In a Foreign Land

I am this week at the Archivo General de Indias, in Seville. Preparing for my trip, I searched articles both for index references, and discussions of the archives themselves. It’s always best to know in advance what to expect when you arrive at a new research site, especially with limited time. I knew that the archive does not allow digital cameras, but that photocopies are inexpensive (what may be expensive are the baggage fees for carrying all that paper home!). Friends who were familiar with the archive gave me various tips, and this entry from Danielle Terrazas Williams’ blog was also very helpful.

However, the advice from academic journals made me wonder about the wisdom of going at all. I was very concerned about my health, having been warned:

“Spanish food, though plentiful, is invaribly prepared in olive-oil which, beneficial in its natural state, is highly indigestible as cooked grease. Nor can too much care be exercised in drinking nothing but boiled or distilled water, as the local supplies are typhoid-laden.

And I could forget about practising my Castilian, as “the Spanish dialect spoken in Andalusia, makes it a most unsatisfactory place to acquire correct Spanish.”

I brought books as I was particularly worried about not having enough to do:

People accustomed to keep in trim by a certain amount of active, outdoor exercise, will find that all Seville affords are long walks. Even tennis is out of the question, due to the absence of tennis courts. Physical recreation being thus summarily disposed of there remains mental diversion. There are no public libraries, nor institutions resembling the Y. M. C. A. Hence, one is compelled to fall back on clubs, cafes, and theaters for amusement.

Needless to say, the lack of a YMCA is a particular disappointment. But being compelled to go to the theatre didn’t sound so awful. I had some doubts too about my research preparation:

The Archives' very rich collection in old maps makes, at least, an elementary acquaintance with cartography highly desirable. It is for the particular investigator to determine whether his subject requires training in diplomatics, heraldry, genealogy, sphragistics, or any other of the sciences auxiliary to history.

Since I don’t even know what sphragistics is, I obviously haven’t mastered it. Nonetheless, I endeavour onwards with this handicap. At least, “Competent typists can be hired in the Archives at a nominal price for the making of transcripts.”* Well, that’s a relief. For academics to have to type their own research is truly barbaric.
I have not seen any recent articles about archival sources that presume to act as a Baedeker for the town in which they are located, but perhaps they still exist?
(I am staying at a nice hotel 5 minutes walk from the archive, and the water is perfectly potable)
*Arthur S. Aiton and J. Lloyd Mecham, ‘The Archivo General de Indias’, The Hispanic American Historical Review, Vol. 4, No. 3 (Aug., 1921), pp. 553-567