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The Invention of the Colonial Americas: Data, Architecture, and the Archive of the Indies, 1781–1844

Available August 2022

Byron Ellsworth Hamann

The story of Seville’s Archive of the Indies reveals how current views of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries are based on radical historical revisionism in Spain in the late 1700s.
The Invention of the Colonial Americas is an architectural history and media-archaeological study of changing theories and practices of government archives in Enlightenment Spain. It centers on an archive created in Seville for storing Spain’s pre-1760 documents about the New World. To fill this new archive, older archives elsewhere in Spain—spaces in which records about American history were stored together with records about European history—were dismembered. The Archive of the Indies thus constructed a scholarly apparatus that made it easier to imagine the history of the Americas as independent from the history of Europe, and vice versa.
In this meticulously researched book, Byron Ellsworth Hamann explores how building layouts, systems of storage, and the arrangement of documents were designed to foster the creation of new knowledge. He draws on a rich collection of eighteenth-century architectural plans, descriptions, models, document catalogs, and surviving buildings to present a literal, materially precise account of archives as assemblages of spaces, humans, and data—assemblages that were understood circa 1800 as capable of actively generating scholarly innovation.  

Byron Ellsworth Hamann is an associate professor of art history at Ohio State University. 

“This is a fascinating study of how the decision to establish a colonial archive required distinguishing European from colonial history and reimagining the role and place of the Americas in Spain, present and past. It demonstrates that the breakup of the Hispanic world was not unilateral, as not only creoles but also Spaniards, gradually moved to affirm that Spain and Spanish America were distinct. Hamann masterfully and convincingly shows that at the heart of the Archive of the Indies—an archive all historians of Spanish America use—is a hidden story about how our own field came to be and about what we have routinely seen but failed to notice.”
—Tamar Herzog, Monroe Gutman Professor of Latin American Affairs, Harvard University

328 pages
8 x 10 inches
97 color and 25 b/w illustrations
3 tables and 4 charts
ISBN 978-1-60606-773-4

Getty Publications
Imprint: Getty Research Institute