Soul Searching

           Most people associate spring break with a trip to the beach, time to relax at home, or perhaps a service trip to those in need. This year, however, I spent William and Mary’s spring break doing something quite unique and extraordinary. Thanks to the guidance and efforts of Professor Homza, a research grant from the Mellon Foundation, and the generous assistance of local scholars in Spain, I had an unprecedented opportunity to work in two archives in Pamplona to conduct historical research on early modern Spain.  Professor Homza designed this project so that undergraduate history majors could gain a greater appreciation for how the historical investigation process works, participate in this process, and expand their knowledge of particular topics of interest. As it will become clear, she more than succeeded in doing this for me. The experience was extremely instructive and equally unforgettable.               

          From the start, the trip went well. Since I am studying abroad this semester in Toledo, Spain, I caught a Saturday afternoon AVE train to Madrid on March 7th. After the smooth thirty minute ride, I met a smiling and energetic Professor Homza, Kim Bassett and Amanda Scott at the Hotel El Prado (quite impressive since they had just landed from an overnight flight). We spent the afternoon exploring Madrid, catching up, discussing our experiences this semester both home and abroad, and savoring excellent cuisine.               

        Rising early on Sunday, we took the morning AVE to Pamplona. I loved gazing out the window to catch glimpses of the north-east countryside of Spain. As I have found for many other regions of Spain, there is less lush grassland than in the eastern parts of the United States, but with the mountains in the background, mechanical windmills spinning in the distance, and many farms of sheep, cattle and goat, the views were breathtaking.                

         Arriving in Pamplona, Professor Homza oriented us. Immediately, I thought of Ernest Hemingway, the American ex-patriot who appears to be the prized gem of the town (with many signs and references to the author as a friend of the city). Though I could definitely picture Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, the city was a little different than I expected. The Casco Histórico (historic, central part of town) reminds me of Toledo, while the outskirts are a little more modern and industrial. Hardly anyone spoke Basque that I encountered, but there were still signs and graffiti calling for the liberation of Navarra or trumpeting nationalism in the region.                

          On Monday, we began our work. We conducted our investigation through two archives of Pamplona, both within easy walking distance of our hotel and containing rich source material for academics interested in Spain during the early modern period. The first archive, the Archivo Diocesano de Pamplona, is the archive of the Archbishopric of Pamplona, located in the Archbishop’s Palace right across from the cathedral itself. This archive contains the legal proceedings from the bishop’s own court and is a rich fountain of information for those interested in religious history at the local level. The archivist in charge, Don José Luis Sales Tirapu, is an extremely amicable priest who has worked for over thirty years cataloging the archive’s holdings, which are extensive. The second archive, the Archivo Real y General de Navarra, contains proceedings from the viceroy’s secular court of the Kingdom of Navarra, which was not part of an emerging Spanish state until 1512, when it was conquered by Castile. The archivist who assisted us, Peio Monteano, was equally welcoming and helpful. We worked in the Diocesan Archive in the mornings and the Royal Archive in the afternoon.                

            My initial reaction was one of awe. I could not believe that I had the chance to see and hold documents many centuries old. Peio Monteano gave us a grand tour of the new and incredibly impressive Royal Archive Monday morning, and showed us some of the source material he used for a new book on the Black Death in Navarra. We met the staff of the Royal Archive, and went to the various rooms where the different documents are stored. We learned how to use the online catalogue and make manuscript requests. At the diocesan archive, Don José Luis took us into the manuscript room, which contained several long rows of countless stacks of procesos (trials) and showed us some of the oldest manuscripts in the archbishopric’s possession in this archive. Both archivists also explained the history of their respective archives, as well as the local history of Navarra to contextualize what we were researching. When I actually got to hold my first documents for myself, I nearly got goosebumbs. I knew I had an opportunity that few other people in my situation have, and am forever grateful for everyone who made the experience possible.               

            As for the research itself, the first two days were a little challenging for me. Reading documents in early modern Spanish handwriting presents several significant hurdles, as Amanda, Kim and I have discussed earlier in this blog. First, it is always hard to get used to a new manuscript text when peering over it for the first time, as each scribe has a unique writing style, with different quarks of spelling, conventions and handwriting. Additionally, many words were abbreviated as to be expected, especially titles, such as alcalde for mayor, vecinos for residents, and Santa Inquisición or Holy Office for the Inquisition. Once I cracked some of these codes, the documents were easier to transcribe and I found myself understanding a lot more of these texts at the tail end of the week.             

           Other problems were exceedingly practical. First off, the archives are only open certain hours of the day. While the Royal Archive is open the majority of the day each week for researchers, the diocesan archive was officially open from 10:30am-2pm. In order to get the most out of our time, we decided to work at the Diocesan Archive in the morning and the Royal Archive in the afternoon, which was not too much of a challenge, apart from working on multiple cases simultaneously. My experience indicates that historians have to be flexible, conforming to the schedule of the archives rather than the other way around, and to be creative in planning, such as we did by working in two archives to make sure we could put in full days, rather than just a few hours a day, as would be the case if we only worked at the Diocesan Archive.       

           The manuscripts themselves also posed interesting roadblocks. For some of the documents I planned to research, such as a case at the Diocesan Archive concerning an abbot who did not reside in his abbey or a case at the Royal Archive concerning a women of Sangüesa against the cura de almas (parish priest) over payment for a funeral Mass, the documents themselves were in too poor of a condition to work with. For instance, pages were folded over and could not be uncovered without ripping them, some pages were torn at the corner, or in other cases holes and tears made it impossible to read essential aspects of the trial. In other instances, the manuscripts themselves were in good condition, but the handwriting was very difficult to read, such as with an intriguing 1611 case I investigated involving the convent of Santa Eulalia of Pamplona and a Francisco de Yanguas against the village over providing a preacher for Lent.                

          These difficulties allowed me to appreciate how historians need to craft their work around such problems. For instance, while a certain case may appear perfect for investigation in terms of content, it makes more sense to focus on documents that can be read easily and that are intact, especially when time is so limited. Additionally, it is not possible to always know what each text contains before skimming through it. Some documents I thought would be relevant and revealing were actually quite uninformative in answering my intended questions, while others surprised me with the amount of detail I found contained within them.  Finally, it is essential to focus on the important folios in each document, as most of the ones I studied contained countless petitions to the courts and summaries which were useful, but not where I needed to spend the majority of my time researching in order to get the most out of the document.

           While Amanda, Kim and I only worked at the archives for a week, within that span of time I found that such work is stimulating, yet tiring. I never lost interest in the material I studied, and often found it most helpful to discuss my findings with my colleagues at lunch and dinner, not only to ask questions, but to better understand my work as I tried to explain it to others. Such interaction with fellow colleagues in the field seems to me to be an essential component in this research process as well, and was one of the most enjoyable aspects of the experience.

                As for my specific findings, I discovered many fascinating things. While I spent the majority of my time on a single case which I will discuss in a moment, as a whole, I investigated a number of lawsuits from the later sixteenth and seventeenth century. All of these cases involved a particular problem between a local parish community and clerics with the community. I wanted to study the dynamic of this relationship and find out what aspects of the clerical role in the community were most important for the village and why. In doing my Monroe project last summer on clerical residence in sixteenth century Spain, I found many documents from clerics stressing the need for parish priests and bishops to reside on the ground in the parish or bishopric under their control to watch over the flock. My goal here was to compare what I found in primary and secondary source material from last summer with my own archival research in Pamplona, to see whether the research would corroborate or contradict my other findings.

                First, it appears from the sampling of cases that I investigated that many of the problems associated with parish priests and the parishes I investigated last summer existed in Pamplona as well. A number of my trials involved clerics who were nonresident, or involved issues following a vacancy of a benefice due to the death of its possessor. For instance, a 1591 case from Carcastillo tells of a situation where the death of a vicar led to a jurisdictional conflict between an abad (in this case, abad is translated as priest) and another priest over the successor. When that particular lawsuit went to trial, the village was left without a priest. The only substitute was an old priest who stuttered and did not preach the Gospel in a comprehensible manner (because no one could understand him). Interestingly, the village demanded that an able vicar be appointed to the community to rectify the problem, indicating that such functions as preaching were extremely important to people at the time. In another case, a priest went to Rome and never returned (possibly because he had died), posing problems for the church community at home that he had left behind.     

                In other cases, the priest was present, but did not necessarily fulfill the charge given to him. A 1574 case recounts that the vicar Don Miguel Ochoa of the parish church of Navascues failed to say daily Mass. That the village even pressed charges for the fulfillment of this duty indicates that access to such sacramental grace was equally important to parishioners at the time.

                The case I spent the majority of my time working on involved a 1585 proceso from the village community of Legasa. Their parish priest, Don Juan de Rapáraz, had been suspended from hearing women’s confession in Legasa by the Holy Inquisition for the last four years. The parish community petitioned that the ban be lifted in order for Don Juan de Rapáraz to be able to hear all confessions again.

                Since Don Juan de Rapáraz was banned from hearing women’s confessions only, it can be assumed that he had solicited women in the confessional. In this respect, I find it interesting that the village would still desire this particular cleric as its confessor, but as witness testimony and petition from the village makes clear, the village did not have many options. Nearly all of the residents mentioned in the case cite the fact that Juan de Repáraz was the only cleric in the vicinity, and that the village was too poor to afford a replacement, especially for someone just to hear the confession of women. Further, the testimony of the inhabitants of Legasa carries a tone of urgency and desperation that accounts for why parishioners would accept their own parish priest even if he had certain moral failings.

                For instance, the parishioners argued that those remaining without confession in the village set a bad example for others by their sinful state, and hampered the ability of others to serve Christ. Only with this grace can the parishioners maintain a sense of decoro (decorum) and decencia (decency) that is necessary to bring the Kingdom of Heaven. Additionally, without access to the sacrament of penance, the faithful could not receive many of the other sacraments, especially the Eucharist, which they particularly cite as necessary around Christmas and Easter time. Such evidence is instructive, since often times most Christians at the time were thought to only take communion once a year during the Easter season. Third, and perhaps most intriguingly, the villages claimed that their parish of Legasa was in poor and dangerous land, very close to the border with France where there “there are enemies of the Catholic faith”, including Protestants and Basques that were not Catholic. The land was sterile and dry. Access to reconciliation was necessary to persevere against all threats to a good Christian life and to grant people the best chance to survive both physically and spiritually. Without the ability to receive this essential grace, many of the parishioners (women) were dying in a state of mortal sin or travelling great distances to other parishes to rectify the problem, but this was often difficult for the elderly and sick.  The sum goal was, as has always been emphasized by reform minded clerics at the time in their literature, the “salvation of the souls”, a concept specifically addressed in this document as well.

                The case began in 1571 and was still not resolved in 1585 (there is no final verdict). Such a slow trial conforms with the norm that cases brought fourth before the bishop’s court were often drawn out , while in contrasts those at the secular courts where often resolved quickly. Other interesting details can be gauged from such a document, details which are not apparent just from scanning the description of the case in a catalogue. For instance, studying the witness testimony towards the end of the case provides helpful information for determining the characteristics of clergy at the time, since most of the witnesses were other clerics in the general region surrounding Legasa. The clerics I read of in this case where usually in their late thirties to forties. These priest mentioned in their testimony that the benefice at Legasa valued at about 30 or 40 ducats, a useful detail for my research on clerical residence and benefices. Moreover, the parish community numbered about 50 natural residents, another important statistical fact in trying to understand the background of small parishes in different parts of Spain. Finally, that these clerics affirmed that Don Juan de Repáraz was the only cleric in his parish and that the parish was too poor to afford another strengthens my evidence that often times practical social and economic problems existed surrounding clerical ability to fulfill the charge of the cura animarum (care of souls).

                If we can accept the testimony of the parishioners and local priests as true, this case is extremely valuable in what it shows. First, as my research last summer suggested and other cases here indicate, parishioners in community settings cared deeply about their faith. The Church was an essential component of their lives and people felt a great need to have access to the sacraments, contrarily to the claims of a few historians. In particular, the region of Navarra was considered a hostile frontier land where challenges to the faith existed everywhere.  Christians in this region of sixteenth and seventeenth century Spain understand the importance of God’s grace in maintaining a healthy and holy spiritual community, while they were unafraid to challenge the clergy when such harmony was threatened. That they did not always succeed in their efforts shows that reform was still needed, but such a short study of these documents cannot show to what extent the reform efforts taking place during the sixteenth century, such as with the Council of Trent and by reform minded clerics, impacted Navarra at this time.

                While it would be careless to extrapolate from such historical evidence that we can know everything about religion at the ground level, or can apply the conditions of a few parishes in the region of Navarra to Spain as a whole, I believe the research I did at least hints that the above assumptions are reasonable. Further, these findings, as in many other fields, open a host of additional questions and calls for more research. Such, I imagine, is the case for many historians.

            With all of that in mind, I can say I had a very positive experience in Pamplona. I think the best aspect of the journey was the opportunity to work for a week in the manner researching historians do, a sort of “trial period” experience where I could place myself in the role of a professor and see how I liked it. Such a rare opportunity allows me to think about whether I would be happiest doing this work for the majority of my life. While there are some drawbacks, such as the intensity of the work and the solidarity of much of the investigation, it is also extremely stimulating and exciting work. Knowing what I do now, it would be much easier to plan further archival research how best to tackle it. This experience will help me along the graduate school path if I choose to pursue it. I am extremely grateful for Professor Homza, the archivists Don José Luis Sales Tirapu and Peio Monteano, the other staff at these archives, and my colleagues Amanda Scott and Kim Bassett for their assistance and for helping make this opportunity possible.

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Pre-departure musings

It’s been a while since my last post and another is more than overdue. Winter break has afforded me ample time to relax, catch up and look with anticipation to an exciting spring semester. It has also given me the ability to catch up on things I did not get to do at the end of the fall semester, such as to summarize the final weeks of our paleography session. Like Amanda and Kim, I enjoyed reading the witch trial accounts of María de Ulibarri. While I still have to struggle through many of the words I read, I have been amazed how, over the weeks, the text on the page no longer looks unintelligible or intimidating. Rather, it seems familiar and manageable. I experience the same then when I encounter a challenging piece of classical music for the first time (I play violin). Over the weeks, the seemingly impossible collection of notes reveals itself to me in a comprehensible fashion.

        For me, the bigger struggle has been to take the words I can usually decode and make sense of what is actually going on in the accounts. My Spanish reading comprehension skills still need work. However, as I will explain soon, that will hopefully change dramatically in the coming months. Other than trying to figure out the context of these records, smaller hurdles presented themselves as well in the sources for the last few weeks of the semester. First off, the bleed-through was particularly pronounced, meaning that on any given page I often had to ignore whole stretches of text which interfered with the words actually written for that page. Further, it is easy to get tied up in names, especially at the end of the last account we read concerning a list of suspected witches. Finally, the scribe here did a poor job separating words with spaces, often time stringing completely different words together without any spaces while on the other hand separating parts of a word by spaces that were not needed. Phrases like “su culpa” and “en el” are written as “suculpa” and “enel”, whereas a word like “por” may have the “p” by itself and the “or” separated by an unnecessary space. 

               As for the research planned for the spring over William and Mary’s spring break, I am extremely excited. Professor Homza sent us a PDF of the index of the General Archive of Navarre. Having looked through it, I am most interested in the sección de clero. I would love to do work that builds on the research I conducted this summer on clerical residence. One possibility is to continue to focus on bishops, such as Dr. Bernal, bishop of Calahorra in the sixteenth century, since Calahorra is in Navarre and records on Bernal would be in Pamplona. I also would not mind focusing on the relationship between the bishop in a diocese and monks or cathedral canons, as the Church had a hard time making clear who was in charge where. Bishops often complained of having insufficient authority to control many other clerics in their jurisdiction. Upon conferral with Professor Homza and further planning, I am sure I can come up with a specific focus that will work best for me. I am often surprised how my final research topic is quite different from what I originally seek to do, so we will see what happens.

          Perhaps the thing I look forward to most this spring is how my academic semester up until the archival research will be constant preparation for my work in Navarre. I am studying abroad in Toledo, Spain from January 14th to April 28th. My main focus will be to become proficient in Spanish, which will help me improve my ability to read and interpret the language. Additionally, I plan to study Spanish culture, history and art in class and on my own while studying abroad. This familiarity with the country should make it easier for me to draw broader connections from my archival study to what was going on in Spain as a whole in the early modern period. As a side-note, one of the things I am looking forward to most is visiting the same sites that many of the historical figures I have studied resided at. For instance, one of the reform minded clerics I studied, Bartolomé Carranza, was archbishop of Toledo in the second half of the sixteenth century. Like I mentioned before, I will be conducting archival research in the area where Dr. Bernal served as bishop of Calahorra. 

          The plan now is to get ready for Spain and to continue to prepare for the week in Pamplona through email contact with the group back in the States. I plan to write on this blog some of the interesting things I learn while in Spain which relate back to this project.       

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Whoo-hoo:  our project has received funding from the QEP-Mellon undergraduate research grant administered by the Charles Center!  We’ll be in Pamplona over Spring Break 2009.   Amanda, Eric, and Kim have worked very hard at paleography and now are not only sight-reading right off the folio, but sometimes correcting my transcriptions :).  They are about to finish up a difficult witchcraft confession and revocation from 1611, and next will be moving to witchcraft trials held before Navarre’s royal court in the 1570s.   I expect they’ll see interesting differences in legal procedures and punishments.  We’re awaiting the catalogue to the Archivo General de Navarra from the Library of Congress, so we can begin to decide which sources each of them will tackle in Pamplona.

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Drama, drama, and more drama…

I have to admit, I was a little nervous about whether or not I was going to be able to read this selection of the Inquisition trials. However, I’m really starting to adjust to the common vocabulary and abbreviations used in these documents, and once I became accustomed to the scribe’s handwriting style (and the chronic lack of spaces between words), I found that deciphering the meaning of the passage wasn’t all that difficult.

Actually, it was quite interesting. The way in which the scribe depicts Maria Ondraita and her student anointing themselves with dust and flying through the air to the witches’ sabbat was truly very dramatic, and the amount of detail in the description was astounding. It kind of makes me wonder if the dramatization was used to inflame the people reading the documents against the defender. In spite of the detail in describing the satanic celebration, there were definitely some large holes in the narrative that really piqued my curiousity about the history of the people involved in this case. For example, the scribe states that he and the Inquisitor simply found the accused on the road. This makes me wonder what she was doing when they found her, if she was behaving like a witch, if they had already been looking for her, or if she simply got on their nerves. Was it common for inquisitors to randomly search people or people’s houses without suspicion of satanic affiliation? If she was exhibiting signs of being a witch, what were they? Or were they just covering up for shady circumstances in her reprehension? The whole situation of her being found on the road really intrigues me, and I’m really looking forward to researching questions like these while in Pamplona this spring.

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And she confessed to what?

…and in particular, she saw the Devil disguised as a man and seated on a grey looking chair and dressed (in colors) in between grey and black and with two big horns on top of his head. And upon this penitent woman’s arrival, the Devil lowered his head in a gesture of welcome. And he told her to kiss him on his lower parts. And this penitent woman did kiss him. And afterwards, the Devil told her to relax and be seated with those who were already there. And this penitent woman did so. And after a little while, they arose dancing, everyone dancing in circles with much contentment. And after having finished the dance, everyone went (in a line?) to kiss the Devil on the lower part under the tail. And after kissing him, everyone was seated and they ate bread and wine…

This translation of mine is only a section of the Inquisitorial record of María de Ulibarri’s confession to witchcraft in the year 1611. It is a good example of how complete confession and inquisitorial records were, and to what extent they would include minute details on the practices of witchcraft and interactions with the devil. From confessions like these, we know what inquisitors were looking for, but also know what it is that people thought witches did.

This document we were given this week is by far the hardest, with a sloppy and cramped handwriting style, but after reading it and comparing it to earlier weeks, I realized that even though there were more words that I couldn’t decipher, in the end my comprehension was just about as good. This scribe doesn’t use as many abbreviations as others did, which makes reading it more straightforward, but he does have a style of spelling all his own. Another difficult part was the proper names that appear later on in the record when she was asked to relate who she remembered seeing at the gathering with the Devil. I was able to get all the first names, but the last names were difficult. Nonetheless, by the end of the document (at least before the names), I was getting just about every word. This record was only the beginning of a longer record, and I am looking forward to the rest.

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Paleography and Pamplona — a project overview

paleography2.jpg Hi, I’m Lu Ann Homza from W & M’s Department of History.  I’m the “director” of this research project & should probably explain why Eric, Amanda, and Kim are blogging about Pamplona, the deciphering of old handwriting [called paleography] and the Inquisition. My current book project centers on the last great witch-hunt in Spain between 1609-14; for the last three years, I’ve been working in three archives in Pamplona which hold relevant sources for that project. On my last trip in May 2008, I suddenly thought how fabulous it would be to drag some undergraduates to Pamplona, too: the archives are mostly empty, the archival staff mostly appears to be under the age of 25, and crucially, the manuscripts therein are a goldmine for anyone interested in early modern Spanish history.

I then recalled Eric, Amanda, and Kim: all three had been in my Spanish Golden Age class in Spring ’08. Eric was working on a potential honors project involving a Spanish bishop from the sixteenth century. Kim and Amanda were interested in such matters as the Spanish navy, women, and religious culture (not all clustered together, though.) All three were exceptionally good readers and writers, and they all spoke and read Spanish. I consequently wrote and asked if they’d be interested in a trip over Spring Break ’09. They said they were, and so here we are, learning how to read handwriting from the period 1540-1650, and waiting to see whether the Mellon Foundation will fund this experiment. Once Amanda, Eric, and Kim know that they can read the sources, the next question is what sort of texts they will find to analyze: court cases from the viceroy’s judical system, court cases from the bishop’s judical system, censors’ reports about contraband books on British ships, testimony from suspected witches or their accusers, and so on. The aim is to find a source, describe its contents, contextualize it, and assess its methodological and theoretical implications. These students will be presenting their findings on campus on March 28, 2009, at the first Medieval and Renaissance Studies Symposium on Undergraduate Research.

Click here to see an example of what they’re reading.

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Deciphering Inquisition Manuscripts

Kim Bassett (Nov 13, 2008)

As anyone following this blog already knows, Eric, Amanda, and I are studying paleography with Professor Homza with the intention of studying in the archives in Pamplona, Spain over next spring break.  I can’t speak for my fellow students in the project, but I was personally very surprised when Professor Homza offered me the chance to go to Spain. Like Eric and Amanda, I took History 491: Spain’s Golden Age with Professor Homza last spring, but as a Hispanic Studies and Chinese double major, but I wasn’t really planning on involving myself in historical studies beyond that one class. However, I absolutely couldn’t turn down the opportunity to study original manuscripts in Spain, especially after that class made me so interested in Spanish history and the Inquisition. I’m honestly excited to spend the majority of my time in Spain sitting in the archives studying inquisition trials!

So here I am, studying what seem to be mere blots and squiggles of illegible Spanish on endless pages of photocopied manuscript in order to be able to effectively study the real thing upon arrival in Pamplona. And as uninteresting and tedious as that would have sounded to me a year ago, I’m finding more and more that I truly enjoy studying these documents of various Inquisition trials, even though they take me hours to transcribe. Yes, I panicked the first time I sat down to a page of large loops that could be L’s, T’s, or S’s, and short nonsense words with seemingly random swoops over them. Since then, however, I’ve learned how to distinguish letter shape better and how to spot abbreviated words by the telltale swoop accompanying them. Of course, it’s definitely easier for me to comprehend once I work into the document (especially when helped along by an introductory transcription) and familiarize myself with the handwriting. That said, I was definitely still thrown for a bit of a loop when I sat down to this week’s document, which I felt had messier handwriting and more abbreviations than the manuscripts we’ve studied previously. Although it was written by the same author–and therefore had the same  odd spelling anomalies and handwriting–I felt that the style and the handwriting were both less formal than the more official documents (such as court reports) that we had transcribed the week before. However, I was still able to work into it without too much difficulty, in spite of my initial dismay at seeing the seven pages of messy handwriting.

Luckily, the creative spelling in 16th century Spanish isn’t giving me too much trouble. If I have trouble with a particular word, reading it out loud works most of the time. I’ve also gotten used to the typical letter substitutions, ie ‘v’ for the modern ‘b’, ‘x’ for the modern ‘j’, etc. Some spelling anomalies have intrigued me, though, in the sense that they often closely resemble Portuguese. For example, ‘agora’ (the modern ‘ahora’) is the same as the Portuguese ‘agora’, all meaning ‘now’; the modern Spanish ‘hacer’ was spelled ‘facer’, similar to the Portuguese ‘fazer’, all meaning ‘to do or make’. It makes sense, of course, since both Spanish and Portuguese developed from the same source, but seeing the close similarities depicted so obviously really drove the point home for me.

So onward and upward with illegible handwriting and spelling anomalies! Next week’s manuscript sample looks much more difficult to decipher. Hopefully I’ll be able to figure it out with the help of Professor Homza’s introductory transcription, a handy dictionary, and a little educated guessing.

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A few problems, but more interesting things.

This week, we were given more pages from the same inquisitorial scribe. His handwriting is much more difficult than the first source we were working with, even though Professor Greenia, in his infinite wisdom of the Spanish Golden Age, casually dismisses it as “easy stuff.”

At any rate, it does get easier the more I work with it. However, I have found that it is much harder right at the beginning of any given page, at the sides, and at the very end. Sometimes I just need to get warmed up, but that doesn’t explain the sides or the end being difficult. The reasons that I think this is could be: 1) for the beginning: the scribe also needs to get warmed up, or, he is writing in a stilted or overly perfect way right at the beginning that I am unfamiliar with and then speeds up and loses this as he goes, 2) for the sides: I am pretty sure he is running out of space and had to condense his words, 3) for the end: he is getting tired and really sloppy by this point. He could also be stopping and starting up later at the end of pages. These are just some ideas, but regardless the reason, I have found that I do consistently better with the body of a text (or even a page), rather than the beginning or the end.

Other things that I have been having some trouble with are abbreviations. It seems to be that about 30% of the time they are whimsical. Some words, though, are consistently the same, like que is something like @, and a raised o at the end probably means it should end in –miento or -mento. Other ones keep popping up that I am not sure about, but once I figure them out for sure, they shouldn’t be a problem.

A couple things of interest: I find the shortening of que into q’ right before a word starting with a vowel interesting because it is so much like French. I imagine that there are a number of similarities during this period in the romance languages, though some may have disappeared from both languages today. I also really like the different spellings – it makes me imagine the way they must have actually talked.

So far I have been learning a great deal. I have even been able to use what I am learning for another class. In my senior research class for Hispanic Studies (Hisp 493), I have to give a group presentation on Textual Scholarship, and my contribution is to locate and teach a text on which I can “practice” such scholarship. I found a second edition (approximately 1649) version in microfilms of Tirso de Molina’s El Burlador de Sevilla y el Convidado de Piedra, which is better known as the Don Juan story. This text was printed; however, it uses many of the same spellings and abbreviations as do the handwritten documents that we have been working with. It is also another good example of issues with bleed-through and mixed up words because of dirt or smudges on the paper. Keeping in mind the handwritten documents and the work that I am doing with Professor Homza, I am able to think about this text critically and in a deeper way than if I had just accidentally found it in the library. I always find it particularly gratifying when it turns out I can use something I learned in one class in another class, and especially in another subject.

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My Experience So Far

Eric (October 28th, 2008): Over the past few weeks, I have been working with Professor Homza and three other students to prepare myself to do archival research in Pamplona, Spain over William and Mary’s spring break. Along with the other students through the guidance of our professor, I am acquiring a familiarity with the historical time-period (the early modern period) in Europe as a whole and Spain in particular. I took Professor Homza’s class Golden Age Spain last spring and am currently enrolled in her European Renaissance class. Additionally, I conducted a Monroe scholars research project on clerical residence in sixteenth century Spain this past summer, utilizing primary source documents in sixteenth century Spanish print and secondary source material from various libraries. To ensure that I have the necessary skills to carry out my archival research, Professor Homza has spent an hour with us each Tuesday to study paleography: in this case Spanish print and handwriting.       

       How has my experience been so far? The work with Spanish print in the last few weeks has not been overwhelming, as I have been exposed to reading sixteenth century Spanish print from the work I did this past summer. Professor Homza has given us inquisition documents, ranging from trials of conversos (Jewish converts to Christianity or their descendants) and moriscos (Muslim converts to Christianity or their descendants) to suspected witches. The content of such trials fascinates me, so I have been intrigued. It is interesting to note how many of the popular conceptions of the devil are somewhat loosely based on historical accounts, such as witch preoccupation with toads or the casting of spells and poisoning food (and pretty much everything else).

          As for the text itself, sixteenth century Spanish contains a number of spelling differences from the modern. However, the differences are not as acute as I thought they would be. Some printed letters are represented by different letters, such as a x for the letter j in some words. Further, some Spanish words in early modern print are no longer in common usage. It helps to read the texts aloud and gather the meaning from context.

         This past week, we have begun to look a handwriting. While the handwriting is small, the documents I have studied so far are relatively legible (more so than my own handwriting). However, the presentation of many letters and words is quite different from print or modern Spanish, so it is hard to comprehend some of the words. Additionally, having not looked at handwriting before, I am unused to such documents. As with the print, I know it is a matter of time before I will be able to decipher some of the words. A helpful strategy is to look at the letter I cannot determine in other words that I have determined. Again, reading aloud helps. Some words are abbreviated and many letters take interesting forms. One of my biggest challenges is to separate words, as often times there is no space between different words. Overall, it has been an engaging and motivating experience.

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