The Mexican manuscript collection of the Rosenbach Library contains a wide variety of social and economic documentary material relating to New Spain from the foundation of the colony to the early independence period. This guide represents a significant step in the process of rendering accessible to scholars important colonial Mexican materials housed outside of Mexico.
In introducing the guide, Szewczyk briefly discusses the origins of the Rosenbach Collections. He places the provenance of these valuable records in the context of the alienation of Mexican documents that occurred in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In the course of his discussion, Szewczyk details the regrettable account of the dissolution of the Cortés family archives by the descendants of the conquistador, the sale of individual pieces to manuscript dealers, and the partial reorganization of the alienated records in the Rosenbach Library.
The arrangement of any archival guide must be somewhat arbitrary, based on the judgment of the compiler regarding what is most appropriate for the collection. Here, Szewczyk chooses to reference his documents according to the name of the “leading party,” rather than by chronological order or the type of document. The adoption of this system results in some problems of inconsistency in the guide. Some powers of attorney, for example, are referenced by the name of the grantor, while others can be found under the grantee. Powers of attorney are cited according to the name of the contracting parties, but marriage applications are listed under “Mexico. Mexico City. Register of Marriage Applications.” These problems are mitigated, however, by an extremely useful comprehensive index, referencing not only names, places, and subjects, but dates as well.
The editors are to be commended for the high level of detail in their abstracts. By resisting the tendency toward superficial descriptions of long, complex documents (currently advocated by some archivists and granting institutions), Barnes and Szewczyk have brought to the attention of Mexican scholars important material of social and economic interest that would have been lost otherwise.
The Rosenbach Guide is a valuable contribution to the social and economic historiography of Mexico, and a welcome research tool for scholars.