Secrets from the Archives: Research and Hints for the Would-Be Archival Researcher

As I write this, I am currently on the plane on the way back from my research trip to Spain. The archival stage of my research now complete, I thought I would take this opportunity to offer a brief summary of what I have been doing on this trip, and try to provide some hints that others may find helpful.

Over the last two weeks, I had the wonderful opportunity to return to the Archivo Diocesano de Pamplona (ADP) and Archivo Real y General de Pamplona (AGN), but I also got a chance to add the imposing Archivo Historico National (AHN) in Madrid to my list of archives that I have worked in. Traveling with another William and Mary student, Meredith Howard, the process couldn’t have gone smoother. However, we undoubtedly owe much of this to the fact that we were able to meet up with Prof. Betsy Wright of the University of Georgia who helped show us in the door (many archives around the world require a connection of sorts).

In the AHN I spent much of my time reading about correspondence between the Inquisitorial Suprema and the Tribunal of Logroño, which is in Navarre. I also, however, managed to do a little preparatory work for a future project on holy women in Navarre, and I read some documents on spiritual discernment and problems with alumbrados. (A helpful hint to other would-be archival investigators: A good starting point in an archive is a good monograph in which the author has used sources from the archive in which you want to look. In the bibliography you may find some good starting points, which at least will give you a good idea of what sorts of things the archive may have).

Following Madrid, we made our way to Pamplona. In Pamplona, I quickly got to work on my primary area of focus for this trip: the misbehaving sixteenth-century parish priest, Don Pedro de Atondo. I had written down which cases I wanted before I got to the ADP, and since I had been there before I already knew the protocol, so I was able to get started quickly. Two trials that I desperately needed to finish my thesis proved legible and extremely interesting (Because of the perpetually limited time in the archive, if you can’t read your sources or if they aren’t what you want, it’s best to just set them aside and move on to something else!). Additionally, the archivist seemed to share an interest in my subject Don Pedro, and showed me his card catalogs of all trials dealing with Atondo (Note: it is a very good idea to make good friends with the archivist. With Don Jose Luis at the ADP, we are always careful to send him thank you notes, to use the usted tense, and to otherwise behave as respectfully and diligently as possible. We also brought him a gift of Damson jam from Colonial Williamsburg, which probably didn’t hurt either!).

The ADP closes at 1:30 in the afternoons, and so, following some long Spanish lunches, Meredith and I spent our afternoons in the secular AGN. There I read two trials concerning Don Pedro’s business dealings, and I also searched for trials on the seroras, or Navarrese holy women that I will be working with for my Ph.D. This was our general schedule for the three days we spent in the archives in Pamplona. On the third day we had to get the train back to Madrid, but we were able to spend the morning in the ADP, and then we dropped by the AGN quickly to say good bye before heading out.

Overall, this was an extremely productive trip. The second time around was certainly easier that the first, and I feel confident and pleased with the work I got done. Next up, I will talk about the perhaps less glamorous, yet immensely important part of the archival process: analysis and synthesis of archival documents, post-research trip.