Associated with such well-known sixteenth-century figures as Nicolás Federmann and Lope de Aguirre and located in a rich agricultural and mining district near the borders of the Segovia highlands, the Venezuelan Andes, and the Llanos, Nueva Segovia de Barquisimeto was a place of some distinction in the colonial period. Nevertheless, its citizens apparently neglected its history. While preparing a local ecclesiastical history in 1788, Fr. Antonio de Herrera lamented the lack of both historical knowledge and documentation in the city (vol. 1, p. 353). Nieves Avellán de Tamayo took a cue from that complaint and compiled an impressive, encyclopedic survey of the city’s colonial past. In so doing, the author has established a solid, modern—albeit traditional—foundation for understanding and remembering the past inhabitants, culture, and monuments of Barquisimeto.
Avellán’s work begins with a look at Aguirre and at Juan de Villegas, the founder of Nueva Segovia. Thereafter, however, it displays, from a Spanish perspective, a sweeping comprehensiveness. It presents material along broad topical lines, such as “Social Aspects” (chap. 5) and “Fiscal Aspects” (chap. 13); and in familiar historiographical contexts, such as “Indian Encomiendas” (chap. 8), “Slaves” (chap. 9), and “The Church” (chap. 10). Avellán packs each chapter with carefully documented detail gleaned from a variety of archives large and small, Venezuelan and Spanish, and organizes it into a number of topical sections. Chapter 4, “Some Aspects of Culture,” for example, contains 20 such segments, ranging from the establishment of the city’s first monastery to the books and libraries mentioned in Barquisimetan wills. Similarly, the useful, 23-section architectural survey of the city in chapter 3, “City Changes” (Las mudanzas de la ciudad), spans topics from urban planning to home furnishings. Avellán demonstrates, too, a paleographic bent by devoting an entire chapter (6) to the reproduction of nearly 175 signatures, representing a cross section of society from the local male elite to resident “doñas, mestizas, mulatas, y esclavas.” Signatures illustrate other chapters as well.
Not surprisingly, some of the data are significant and some trivial, an impression reinforced by the brevity (two to four pages) of many of the sections. Nevertheless, this handbook structure, augmented by an extensive index of proper names, leaves the final judgment of the work’s importance to each reader. It also makes these two volumes a worthy resource for Venezuelan local history and colonial social history in general.