits that "creole intellectuals constitute a body of knowledge as a theoretical ground for their claims to authority and power" and that this body of knowledge emphasizes the history of the native inhabitants as a means of differentiating the creoles from the Spaniards (2000, ix–x). In the case of Eguiara y Eguren, Sigüenza's collection of native writings was central to the eighteenth-century writer's scholarly authority.

In these studies, the power associated with the archive is aligned with the European elite. My invocation of "archive" here attempts to pull the embedded discussion of power and authority away from a strictly creole or European social and discursive context. Approaching Alva Ixtlilxochitl's collection of Indian texts as a "native archive" places the emphasis on the ways in which the native community and a native scholar established not only a corpus of materials that would become foundational to Mexican historiography, but also a means of interpreting those materials and giving them meaning and authority in colonial Mexico. During his lifetime, Alva Ixtlilxochitl amassed a large collection of pictorial and alphabetic texts. He also consulted with elders from native communities and documented the stories they possessed from pre-Hispanic and conquest-era Mexico. This collection offers us an example not of an archive directly generated by viceregal power but one that represented the perspective and concerns of the native landed elite as they engaged with the institutions of authority that kept the great public records of New Spain. As this native archive was formed and kept by Alva Ixtlilxochitl and then circulated among and studied by creole and European scholars, its significance was reformulated and its import redrawn. Throughout the centuries, however, it remained a source of information and authority for each writer who engaged with it.

"Códice Chimalpahin": Forming and Circulating the Native Archive

Upon his death in 1700, Sigüenza left the bulk of his large collection of books and manuscripts to the Jesuit College of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Mexico City. Sigüenza's lengthy will, drafted on August 9, 1700, enumerates in eighty items how he wished his earthly belongings to be dispersed upon his death. Though the will does not offer a catalog of his library, Sigüenza does give broad descriptions of the books, manuscripts, and other materials he wanted to leave to the college, including studies of mathematics and books related to the Indies — a list encompassing both general histories of the region and specific studies of nature, medicine, and great men (Pérez Salazar 1928, 169–70). In paragraphs 37 and 38, Sigüenza provides explicit instructions for the care of his precious collection of manuscripts — in Spanish and Nahuatl — and of pictorial texts, which in pre-Columbian times were called texamatl or amoxtli, he says (170). He instructs that they be stored separately and in a cedar box to preserve them from bookworms (171). Sigüenza proudly announced in an earlier publication that he possessed all of don Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl's papers (Sigüenza 1960 [ca. 1689], 65). The manuscripts and pictorial texts collected and written by Alva Ixtlilxochitl would have represented a significant portion of Sigüenza's library of Indian materials.

Sigüenza designated his nephew Gabriel López de Sigüenza as the executor of his estate and entrusted him with the care and transfer of his library. Just months after Sigüenza's death, López de Sigüenza published Oriental planeta evangélico: Epopeya sacro panegyrica al apostol grande de las Indias, S. Francisco Xavier (Evangelical eastern planet: Sacred and panegyric epic to the great apostol to the Indies, Saint Francis Xavier) (1700), an epic poem written by his uncle in his youth. In a prefatory letter to Antonio de Aunzibai, the canon of the Mexico City cathedral, the nephew comments on the large collection of texts his uncle charged him with distributing:

Among the 470 books that [Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora] left to the Jesuit College of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, there were 28 manuscripts — 12 folios and 16 quartos — very lengthy, and some of the most exquisite there are or will be, containing some of his things and some from others, all originals.

[Entre cuatrocientos y setenta libros que dejó al Colegio de la Compañía de Jesús de San Pedro y San Pablo, fueron veinte y ocho manuscritos, doce de a folio y diez y seis de a cuarto, voluminosos, de los más exquisitos que hay ni habrá, así de cosas suyas como de otros, todos originales.] (Sigüenza 2008 [1700], 85)

López de Sigüenza informs Aunzibai that while he kept some of the volumes in his own possession and gave away others, he did pass the great majority along to the Jesuits in accordance with his uncle's will (2008 [1700], 84–85).

In the end, 460 of Sigüenza's books were deposited at the Jesuit College of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. Among those were twenty-eight volumes of manuscripts. By the early nineteenth century, some parts of Sigüenza's collection had been moved to the library of the Jesuit College of San Idelfonso, also in Mexico City. In the entry for "D. Fernando de Alva" in Biblioteca Hispano Americana Septentrional (1883), José Mariano Beristáin y Souza summarizes the course of Alva Ixtlilxochitl's original manuscripts up to his day. Beristáin, who completed his study in 1816, cites a volume in the San Ildefonso collection that is titled "Fracmentos [sic] de Historia Mexicana" (1:58–59). This title matches the label on the spine of the first volume of the "Códice Chimalpahin," strongly confirming the trail of Alva Ixtlilxochitl's texts up to this point.

However, shortly after this notice to the whereabouts of Alva Ixtlilxochitl's work, another critical gift exchange happened, this one mirroring in some ways the transfer to Sigüenza 150 years earlier but in other ways more representative of how indigenous historical materials were appropriated to other ends. A Mexican secular priest, Father José Luis de Mora, was the giver this time. Mora was a librarian at San Ildefonso and would have had ready access to the school's collection. In 1827, he presented three bound volumes to James Thomson, the representative for the Bible Society in Mexico (Schroeder 1994, 379). Founded in 1804, the London-based British and Foreign Bible Society charged its members with distributing Protestant Bibles and collecting Bible-related materials in such faraway places as Tibet, Ethiopia, and Mexico. During their travels, agents from the Bible Society acquired over 500 manuscripts, written in more than 180 different languages. Their collection was moved from London to the library at Cambridge University in 1982 (Jesson 1982, v–vi; Schroeder 1997, 3). Though Mora was a secular Catholic priest and Thomson a Protestant Bible merchant, they shared a passion for educational reform and, as Schroeder explains, they collaborated on ways to distribute Bibles in the newly independent Mexico (1994). Thomson took the manuscripts back to England, where they passed into a century and a half of obscurity.

Though copies of Alva Ixtlilxochitl's corpus circulated widely in manuscript form during the eighteenth century, none of his writings were published until 1829, when Carlos María de Bustamante offered the "Thirteenth Relation" of Alva Ixtlilxochitl's Compendio histórico as supplemental material to an edition of Bernardino de Sahagún's Historia general de las cosas de Nueva España (General history of the things of New Spain). Bustamante gave Alva Ixtlilxochitl's seventy-page account of the conquest his own provocative title: Horribles crueldades de los conquistadores de México, or Horrible Cruelties of the Conquerors of Mexico. Two decades later, the eccentric Anglo-Irish nobleman Lord Kingsborough published all five of Alva Ixtlilxochitl's works in the ninth volume of his massive compendium, Antiquities of Mexico (1848); as with subsequent editions, this first one was based on eighteenth-century transcriptions of the originals. Several decades later, at the end of the nineteenth century, the Mexican historian and archaeologist Alfredo Chavero published Obras históricas de don Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxóchitl (1891–1892) as the first stand-alone edition of the author's writings. Most recently, Edmundo O'Gorman, a prolific Mexican intellectual, produced a remarkable edition of Alva Ixtlilxochitl's works, Obras históricas: Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxóchitl (1975–1977). Published in two volumes, the O'Gorman edition provides not only an exhaustively researched presentation of the primary texts but also a useful apparatus of commentary and additional materials, all of which have added greatly to our understanding of Alva Ixtlilxochitl.

But despite an achievement like O'Gorman's work, few of the scholars interested in Alva Ixtlilxochitl's legacy were able to consult his original manuscripts, which were consigned to archival limbo when given to Thomson. Scholars generally lamented the loss of these materials and made do with eighteenth-century transcriptions of the originals by Lorenzo Boturini Benaduci (1702–1755). A native of Milan, Boturini spent several years in Mexico collecting, studying, and transcribing documents related to the natives. In 1742, legal proceedings were brought against him, and within a year he was deported and his papers were seized by the viceregal authorities in New Spain. Boturini's papers and transcriptions were then consulted, and sometimes recopied, by Mexican scholars from later generations, such as Mariano de Echevarría y Veytia, Francisco Javier Clavijero, Antonio de León y Gama, and Juan José de Eguiara y Eguren. Boturini indicated in his transcriptions that they were taken directly from the originals written in Alva Ixtlilxochitl's own hand, which he had consulted at the Jesuit College of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. By and large, Boturini rendered faithful copies of the content of the original texts, as he took great care to follow the cross-outs and marginal emendations found in the original seventeenth-century manuscripts. In fact, given the loss of the material from Sigüenza's library, Boturini's transcriptions served for two centuries as an ersatz original. That would change when, shortly after the publication of O'Gorman's Obras históricas, the original Alva Ixtlilxochitl manuscripts ended their long exile from historical memory, in part thanks to the assiduous bibliographic work of Wayne Ruwet, an independent scholar associated with the library at the University of California, Los Angeles.

In 1982, in the course of pursuing a long-standing interest in the sixteenth-century Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún, Ruwet fortuitously rediscovered the three lost volumes of native writings. While scouring manuscript catalogs for leads on Sahagún manuscripts, Ruwet found mention of a possible text held in the British and Foreign Bible Society collection (personal communication, October 1, 2012). Ruwet contacted Alan Jesson, the Bible Society's librarian, to make further inquiries. Serendipitously, Jesson had just published Historical Catalogue of the Manuscripts of Bible House Library (1982), in which he lists, under the heading of Nahuatl texts, "Historical works by Ferdinando [sic] de Alva Ixtlilxochitl and other historical material" (189). With this catalog note, Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl's writings returned to the public light where, with the recent purchase of these materials by the Mexican government, it seems they will remain. Though the three volumes meant little to Jesson, Ruwet immediately recognized their importance. Ruwet passed this information along to Susan Schroeder, a historian and Chimalpahin scholar. Schroeder eventually teamed with noted Nahuatl scholar Arthur Anderson to create a translation and scholarly edition of the third volume of manuscripts, including Chimalpahin's Chronica mexicana, which they titled Codex Chimalpahin (1997).


Excerpted from Alva IXTLILXOCHITL's Native Archive and the Circulation of Knowledge in Colonial Mexico by Amber Brian. Copyright © 2016 Vanderbilt University Press. Excerpted by permission of Vanderbilt University Press.
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Table of Contents


Introduction: Giving and Receiving,
1. Creoles, Mestizos, and the Native Archive,
2. Land, Law, and Lineage: The Cacicazgo of San Juan Teotihuacan,
3. Configuring Native Knowledge: Seventeenth-Century Mestizo Historiography,
4. Circulating Native Knowledge: Seventeenth-Century Creole Historiography,
Epilogue: Native Knowledge and Colonial Networks,

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