The Quechua languages are spoken today by several million people in the Andes Mountains and adjacent lowlands, from northwestern Argentina to southwestern Colombia. Quechua historical sources and scholarship, are heavily concentrated in the southern Peruvian Andes. While key aspects of Quechua’s early history remain unclear, both Inca and Spanish rule appear to have resulted in the spread of varieties of Quechua. Large regions of the Andes, including urban areas and nonindigenous social strata, were almost entirely Quechua speaking well into the 20th century. “Quechua” embraces a tremendous diversity of dialects, sociolects, and contexts of use, and it has experienced surprising transformations over time. Its post-conquest history cannot be envisioned in terms of gradual decline; there have been retreats but also resurgences, and losses in one arena have been offset by gains in another.
Nahuatl is the Latin American indigenous language having the largest number of colonial documents. As with other colonial documents, the study of these manuscripts requires mastery of the language as well as the relevant historical and philological sources. The emergence of digital repositories in Mexico, the United States, France, and other countries has made hundreds of digital images available to scholars who would not have had access to these sources otherwise. Digital repositories also contain additional tools such as morphological parsers and dictionaries. These allow users to upload new images, transcriptions, and translations, turning digital archives into veritable platforms for scholarly exchange. The irruption of digital repositories promises to effect substantial changes in the field of Nahuatl studies.
From a geographically, environmentally, linguistically, and ethnically highly variable Mesoamerica, Spain created a core region within her American territories. But for New Spain’s indigenous inhabitants (Mexica or Nahua, Mixtec, Zapotec, and Maya), despite experiencing demographic catastrophe, political and religious subjugation, and labor exploitation during and after conquest, native cultural patterns and agency influenced the reshaping of governance and community (the latter into pueblos de indios), economy, and spiritual and social life during the period of colonial rule. Because environments, indigenous languages, patterns of political, economic, and spiritual organization, ways of structuring family life, varieties of cultural expression, and forms of interrelationships with Spaniards varied so much, indigenous people did not experience a single New Spain. Instead, a multiplicity of New Spains emerged. These indigenous New Spains would play different roles during the independence period, which led to a protracted struggle, further impoverishment, and growing isolation in the new nations of Mesoamerica but cultural survival as well.
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.
LLILAS Benson maintains one of the world’s largest collections of digital assets designed to support Latin American studies. These vast digital holdings, all of which reside on open-source platforms and are freely available to a global audience via the Internet, trace their roots back to the early 1990s, before the advent of the World Wide Web. Since that time, LLILAS Benson has forged partnerships with a broad array of researchers and content producers throughout the Americas in order to bring vital Latin American studies content online while at the same time helping to build local capacity in areas such as digitization, metadata, and preservation throughout the region. These digital collections include materials useful to scholars in a broad array of disciplines, particularly in the humanities and social sciences. One of the main strengths of the collections is in the area of archival and historical sources, with extensive digitized materials spanning more than five centuries and all countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. The digital collections are particularly strong in terms of Mexican history. Major holdings in the digital collections that include material of interest to those conducting historical research are the following: • PLA—The Primeros Libros de las Américas project brings together twenty-one libraries and archives in a collaborative initiative that seeks to digitize all surviving copies of books printed in the New World prior to 1601. • AHPN—The Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional contains more than twelve million pages of digitized Guatemalan police records from the late 19th century through 1996. • AILLA—The Archive of the Indigenous Languages of Latin America is a digital archive of recordings and texts in and about the indigenous languages of Latin America. • Archivo de Lucas Alamán is a digital archive of more than 350 manuscripts from the personal papers of this influential Mexican statesman. The papers cover the period 1589–1853. • Archivo de José María Luis Mora—This digital archive contains scanned copies of more than 600 documents, both manuscripts and printed works from the first half of the 19th century, as well as an exhaustive guide describing the collections. • LANIC—The Latin American Network Information Center is a collection of subject- and country-based resource guides containing more than ten thousand links to Web-based Latin American studies content. • HRDI—The Human Rights Documentation Initiative is committed to the long-term preservation of fragile and vulnerable records of human rights struggles worldwide and includes important partnerships in Latin America. • Web archives that are of use to historians include the Latin American Government Documents Archive, or LAGDA, which contains copies of the Websites of more than 250 governmental ministries since 2005, and a collection of human rights–related Websites curated under the auspices of the HRDI, among others. Collectively, the LLILAS Benson portfolio of digital initiatives includes more than ten million pages of digitized archival records; several hundred thousand pages of digitized full text and images, including monographs, journals, scholarly papers, manuscripts, ephemera, and so on; thousands of hours of digital audio and video recordings; and more than a hundred million Web-archived files. The collection of curated resource guides for Latin American studies contains more than ten thousand outbound links. Taken as a whole, the Websites holding these digital assets generate more than three million pageviews per year. The vast majority of the digital holdings consist of unique items, thus filling an important void for scholarship left by mass digitization efforts, such as Google Books and the Internet Archive’s Million Books Project. LLILAS Benson is committed to promoting open access to scholarly resources. In contrast to the unique digitized materials hosted by database vendors and aggregators, such as Gale’s “World Scholar Archive: Latin America and the Caribbean” or EBSCO’s “Academic Search Complete,” nearly all the digital content that LLILAS Benson hosts is on the open Internet, available to any and all users regardless of location or affiliation, and without any type of registration. The one exception is AILLA, where no-cost registration is required to open or download media files.