The title of this compendium gives little indication of the kind of material inside, nor is the subtitle wholly accurate. The work contains not Documentos del Archivo General de Indias de Sevilla, but extracts of documents from the Archivo. In spite of this initial confusion, Marco Dorta’s book turns out to be both interesting and useful. In essence, what he has given us is a highly personal selection of extracts from documents about Venezuela found in various sections of the AGI. With these general parameters of the collection in mind, we can better understand the criteria of selection.
Culture, for Marco Dorta, embraces a wide variety of topics. For example, he is interested in artisans, architecture, and construction techniques, and so the book has a vast and informative complement of extracts about artisans and their tools, costs and materials of construction, and architects and their drawings. He also includes many documents describing the deteriorating condition of local churches and pleading for royal financial help in reconstruction.
In addition to the information on buildings and their builders, there are many book lists. Some refer to titles passed through the Inquisition for shipment to Venezuela. Others are inventories of clerical libraries. Fortunately, these extracts give the book lists in full detail.
The compendium is organized chronologically by the date of the document. Although there are entries from 1523 to 1828, over three-fourths of the collection refer to the eighteenth century. Bach item is accompanied by its location in the AGI, its date, and usually by the number of folios involved. The analytical index is well done and eminently usable, although more detailed key words would have helped. It is hard to know what to do with a half-page of numbers referring to the key word Caracas.
Any work of this kind necessarily frustrates the reader, for extracts only indicate the type of information included and fail to reveal the depth or detail contained in a document. In any event, the Fundación Boulton of Caracas has again given us a worthwhile publication which will prove useful to many students of colonial Venezuelan culture.