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Abstract

The mid-2010s are a challenging period to investigate digital collections precisely because they exist as patchwork of emerging collections that are incompletely indexed, and thus it is difficult to appreciate their significance. For diligent researchers who employ a robust digital search methodology, there are substantial opportunities to locate and reveal high-dispersed and fragmentary histories. This researcher proposes six essential approaches to researching electronic collections based on personal expertise in physically researching in almost thirty Spanish private, local, church, provincial, and national archives and libraries, as well as countless digital collections.

The essential online digital collections for Spanish and Latin American history in Spain are the Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte (MECD)’s Portal de Archivos Españoles (PARES), the Biblioteca Nacional de España’s Biblioteca Digital Hispánica, and the Biblioteca de la Real Academia de la Historia’s finding aids. Collectively, these three collections as well as a few additional national, provincial, and municipal archives, offer a meaningful access point to the growing body of digital records pertaining to Spanish and Latin American history. While digitized images of all manuscripts, maps, drawings, and art are not fully accessible through these online portals, their finding aids and catalogues are quite robust and provide sufficient guidance to researchers so that they can either electronically request copies or prepare for an efficient, on-site review of documents. Access to these resources on Spanish and Latin American history have largely been funded directly by the collective efforts of Spanish governmental entities and private foundational efforts sponsored by the Spanish telecommunications and banking sectors.

Equally important to locating these digital collections is the researcher’s use of specialized search techniques for each of these online sources. As one might imagine, simple and advanced search tools offered via PARES will not generate accurate or complete listings of available electronic documents. Rather, it is critical that researchers understand how archives such as the Archivo General de Indias have arranged their collections so that they can modify their search techniques to locate more resources.

Additionally, scholars should be aware of newly emergent digital collections that are brought to light via collaborative initiatives, such as the Revealing Cooperation and Conflict Project (RCCP), which involves international scholars and Spanish institutions. For example, the Ayuntamiento de Plasencia, Diócesis de Plasencia, Centro Sefarad Israel (Madrid), MECD, and ten universities are collaborating to generate transcriptions of cathedral and municipal records from the fifteenth though seventeenth centuries for communities such as Plasencia, Spain. This city as well as the province of the Extremadura is particularly important to Iberian history as key royal bureaucratic and church leaders who shaped American policy hailed from the region. Similarly, large numbers of Spanish American conquistador, explorer, and settler families hailed from this region and created a two-way trans-Atlantic bridge of peoples and documents during the colonial era.