Hermes Tovar Pinzón and sons Camilo and Jorge have produced this handsome volume of New Granada’s (mainly Colombia’s) earliest censuses. This family enterprise gives new meaning to family history. It also initiates a new series by Colombia’s Archivo General de la Nación dedicated to publishing primary sources on the history of Colombia. Hermes Tovar is that country’s leading historian of the colonial period. He has long sought to locate, edit, and publish the primary sources necessary for the writing of Colombia’s demographic, social, economic, and ethnohistory.

Convocatoria opens with a long essay on the demographic questions to be asked of Colombia’s colonial past. Arguing for the existence of a large number of Indians on the eve of the conquest, the Tovars leap into demographic outer space with an estimate of 8,254,264 (p. 22). The work then presents the only general census ever done before independence (1778) and the first one of the republican era (1825). The so-called 1778 census really dribbled into Bogotá piecemeal between 1777 and 1779 from the various regions of Colombia and Ecuador, but apparently not from Venezuela, because no returns from that area are shown. The 1825 census does include all the regions in the Viceroyalty of New Granada and Gran Colombia. The Tovars have used these two general censuses as bookends for the often more detailed recounts that were sometimes done in individual provinces in the late colonial and early republican eras. The Tovars have brought these censuses together under appropriate regional headings. Antioquia’s are particularly rich, especially from the years 1825 to 1833.

The censuses are scattered through archives and libraries in Colombia, Spain, and Great Britain, seemingly without rhyme or reason; as a result, most have never been published. Even those of 1778 and 1825 were difficult to obtain and replete with errors. To gather them all together in one volume is a magnificent achievement. The Tovars have made the necessary corrections, added the marginal and endnotes of the originals, and clarified some of the statistical errors of the census takers. There are no shortcuts here. Rigorous editing, fidelity to the documents, and complete citations are the mark of the Tovars’ scholarship. They have also supplied totals and calculated percentages that were not in the originals.

The Tovars argue that other censuses are still to be found and more work is to be done with what is now published. One task is to rearrange the regions along more modern political boundaries, so that later censuses can be compared. Another is to impose more specificity as to what towns and pueblos belonged to individual regions.

Work in parish archives would also undoubtedly elucidate the larger meaning behind the numbers.

What the Tovars publish is always stimulating. This volume is no exception.