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

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’s research is focused on the art and writing of pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica, as well as on the connections linking the Americas and Europe in the early modern Mediterratlantic world.

“The ingenuity of this book comes from Hamann’s enthusiasm for building out unanticipated archival paths. He works via maps and architectural sections, economic records, letters, dictionaries, and historic photographs. The research is nothing short of herculean. Some will find its fine-grained texture unsettling, but few scholars have Hamann’s research acumen or spark.”
—Dana Leibsohn, Early American Literature

“Immensely erudite and lavishly illustrated. . . . Sophisticated.”
Miruna Achim, West 86th

“A valuable book . . . the clear and direct writing is accessible to a wide audience including students of Spanish colonial history and independent scholars. A sturdy and well bound volume with full color illustrations printed on matte paper, this book is data driven and situated firmly in the field of media-archaeology.”
—Lane Goldszer, ARLIS/NA

“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

The Invention of the Colonial Americas takes the reader on an illuminating reconstruction of Seville’s Archive of the Indies as a physical place, one whose organization and content allowed eighteenth-century writers to sever the histories of Europe and the Americas. Byron Ellsworth Hamann’s innovative study—intellectual, spatial, data-driven, and always human in its focus—offers a necessary contribution to our understanding of the Spanish Enlightenment.”
—Jesús Escobar, Northwestern 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