A variety of useful digital resources provide material for enriching the study of Christianity in New Spain (colonial Mexico). Such records, covering the period from the fall of Tenochtitlan in 1521 until Mexico achieved its independence from Spain in 1821, reside in the growing digital collections in Mexico, the United States, and Europe. These repositories—such as the national archives in Mexico and Spain; specialized libraries in the United States, like the Library of Congress or the Newberry Library, university-based collections; and Mexican religious institutional sources—have searchable databases to help users in their research of Christianity in New Spain. Knowing how to navigate these databases and which keywords to use will help users find their way through the morass. Some collections also have a thematic organization around such topics as colonial art and architecture (where one can find information about churches, convents, and monasteries), indigenous pictorial manuscripts (which will illustrate the constructions of community churches, baptism activities, and the like), printed texts of all kinds (doctrine, sermons, information about indigenous religious beliefs and practices, and so on), and Inquisition records.
Kristian J. Fabian and David T. Orique
While several indigenous languages from the Americas have been alphabetized and written, no Native American language has such an extensive corpus of historical texts as Nahuatl, the language of the Nahuas or Aztecs of central Mexico. Writing in Nahuatl but using Latin letters, colonial Nahua scribes or tlahcuilohqueh produced an unparalleled outpouring of texts throughout the colonial period. Prior to the Conquest, the Nahuas recorded information in codices, which consisted of pictographic glyphs painted on sheets of bark paper, analogous to European books. They thus readily perceived the parallels between their pictographic codices and European alphabetic texts and quickly saw the utility and potential of the new technology. All that was needed was an introduction to European writing techniques. For the most part, this came in the form of friars, some of whom established schools for elite Nahuas, such as the Colegio de Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco in the latter part of the 1530s. Some Nahuas likely also learned writing from professional Spanish scribes as well. These students of the friars and lay Spaniards would soon teach other Nahuas to write, such that only a few years after the opening of the Colegio, Nahua scribes, working entirely on their own, were producing written texts. These scribes then taught others, and by the 1550s Nahuatl alphabetic writing became a self-sustaining, independent tradition that touched nearly every corner of the Nahua world. Alphabetic writing overtook indigenous glyphs, and by the 17th century most Nahuatl texts were entirely alphabetic. Last wills and testaments made up the bulk of scribal output, along with other “mundane” Nahuatl documents of financial, legal, or governmental matters, which have proven highly illuminating to historians. There were also annals; local histories stretching back to preconquest times; and plays, songs, and speeches (huehuehtlahtolli). Nahua scribal culture thrived until the 19th century, when opposition to it from both the Spanish Crown and, later, the independent Mexican nation made Nahuatl texts obsolete and superfluous.