The Luis García Pimentel Collection: Tale of a Hidden Treasure

June 12 1532. Deed of purchase of land inhabited by indigenous people, and a request to sell the same land to Bernardino de Santa Clara.

by: Ana D. Rodríguez

In January 2015, I embarked on an archival adventure that led me to process a collection that dates back to early Spanish colonial times in Mexico.  The Luis García Pimentel Collection is a manuscripts collection from the Latin American and Caribbean Collection (LACC) at the University of Florida Smathers Library. Named after a respected Mexican scholar who comes from a long line of descendants from Spanish Conquistador Hernán Cortes, the García Pimentel Collection is a journey to a lesser-known history of Mexico. Primarily, it uncovers the development of the sugar industry in Mexico, particularly in the states of Morelos and Puebla. Most of the documents in this collection are centered in two sugar mills: Hacienda Santa Ana de Tenango and Hacienda Santa Clara Montefalco. Luis García Pimentel (1855-1930) inherited Santa Ana de Tenango from his father Joaquín García Icazbalceta and during his administration the hacienda reached its heyday through a series of industrial innovations to improve the production and distribution of sugar. García Pimentel was also a respected scholar, who just like his father Joaquín, forged a career as a historian and bibliographer.

June 26, 1709. Testament of doña Luisa de Villagra Gutiérrez Villaseñor that includes a clause to grant freedom right after her dead to her slaves, Nicolás de Saucedo, his wife Tomasa Gutiérrez, and their children Cristóbal and María Teresa de Saucedo.

To collect and retrieve the information contained in this collection, paleography, the study of ancient handwriting, was intensely implemented. This skill has been paramount to understanding the customs, the Spanish language style of colonial Mexico, and most importantly, the communication and management of working relationships. For example, most business relationships were handled through an intermediary who represented the interests of the García Icazbalceta brothers, who were owners, at one point, of the Hacienda Santa Ana de Tenango. The intermediary or middleman was usually an escribano real, or an official representative of the Spanish crown, who had the authority to compose an affidavit or a deed of sale on behalf of the family.

Another interesting fact of this collection is that we were able to find and record dates on the documents. The oldest document is from 1532, around nine years after the Conquest of Mexico (1521), and the latest dated document is from March 29, 1926.

1700. Testimony of titles and mercedes (rewards) related to the sugar mill Santa Ana de Tenango, located in Jonacatepec, owned by don Juan Francisco de Urtaza and bestowed to his heir, don Joseph Antonio Salvide Goitia.

The Luis García Pimentel contains mostly documents of legal nature, detailing aspects of ownership and administrative matters of the haciendas. Mercedes (rewards), affidavits, licenses, deeds of sale of land and cattle, testimonies and wills detailing the fate of a slave are just a few sample documents found in this collection. Another salient aspect of this collection is that although Spanish was the ruling language at the time, a small portion of the documents are also written in Náhualt, an indigenous language spoken by the Aztecs.

Documents in the Luis García Pimentel Collection demonstrate the power of the Catholic Church not only as part of the state but also as proprietor of land and sugar mills. Throughout the process of reading to extract information from the bundles of documents, it was revealed that the order of Jesuits Priests in Morelos owned a private school named Colegio de San Pedro y San Pablo (Saints Peter and Paul School), and it possessed a plot of land with access to a nearby river that was used for cattle and a sugar mill. During the sixteenth to mid eighteenth centuries, haciendas were the epicenter of activities pertaining not only to sugar, but agriculture and cattle as well. Embodying the feel of a small town, these majestic dwellings were the homes of powerful businessmen, and most included a Catholic chapel and their own water source.

December 23, 1926. Cover of a notarized request presented by Luis Garcia Pimentel Jr. concerning opposition to a request made by people from San Antonio Cuautzingo to access the waters of the municipality of Ocuituco.
December 23, 1926. Cover of a notarized request presented by Luis Garcia Pimentel Jr. concerning opposition to a request made by people from San Antonio Cuautzingo to access the waters of the municipality of Ocuituco.

Undoubtedly, processing the Luis García Pimentel Collection was a transformative experience for me. Thanks to the power of primary resources, I have acquired knowledge of the history of Mexico that informs and sheds light on the golden period of haciendas. The sugar industry during Spanish colonial times is usually associated with the Greater Antilles (Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico), but now Mexico can be added to that pantheon.

———————————————————–If you’d like to find out more about the Luis García Pimentel Collection or about the University of Florida Smathers Libraries, please consult the finding aid on their website or contact Ana D. Rodríguez at


Archivist Spotlight: Jorge Yépez Cruz, Professor at the Escuela de Ciencias Históricas de la Universidad Católica del Ecuador and of the Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar (Quito, Ecuador)

Foto JYC 2**Note: Jorge will be giving a presentation on the state of Ecuadorian archives at the joint meeting of the Latin American and Caribbean Cultural Heritage Archives and International Archival Affairs Roundtables at SAA 2015, August 19, 5-7 PM**

Tell us a little bit about your background and how you decided you wanted to become an archivist.

I first became familiar with information sciences via my intellectual curiosity to know how to most efficiently locate information in the libraries, since I could not always find what I was looking for.

That motivated me to study library science, which is what my initial universitary training is in, so much so that I practiced it for over 10 years at various institutions; but when an international agency asked me to organize their administrative archive, I realized that my knowledge in library science was neither sufficient or adequate to proceed with this task, so I began to look for training in the archival discipline, which did not exist in Ecuador.

Which is why I first went to Santa Cruz de la Sierra in Bolivia, to a specialized course backed by the Agencia Española de Cooperación Internacional para el Desarrollo (AECID) and then completed the Master in Archival Science from the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, under the direction of Ramón Cruz Mundet. The line of education in both cases responded to a school of thought with Ibero-American administrative and historical traditions, which is distinct from the English school of thought, where the word “archive” has types of historical and patrimonial connotations attached to it.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of your work? The most challenging?

The challenges have varied since the development of archives in the country has barely begun, but the satisfactions have also been motivating.

Upon my return from Spain, in 2001, I set as a goal for myself to promote the training and education of Ecuadorian archivists; to attend to a very felt need in the country. It is how in 2005 we achieved to incorporate into the program of studies of the Escuela de Ciencias Historicas de la Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador (PUCE) several classes regarding the organization of archives, legal obligations and archival methods, as a compliment to the courses on paleography and use of primary sources that already existed. Additionally, in order to address the archival training desires of individuals outside of the University, we created the Specialized Program of Training in Archives and Document Management for those outside of the University system.

For the same reason in 2006, in conjunction with historian colleagues, we elaborated on the postgraduate course project in Document Management and Archives at the Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar, whose first class graduated in 2012. At the moment, the course is in its fourth instance, although with variations to the curriculum of original studies.

Equally gratifying was to work for the inclusion of Article 379 in the Republic of Ecuador’s Constitution which states that “documents, objects, collections, archives, libraries and museums which have historical, artistic, archaeological, ethnographic or paleontological value” are part of the cultural patrimony and safeguards of the State, which represented an important accomplishment in the visualization and conservation of the historical archives and other cultural repositories in the country.

Where do you see the role of the archivist in society today and in the future?

According to my criteria, archivists fulfill a very important societal function. Ours is a profession eminently humanistic, thus the professional training should include more of the technical, regulatory and technological aspects, which allow the access and conservation of information resources in whatever type of format or level of support, as well as aspects of training that direct new professionals to contribute to the social, democratic and cultural development of our countries.

An example of this vision was the participation of our collective of archivists, named Archivists without Borders, who in association with other professionals and organizations of the civil society, contributed to the enactment and diffusion of the Transparency and Access to Public Information Law in 2004. With our intervention we were able to achieve better visualization and positioning before the community to relay the importance archives have for the efficient administration of public and private institutions, and also as useful tools to guarantee access of pubic information to individuals. Also, as a mechanism to demand transparency from State institutions, as support in the battle against corruption and impunity, to help in the participation of an informed citizenry in the management of government, and, in compliance with the fulfillment of the rights of individuals, including basic human rights in its broadest expression.

What advice and words of wisdom would you give to new and aspiring archivists?

When someone is faced with the prospects of what to study and posteriorly what to practice as a profession, whichever these may be, one should ask themselves an “for what?” of the profession? And an “for whom?” In our case the question could be: archives for what? archives for whom? The answer has already been outlined in the previous paragraphs.

For that reason, I can only tell our youngest colleagues to choose the best road in order to be productive citizens of society via their profession. Archives, the management of information, the handling of contents and the management of knowledge are all emerging disciplines that will significantly contribute to the construction of more inclusive and supportive communities.

Within the archival world, we still have a long way to go and along that stretch we will encounter many challenges, but also many opportunities to feel satisfied with our work.


Dinos un poco sobre su experiencia profesional y como fue que decidió ser un archivista.

Mi acercamiento a las ciencias de la información llegó por mi curiosidad intelectual de conocer cómo ubicar de mejor manera la información en las bibliotecas, pues no siempre encontraba lo que buscaba.

Eso me motivó a estudiar bibliotecología, que es mi formación universitaria inicial, que la ejercí por más de 10 años en varias instituciones; pero cuando un organismo internacional me pidió organizar su archivo administrativo, me di cuenta que mis conocimientos en bibliotecología no eran suficientes ni adecuados para cumplir esa tarea, así que empecé a buscar opciones de capacitación y formación en la disciplina archivística, que en Ecuador no existían.

Por eso fui primero a Santa Cruz de la Sierra en Bolivia, a un curso especializado auspiciado por la AECI y luego realicé el máster en Archivística de la Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, bajo la dirección de Ramón Cruz Mundet. La línea de formación en ambos casos respondía a una escuela de formación con tradición administrativa e histórica iberoamericana, que difiere de la escuela inglesa, donde la palabra archivo tiene connotaciones de tipo histórico y patrimonial.

¿Qué ha sido el aspecto mas gratificante de su trabajo? El más desafiante?

Los retos han sido variados pues el desarrollo del país recién inicia, pero las satisfacciones también han sido motivantes.

A mi regreso de España, en el año 2001, me propuse como meta promover la formación y capacitación de los archiveros ecuatorianos, para atender una necesidad muy sentida en el país y es así que desde el año 2005 logramos incorporar en el programa de estudios de la Escuela de Ciencias Históricas de la PUCE varias materias sobre organización de archivos y normativa legal y técnica sobre archivos, como complemento de los cursos de paleografía y uso de fuentes históricas que ya existían. Adicionalmente, para atender las solicitudes de capacitación en archivística de personas de fuera de la Universidad, creamos el Programa Especializado de Capacitación en Archivística y Gestión Documental.

Con el mismo fin en el año 2006, conjuntamente con colegas historiadores, elaboramos el proyecto del curso de posgrado en Gestión de Documentos y Archivos en la Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar, cuya primera promoción egresó en el año 2012. Al momento el curso va por la cuarta edición, aunque con variaciones en el pensum de estudios original.

Igualmente gratificante fue trabajar para la inclusión en la Constitución de la República del Ecuador del artículo 379 que dice que son parte del patrimonio cultural y objeto de salvaguarda del Estado, entre otros, “Los documentos, objetos, colecciones, archivos, bibliotecas y museos que tengan valor histórico, artístico, arqueológico, etnográfico o paleontológico”, lo cual representó un logro importante en la visualización y conservación de los archivos históricos y otros repositorios culturales del país.

¿Dónde ve usted el papel del archivista en cuanto en la sociedad y en el futuro?

A mi criterio, los archivistas cumplimos una función social muy importante, la nuestra es una profesión eminentemente humanística, por ello la formación profesional debería incluir a más de los aspectos de orden técnico, normativo y tecnológico, que posibiliten el acceso y conservación de los recursos de información en cualquier tipo de soporte y formato, aspectos de formación que orienten a los nuevos profesionales a aportar al desarrollo social, democrático y cultural de nuestros países.

Un ejemplo de esta visión fue la participación de nuestro colectivo de archiveros, denominado Archiveros sin Fronteras, que en asociación con otros profesionales y organizaciones de la sociedad civil aportamos en la promulgación y difusión de la Ley de Transparencia y Acceso a la Información Pública en el año 2004. Con nuestra intervención logramos una mejor visualización y posicionamiento ante la colectividad de la importancia de los archivos para la administración eficiente de las instituciones públicas y privadas y también como herramientas útiles para garantizar el acceso de las personas a la información pública, como mecanismo de exigencia de transparencia de las instituciones del estado, como un apoyo en la lucha contra la corrupción e impunidad, para ayudar a la participación de la ciudadanía informada en la gestión del gobierno, y, al cumplimiento de los derechos de las personas, incluidos los derechos humanos en su más amplia expresión.

¿Qué sugerencia o palabras de sabiduría le daría usted a archivistas nuevos y ambiciosos?

Cuando una persona se encuentra en la fase de escoger el estudio y la posterior práctica de una profesión, cualesquiera que ésta sea, uno debería plantearse un para qué de la profesión? y un para quién? En nuestro caso la pregunta podría ser: archivos para qué? Archivos para quién?; la respuesta ya ha sido bosquejada en párrafos anteriores.

Por eso, solo podría decirles a nuestros colegas más jóvenes que escogieron el mejor camino para ser personas útiles a la sociedad a través del ejercicio de su profesión. La archivística, la gestión de la información, el manejo de contenidos, la gestión del conocimiento son disciplinas emergentes que van a aportar significativamente a la construcción de comunidades más incluyentes y solidarias.

Dentro de la archivística aún tenemos mucho camino por recorrer y en ese trecho encontraremos muchos desafíos, pero también muchas oportunidades de sentirnos satisfechos con nuestro trabajo.