Into the Archive

Writing and Power in Colonial Peru

Into the Archive

Book Pages: 264 Illustrations: 27 illustrations, 3 tables, 2 maps Published: September 2010

Author: Kathryn Burns

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, History > Latin American History, Latin American Studies > Andes

Writing has long been linked to power. For early modern people on both sides of the Atlantic, writing was also the province of notaries, men trained to cast other people’s words in official forms and make them legally true. Thus the first thing Columbus did on American shores in October 1492 was have a notary record his claim of territorial possession. It was the written, notarial word—backed by all the power of Castilian enforcement—that first constituted Spanish American empire. Even so, the Spaniards who invaded America in 1492 were not fond of their notaries, who had a dismal reputation for falsehood and greed. Yet Spaniards could not do without these men. Contemporary scholars also rely on the vast paper trail left by notaries to make sense of the Latin American past. How then to approach the question of notarial truth?

Kathryn Burns argues that the archive itself must be historicized. Using the case of colonial Cuzco, she examines the practices that shaped document-making. Notaries were businessmen, selling clients a product that conformed to local “custom” as well as Spanish templates. Clients, for their part, were knowledgeable consumers, with strategies of their own for getting what they wanted. In this inside story of the early modern archive, Burns offers a wealth of possibilities for seeing sources in fresh perspective.


Into the Archive demonstrates the need for the kind of analytical methodology of critical close reading that has been evident in many studies although explicitly formulated in very few...This book will be essential reading for anyone who works with colonial Latin American archives, and it is to be hoped that it will prompt scholars to familiarize themselves with the colonial manuals and the legal codes that informed notarial practices.” — Galen Brokaw, Ethnohistory

Into the Archive is a witty, engaging and insightful study of how the archives of colonial Peru aren't what they seem.... Burns's probing study into archival illusions, brings a healthy, critical edge to all history writing. Reminding us that archives can be illusory and elusive, Burns makes a strong case for complicating what we do and for nurturing our historical imaginations, accepting ambiguities, and recognizing the limits of our own ventriloquy.” — Irene Silverblatt, Journal of Social History

“Economic historians who are willing to read outside our own jargon will be rewarded with a book that has much to say about our field. For this is a book about property rights and the enforcement of legal institutions, barriers to entry and moral hazard, apprenticeships and training, secondary markets in legal titles and credit contracts even if it never says so explicitly. To begin with this book offers a readable introduction into the central role of notaries in Spanish America and Spain. And although Burns does not mention this, it might well serve as a guide for anyone who tries to understand the function of these vital players in the legal structure of most continental European countries. This makes it an obvious starting point for any economic historian new to these kinds of sources.” — Regina Grafe, Journal of Economic History

“Anyone contemplating research in the colonial archives of the Andes and beyond should read this book, and even old hands are likely to derive many useful lessons.”
— Alan Durston, Social History

“Because Latin Americanist historians depend so heavily upon archival documents, Burns has done us an enormous professional service by exploring and explaining the processes that brought those documents into being. . . . Burns' book is quite simply essential reading for all colonial Latin Americanist historians. Indeed, it is one of the finest works of colonial Latin American history published in the last decade.” — Jaymie Patricia Heilman, Journal of Colonialism & Colonial History

“Burns presents a fascinating and complex tale of intrigue, convoluted politics, and tangled economic and social networks that comprised the world of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century notaries in Cuzco. . . . [H]er fine book should appeal to a wide audience of historians and scholars in other disciplines interested in archives, writing, and the exercise of power in the early modern world.” — Kenneth J. Andrien, Journal of Interdisciplinary History

“For the second time, Kathryn Burns has written an important, innovative book using the Cuzco archival records as a case study. This second monograph, however, in this reader’s estimation, supersedes the excellent first monograph… in its impact on the field. Into the Archive is a “must read” by all who enter an archive anywhere in the Spanish domains, either as a student or practiced professor.” — Susan Elizabeth Ramirez, Colonial Latin American Historical Review

“Into the Archive provides us with a detailed and fascinating exploration into the extant colonial archive in Cuzco, Peru.... [It] is exemplary in its erudition, critical sophistication and use of sources. It is an example that will be followed by other students of local archives.”
— Juan E. de Castro, Bulletin of Latin American Research

“It remains to be seen how many historians will choose to study notaries in the future, but this study convincingly shows that all will benefit from taking them more fully into account.” — Peter Gose, American Historical Review

“This book sheds new light on the production of legal writings in early modern Spain and its colonies…. Elegantly written, jargon-free, and well organized, this book provides enjoyable and instructive reading for a wide range of students and academics…. [An] inspiring, well-crafted, and important book.” — Marta Zambrano Escovar, Hispanic American Historical Review

“This book will prove useful in undergraduate and graduate courses not
only on early Latin America, but on historical epistemology and methodology as well. . . . Into the Archive joins works such as those of
Natalie Zemon Davis that must be borne in mind by all archival historians.” — Chad Thomas Black, History: Reviews of New Books

“Burns has given us a truly fascinating analysis of the dynamics involved in the creation of what comes to us as an archives. It is essential reading for any scholar who intends to engage in archival research or in research on the nature of the archives itself. . . . The book is rich in analysis, well researched, and full of possibilities.” — Francis X. Blouin Jr, American Archivist

“Joining her voice to those of scholars such as Ann Laura Stoler and Natalie Zemon Davis, Kathryn Burns calls on historians to treat archives as a fundamental part of research rather than simply mining the documents that lie therein. Her rich case study of colonial Peru interrogates the production of archival documents and thus has wide-ranging methodological implications for historians and archivists interested not only in colonial Latin America but also in legal history, the early modern period, and the power of writing. Her clear and conversational writing style builds a convincing argument through visual and textual examples that show the constructed nature of truth in archival documents.” — Elizabeth Shesko, Journal for the Society of North Carolina Archivists

“Kathryn Burns’s elegantly written and exquisitely illustrated Into the Archive constitutes a remarkable and innovative contribution to our understanding of the making of Spanish colonialism in colonial Cusco.” — Alcira Dueñas, The Americas

“This eloquently written book is a must read for scholars and curators, within and without Latin American studies, on the meaning and function of colonial archives and their modern successors. It would be hard to find a more passionate argument for the vitality and profit of notarial collections and sources as subjects of historical inquiry.”
— John Charles, Journal of Archival Organization

“Those who read this small but wise volume will doubtless enhance both their understanding of colonial record making, and also their need to treat the documentary record with caution, always contextualizing the making of the records themselves. The author is to be congratulated for this major contribution to the analysis of colonial notarial sources, a book that will benefit all who work in archives.” — David J. Robinson, Journal of Latin American Geography

“‘Believe me, sir, it all depends on us,’ brags a notary in a Francisco de Quevedo novel. ‘So true,’ say historians of early modernity; after all, history comes to us through these men’s quills. But who are they? With an ethnographic eye, Kathryn Burns brings to life the surprisingly unpredictable human business that took place over notarial desks. Burns’ fresh, rich, and ingenious investigation of notaries’ power over letters adds crucially to our understanding of how Andean peoples joined the transatlantic textual community.” — Frank Salomon, author of The Cord Keepers: Khipus and Cultural Life in a Peruvian Village

“Kathryn Burns leads us into the archive through a fine-grained historical ethnography of notarial practice and its social context in colonial Cuzco. Gracefully-written and engaging, yet rigorous in its use of historical materials and its social analysis, Into The Archive’s reading of the colonial notarial office as a space of political and social negotiation and intrigue will transform our appreciation of these repositories and our understanding of the colonial Latin American ‘lettered city.’ No longer transparent, the very production of archival documents becomes a space in which colonial society is revealed.” — Joanne Rappaport, author of The Politics of Memory: Native Historical Interpretation in the Colombian Andes

“While historians are increasingly attentive to how actions and intentions get filtered through the voices and pens of intermediaries, or standardized by juridical and legal formulas, very few scholars have undertaken a systematic examination of these processes and their implications. Kathryn Burns has done so, and brilliantly. Her book Into the Archive will be of enormous interest to cultural and social historians of colonial Latin America, to students of Latin American history more broadly, and to many scholars outside the field of Latin American studies, particularly those engaged in research on the early modern world, legal history, and the history of archives.” — Barbara Weinstein, New York University


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Kathryn Burns is Associate Professor of History at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She is the author of Colonial Habits: Convents and the Spiritual Economy of Cuzco, Peru, also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Illustrations ix

Preface xi

Acknowledgments xiii

Introduction 1

1. Of Notaries, Templates, and Truth 20

2. Interests 42

3. Custom 68

4. Power in the Archives 95

5. Archives as Chessboards 124

Epilogue 148

Notes 153

Glossary 205

Works Consulted 209

Index 239
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Honorable Mention, 2012 Bryce Wood Award, presented by the Latin American Studies Association

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4868-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4857-3
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