The Blog July 11, 2020

Navigating PARES, or, how to research the history of the global Spanish Empire during a global pandemic

Kristie Flannery, a Killam postdoctoral fellow in the Department of History at the University of British Columbia, and an Editor-at-Large of the Toynbee Prize Foundation website, organized a remote workshop for historians studying the history of Spain and its overseas colonies. Scott Cave led the one-hour ‘hands on’ seminar that guided participants on how to find and read digitized documents relating to this rich history through PARES (portal de archivos españoles), the Spanish government’s archive web portal.

The digital revolution has seen millions of pages of Spanish manuscripts digitized and shared through the free PARES platform in recent years. These include sources for the study of topics including Iberian voyages of discovery and conquest, the Atlantic slave trade and the diverse experiences of slavery in the Iberian world, and indigenous revolts against colonial rule such as the Tupac Amaru rebellion.

But finding the documents you are looking for often feels like hunting for a needle in a haystack. Dr. Cave shared useful advice and tools for successfully locating materials that were useful to historians with years of experience in dusty Spanish archive reading rooms as well as those who will be attempting to do archival research for the first time this summer. Hosting this workshop in May seemed especially timely as the covid19 pandemic has led archives and research libraries around the world to temporarily close their doors to visitors.

If there is one positive externality of moving face-to-face history workshops online, it is that the format makes them more widely accessible to a diverse audience. UBC students and faculty participating in the workshop were joined by over sixty people from across the Americas, the Philippines, and Europe. Current undergraduate and PhD students, as well as university professors and expert librarians tuned in through zoom. Antonio Sanchez de Mora, the head of Reference Department at the Archivo General de Indias in Seville deserves a special thank you for generously sharing advice and answering the group’s many questions.

You can access a recording of the workshop here:

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