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Digital Resources: En el Ojo del Huracán, Private Letters from the Caribbean to Spain

Summary and Keywords

The early 19th century was a period of intense turmoil and chaos in the Spanish-speaking world: The Napoleonic Wars and French occupation of the Peninsula in the 1800s, independence movements in the Americas, the liberal constitution of Cádiz, Napoleon’s defeat, and the reinstallation of the Bourbons in the 1810s, and finally, the second constitutional period, the iron fist of restoration, and the eventual loss of most American possessions between 1821 and 1825. The least affected areas in the midst of this turmoil were the loyalist islands of Cuba and Puerto Rico, metaphorically the “eye of the hurricane.” It is within this context that a corpus of some dozen letters, preserved in the Spanish National Archive, were written. They were produced in the circum-Caribbean region—most in Puerto Rico—and addressed mainly to relatives and business partners on the other side of the Atlantic. The letters in question were archived without accompanying documentation, probably seized by authorities loyal to the restoration of the Ancien Régime. As a central element, this digital resource—“En el Ojo del Huracán”—displays these primary sources in an online presentation.

Beyond the historiographic value of the sources, the project explores the differences between traditional and digital edition standards (TEI) for digital letter editions with the aim of showcasing the benefits of implementing the digital paradigm and for different visualizations, functionalities, analysis and incorporation in larger infrastructures.

Keywords: letters, transatlantic correspondence, letter edition, Text Encoding Initiative, Wars of Independence, Puerto Rico, Ominous Decade, police state, restoration of the Ancien Régime

Dear mother, on 19th of last month I had the great relief and pleasure imaginable when I received your letter from the governor of this place [...] which makes my prison more bearable [...]. Cristóbal Bohórquez1

This is the beginning of the earliest of sixty-five letters reunited in the collection “In the Eyes of the Hurricane,” written between January and June, 1823. It is the earliest because it is one of the more unusual ones and certainly had gone through some odyssey getting from the prison near Caracas, to Puerto Rico, and on board the ship, together with the rest of the letters, most of them written by Spanish emigrants resident in Puerto Rico. Yet, having it made safely through all the turmoil of revolutionary wars in the Spanish Americas, it still failed to reach Bohórquez’s family because a very different revolution—the return of the Ancien Régime—took place in Spain, and the letters were confiscated. This article explores the context of this peculiar set of letters—a still life of the Spanish Atlantic world in that moment—as well as the methods of preparing their transcription and online display.

The Historical Context: Spain and “Ultramar” in 1823

In 1823, Spain’s overseas empire was in shatters, yet the proud nation at that time still clung to the idea of retaining what remained and eventually reconquering its lost possessions. Here is not the place to recount the events of the commotion that started as early as 1808, so it suffices to paint a picture of the situation by January 1823 in both hemispheres.2 The largest cohesive American territory still under Spanish control was southern and interior Peru, as well as Charcas (Upper Peru and Bolivia), where loyalists held out—totally uncommunicative with Spain and internally divided—until 1825, after the devastating defeat at Ayacucho in December 1824. In southern Chile, Spain still controlled the remote island of Chiloé, which was logistically difficult to attack (it eventually capitulated in 1826). Beyond that, the Spanish military retained toeholds on the massive fortification of El Callao, Lima’s harbour; and in Mexico, they still defended the fortress of San Juan de Ulúa, offshore of Veracruz (both fortresses, however small the toeholds were, were crucial for severing international trade with Mexico and Peru).

On the mainland of Venezuela and Colombia, after the defeat at Carabobo in 1821, the situation for the remaining expeditionary army was bad, but general Francisco Morales managed to lead a campaign in western Venezuela and parts of modern Colombia, sparking hope and supporting a number of royalist rebellions. As of January 1823, Miguel de la Torre held out in the fortress of Puerto Cabello, and Francisco Morales controlled the shores of Lake Maracaibo and coastal parts of adjacent Coro. Early in the year, Lake Maracaibo was blockaded, and the Spanish pocket reduced to Maracaibo itself, its garrison desperately waiting for admiral Ángel Laborde to lift the naval blockade. The Caribbean islands presented a different scenario: Santo Domingo was lost in a conspiracy and occupied by Haitian forces in 1822, but Cuba and Puerto Rico remained loyal. Early liberal conspiracies in Cuba had been thwarted, and authorities were highly vigilant in detecting new ones; in Puerto Rico, of course, authorities were equally alert, but no popular call for independence was made. Invasions from outside were always feared, but the Spanish fleet under Laborde eventually managed to maintain naval superiority. Several factors added to the loyalty of the islands, particularly Puerto Rico—first was the influx of always more fresh immigrants from Spain. The revolutions in other parts of the Empire narrowed the options for would-be emigrants. The resuming emigration after the end of the Napoleonic Wars concentrated on the Caribbean islands because formerly popular destinations of the early 19th century, like the Rio de la Plata, and especially New Spain, were either lost or drowned in anti-Spanish violence: “All of us Europeans are hated here [.|.|.], and believe me that coming to this realm to make a living is over, and we are very exposed to get our throats cut, as happens every day, which is why we only live where there are troops,” an emigrant wrote to his cousin from Mexico in 1816.3 When things got worse, loyalists—both criollos and peninsulares—fled to the islands by the thousands (as French refugees from Haiti had done before), often in hope of returning to the mainland later. Then, there was the prosperous economic development of the islands, triggered by Spanish economic trade policies of free trade in the last third of the 18th century, and later the vacuum in sugar production in the wake of the Haitian revolution. Not only sugar, but also other export crops, like tobacco and coffee, prospered in early 19th-century Cuba, which rapidly transformed into a full-fledged “slave society.” Landed elites, but also lower social strata, feared independence, which would end in a “Haitianization,” and the fate of Spanish Santo Domingo in 1822 surely did not dispel these fears. Thus, slavery as a basic labor force fueled loyalism, while free migration in the Caribbean began to be ever more restrained and regarded as a source of possible unrest.4 In Puerto Rico, this development was slower and less intense, but in principle, there was a parallel development and concentration on export crops based on slave labor. Finally, in the early 1820s, Puerto Rico was the most important hub for military re-enforcements, supply, and provisions, a platform for new expeditions, and a resting place for recovering, returning, or defeated contingents of the expeditionary army, so it contributed a particularly heavy military presence and adhesion to Spain.5

But, one may ask: Loyal to which of the two Spains? The whole development of the Spanish American independence movements was highly influenced by the political developments in Europe—the state of unreliable communications, then French occupation from 1808, which sparked first unrests under still royalist auspices. However badly represented Americans may have felt, the liberal Cádiz constitution of 1812 managed to win over good parts of the Creole elite for a short period. The restoration of absolutism under Ferdinand VII, in 1814, and consequent suppression of liberal articulations not only interrupted this development, it also created an abyss among the peninsulares themselves, causing some to change banner and, more frequently, it hampered resolute action due to the existing mistrust. This problem became ever more evident with the reactivation of the Cádiz constitution after the revolution of 1820, the beginning of the so-called “liberal Triennium.” While revolutionary forces in Spain triumphed, the tension with officials in America, most of them appointed during absolutism, was much more complicated and led, among other things, to the division of loyalist forces in Peru. In Puerto Rico—the most important scenario for the context of the letters under review—we see highly fractured political competencies in 1823: Civil administration was led since 1822 by the rather liberal Governor Francisco González Linares, the fiscal administrator was intendent José Domínguez Díaz, and the military commander was Captain-General Miguel de la Torre, former head of the expeditionary army in Venezuela and highly sceptical of liberalism. In March 1823, the elections for the representation of Puerto Rico in the parliament (Cortes) resulted in a victory for a liberal candidate.6

At that time, however, the constitutional project in Spain had already approached its end. In October 1822, the conservative European monarchies of the Holy Alliance (Austria, Prussia, and Russia), together with England, paved the way to “free” Spain from the constitutionalists and restore absolutism.7 Royalist guerrillas operating in the Pyrenees at that time received more and more support from France, harassing the countryside of northwestern Spain. In April 1823, finally, France invaded with an army of volunteers, the so-called “cien mil hijos de San Luis,” alluding to an (alleged?) speech by Louis XVIII in January of that year about the readiness of one hundred thousand soldiers to invade Spain. Only days after the invasion, the Cortes moved from Madrid to Seville, and later to Cádiz, which surrendered in late September. Ferdinand, until then more or less a captive of the constitutionalists, immediately proceeded to roll back all liberal reforms and enacted prosecution of liberals, including a good number of executions, ushering in a prolonged period of an absolutist police state, called the década ominosa.8

While war raged in Spain, the precarious balance of power in Puerto Rico held for a while. When news of the defeat of the Liberals arrived at Puerto Rico, early in December, De la Torre acted, sacked governor González Linares, dissolved municipal authorities, and reunited political competencies in his person, governing the island until 1837, with the panem et circenses credo of “baile, botella y baraja,” which translates to “dance, drink, and gamble.”9

The Letter Corpus

All these elements conspired to make Puerto Rico a point of stability from which an America and a Europe in turmoil could be observed, but not unaffectedly or without woes, since many people directly were affected by events, and others feared for loved-ones, which is why I chose to call the project “In the Eye of the Hurricane.”

The 65 edited private letters united in this digital edition are preserved in the Spanish National Archive (Archivo Histórico Nacional or AHN) in Madrid.10 An independently prepared print edition of the letters was published recently in Puerto Rico.11 The original letters themselves have been archived without further explanation, but the surrounding documents mostly concern Miguel de la Torre. We know a few things: First, it is safe to presume that the letters were originally sent together on the same ship. It may have left Puerto Rico in July, but more probably it left around June 23rd, since by far the largest group of letters are dated June 19th and 20th (10 and 6, respectively), with only a single letter after June 23rd. The date of that letter, July 4, 1823, may have been deliberately recorded or may be accidentally wrong, and it is not likely that it was taken en route from another vessel. The envelopes of some letters give more precise information about the ship, called “el místico español” or “el místico San Antonio.”12 This coincides with the destinations for the letters, which concentrate on the Canary Islands, Andalusia, and Catalonia, making a route from Puerto Rico to Barcelona with the usual stops at the Canary Islands, Cádiz, and possibly Málaga highly plausible. It is also evident that the letters never reached their destination, so something must have happened before the ship reached harbor at the Canary Islands, since those islands remained largely under constitutional rule until November. There exist a few possibilities of what may have happened, but the most logical is that a French ship intercepted the San Antonio, and nobody on board took the trouble to dump the boxes with the letters into the sea, even though it was standard procedure.

Interception and investigation of the letters meant a highly delicate and sensitive situation for the individuals involved in the correspondence, due to the political nature of the conflict and its quality of civil war. Under these auspices, the intercepted letters may have become an instrument for identifying political allegiances or attitudes of “ordinary people,” a likely scenario for the dark period ushering in at that moment in Spanish history. It has to be noted that we do not know of any other episodes before this time of sacking a shipment of inner-Spanish mail, breaching the guaranteed privacy of correspondence without an initial suspicion against a particular person.13 These circumstances make the corpus a rich source for how people were affected by the end of the liberal period and wars of independence, especially with regard to their political thoughts within the context of their private lives.

The moment of their production and the lack of selection by content make the letters stand out compared to others. Typical editions of colonial transatlantic letters center either on documents archived in court cases and notarial records or on so-called cartas de llamada (letters of call) used by emigrants as probatory documents, to obtain an emigration license by showing that they had a relative in America ready to receive them.14 Without going into detail here, the context of usage and selection is relevant for interpretation of the nature of the letters, and cartas de llamada are usually rather short, to-the-task letters.15 By contrast, here we have an unfiltered corpus that is not centered on a particular individual or group, as in the preserved correspondences of merchants or nobles.16 Second, the timing is significant: Of over 2,000 edited cartas de llamada, only a good dozen cover the years 1820–1830, and those few were written from Cuba. An edition of cartas de llamada, particularly focusing on Puerto Rico, includes no letters from 1814 to 1830, features 16 letters from 1787 to 1813, then skips almost two decades and adds 8 more from 1831 to 1833.17

The Contents of the Letters

A full analysis of the contents of all the letters is not the objective of this short article; rather, it seeks to give some attention to the realm of the political in the light of the project’s title. Foremost, the letters do provide a lot of information on the course of the war in Venezuela. Particularly the three letters written from Puerto Cabello, then under siege, show an intense emotional concern and anxiety: Juan Bermejo, after two years of almost permanent siege, considered the place, “where more people have died than remain,” to have been “abandoned by the nation” and was hoping for a quick surrender within months, so that he could make it back to Extremadura in time to “eat this year’s grapes.”18 Manuel Sendros relates how the main city communicated with the port’s watchtower across enemy lines by way of “telegraph,” probably an optical device for information transmission, about the rejection of talks under truce (“not with such indecent people”), and how the watch tower surrendered on April 24th, with its commander Aponte swapping allegiance and pronouncing “Viva Colombia!” In the second part of the letter, Sendros turns “from sadness to great and heroic things” and relates how Admiral Laborde relieved the site by clearing the seas in a naval battle on May 1.19 Surely, this was also the occasion that opened the window to get the letters out of Puerto Cabello, since the third letter from Puerto Cabello refers to having received a letter on May 4, a particularly insightful detail, since it shows us that private correspondence was an integral part of such a supply mission. The author also relates to communication problems with other areas of Venezuela and expresses surely exaggerated hopes in Morales’s campaign, who, he says, has reconquered “most of Santa Fe de Bogotá and provinces of Venezuela,” repairing the disaster left by his predecessors and giving Sendros hope to return to Caracas soon.20 This judgement, optimistic at the best moments around the turn of the year, was already utopic by the time of his writing, surely maintained out of simple despair and narrow information. The only letter in the corpus penned in rebel controlled territory—and precisely, the earliest letter, from January—was written by a prisoner of war waiting for an exchange. Cleverly, he included an envelope for his mother, which she should use for the reply, using a Frenchman in Curaçao and a citizen of La Guaira as intermediaries.21 A civilian tells of his forced exile from Venezuela to Puerto Rico; one wounded soldier narrates his evacuation from the mainland, his fears of either being returned to the troops, considered a deserter, or brought-up and killed by an insurgent ship; another one was jetsam of the defeated troops of Cumaná stranded on Puerto Rico, from where he wanted to travel to Spain to see his mother, only to learn that she had died, that his native Catalonia was invaded, and in the meanwhile, he had missed the chance to rise in military hierarchy like his colleagues who had headed back from Puerto Rico to the mainland to be promoted to captains.22 This letter may be considered emblematic for what it was like to be in the eye of the hurricane.

The letters most concerned with the events in Europe are, of course, those written to Catalonia, already expecting the war with France to break out, telling about postponed trips to Spain, advisements to follow to Puerto Rico until things get better, and the like. The letters, of course, easily give away political stances of both authors and destinataries, when, for instance, Fidel Costa y Clavell writes about the “damned facciosos,” meaning the royalist guerrillas harassing the countryside.23 News of the invasion must have reached Puerto Rico by mid-June, and later letters give evidence that such knowledge was not universal at the moment the letters left the island. A letter from June 19 informs us that, at the time the ship left, people in Puerto Rico did not yet have conclusive news of war with France. That letter was optimistic not only about the developments in America, but also that “the serviles and facciosos” of “this revolution of monks and priests” in Catalonia were about to be defeated.24 Three letters inform us about concrete news of war: one already dated June 17; another one from June 20, expressing fears the post-ship, which had not yet arrived, may have been seized by the French; and, one dated June 23, in which Juan Taparoni wrote the somewhat prophetic words: “Concerning news that make their rounds here, it is that France declared war on Spain, and they say the Spanish don’t want a constitution. If that’s true, the Spanish have no more America because here they love the constitution very much.”25

Other letters show how the political divide could run through families and personal networks. Ramón Garriga chastises his wife when he writes, “I am marvelled that my cousin Pablo Boada told us that the facciosos entered several times in Tossa, and about the payments they demanded and the cruelties they committed, including robbery. I am still fasting that you didn’t tell me any of this, I think your silence speaks much and makes me think that if you were a man, you would be one of them.”26 Ramón Capdeaigua writes his brother about a ship with 316 captive serviles taken to Havana, among them two from his native town. He laments that even some of his friends sided with them and marvels “that there are such perverted men who love to suffer unnecessarily and maybe even lose their life, but I, Constitution or Death, always.”27

Totally the opposite sentiment is seen in the letter by Ramón Hernández to his son, which contains a furious rant about his son’s ingratitude and independence-leaning sentiment. With a good level of sarcasm, the father Ramón asks him: “If the convulsions of the disloyal peoples of America cause the interruption of correspondence, if that is the cause to your shortages, why do you hurl your curses against the same innocence if the reasons for your lack of comfort are entirely different?” Nonetheless, he sent some money so his son could pursue his literary studies instead of being “a student of soups.”28 Ramón’s ire becomes all the more understandable knowing that he had served as a high ranking Spanish official, auditor de guerra, and secretary of Miguel de la Torre in the 1810s, and even took part in the battle of Carabobo; in 1823, when his son expressed his fancy ideas, Ramón co-published a pamphlet defending Miguel de la Torre against public accusations.29

As some of these latter examples show, the contents of the letters do not stop at the political but also include business, family issues, love, communications, and other topics that could only be analyzed in detail at another moment.

Methodology of Edition and Digital Preparation with TEI

During early investigations into the contents of this transatlantic correspondence, the need to devise criteria for the transcriptions of those as yet unedited, located in the General Archive of the Indies (Archivo General de Indias) in Seville, became clear. When comparing the existing editions, one finds the standards and methodology to be highly heterogeneous. Given a simple familiarity with edited correspondence and lacking experience studying archival records, one might be pressed to imagine the potential complexity of the relationship between the original and the edited letter, especially involving translation work. Any change to the original entails adding, losing, and transforming information. That is true even for digital image reproductions of the letters, given the loss of physical information (e.g., size, ink) and the level of pixel resolution. It is even more relevant when transcribing text and facing decisions, such as how to treat punctuation marks, abbreviations, the use of capital letters, standard text elements, and worse yet, formatting and visual issues, such as variations in the size of the handwriting, or visible changes of ink or quill.

However irrelevant we may judge one or the other element for our purposes and lines of investigation, we never know who might need what piece of information. Philologists struggle, for example, with the historians’ ways of editing. Manuel Álvar, former distinguished member of the Real Academia Española and a long time professor for Spanish Language at the University of Albany, reviewed the ground-breaking letter edition by Enrique Otte and, even as he acknowledged the rich historical value of the letters, he criticized: “These letters were transcribed in an exciting book as can be, but their worth is diminished a lot because they result useless for the study of language. Enrique Otte [.|.|.] misunderstood what we and the history of America most want to know.”30 What he criticized most was the consequent modernization of orthography and the development of abbreviations in Otte’s book. To be fair, Otte did not always do this, but this decision depended on the publisher, who wanted the book to sell for a more general audience, already challenged by the archaic vocabulary, historical context, and unfamiliar place names. José Rigau, the author of the printed edition of the letters from 1823, under consideration here, made a similar decision and strictly “modernized” the orthography. In this case, the decision was even more relevant because of the high number of Catalan authors who actually wrote their letters in so many shades of Catalan-flavored Spanish and Spanish-flavored Catalan. Thus, the original sentence “Mu x as esperiones a tu madre y armane Frencicet. Él está bueno y gordo no le dolido la cavesa” in his edition becomes “Muchas expresiones a tu madre y hermano Francicet. Está bueno y gordo, no le [ha] dolido la cabeza.” The heavy Catalan interferences of the letter’s text simply vanish, and in other letters outright Catalan vocabulary is translated: “Cosines” (cousins) becomes “primas,” “ralles” (lines) becomes “líneas,” etc.31 To illustrate how such a decision can influence analysis, referring to the letter being written as “estas dos ralles” is a frequently used, almost a standard phrase in letters of Catalan writers, even if they generally write in “pure” Castillian Spanish, while “estas dos líneas” would be totally unusual.

In yet other editions, one finds particular elements, such as treatments of “date and place” subject to intense standardization, or highly diverse practices of marking editorial additions and remarks. One will even find “dross elements,” such as greetings, to be tacitly removed. And the use of ellipses can basically mean anything, a missing part of a word or a complete missing page, and often no reason (illegibility, bad copy, damage, ink, or deliberate omission) is given. Only a detailed comparison of such edited copies against the originals reveals the actual nature of these editorial practices, allowing one to devise standards for new and improved transcriptions. For this project, In the Eye of the Hurricane, I wished to devise one single way to present the letters, making a decision about the audience, privileging some interests over the others in decisive form. It is not that Otte’s or Rigau’s decision to opt for modernized/translated transcriptions were inherently bad—they were decisions with an eye to the customers they or their publishers sought to reach (and Rigau, it has to be underscored, meticulously outlined and documented his reasons and the elements of his editorial decisions).

The field of digital humanities offers some tools that make the editing process more transparent (at least in the encoded side of text) and manipulable. In particular, the XML-based mark-up language of the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI), has become standard for the preparation of all kinds of texts in digital humanities. Without going into detail on XML, it can be summarized as a rigid language, bound to a schema for encoding text according to a ruleset, defining elements, which elements can be parents or children of others, allowed attributes, like HTML using wrapping tags. A typical example would be allowing <person/> to contain <sex/> (with the attributes “m” and “f”) and <persName/>, which in turn would be allowed to contain <forename/> and <surname/>. Using TEI generally—and for correspondence in particular—provides an absolute contrast to the aforementioned complete absence of “hard rules” in traditional Spanish letter editions. A validation service notifies an editor whenever there is a departure from the rigid schema of which element is allowed within which other element, and so on. And even if the document is technically valid, an editor has to mind the semantic meaning of each tag. The problem arises when one’s original document does not fit such a rigid effort to accommodate all text. In the case of the strict gender binary presented above (male/female), for example, what is an editor to do when a person in a given text is transgendered?32

This limitation apparently is particularly relevant for letter editions. Most TEI-based letter edition projects are carried out in English-, German-, and Dutch-speaking academia, while Spanish efforts are rather recent, and seemingly only one—Post Scriptum—touches Spanish America.33 Despite TEI’s popularity in digital humanities and letter editions, its application to this type of source is still considered somewhat problematic. Many corpus-specific elements and relevant meta information are difficult to represent using the tagsets in the TEI standard, which is why, over a period of more than ten years, a special interest group has been working on homogenizing the handling of particular elements, be it definitions of metadata (<correspDesc>) or providing best practice examples for the mark-up of elements such as envelopes, addresses, openers, and closers. However, the results of the discussions in the SIG are still not implemented in the current TEI version (TEI-P5).34

That said, and despite necessary decisions to work around imperfectly matching definitions, it is absolutely possible to create TEI letter editions compliant to the current standard. TEI-mark-up has several important advantages. One is, of course, automated machine-ready queries and analysis. A second one is cross-corpus interoperability, for analysis and indexing. Even if not implemented at the moment of the edition, all letters that meet the standard are easily assembled into different cross-corpus resources, such as correspSearch or Niall O’Leary’s Visual Correspondence. The third one is the flexibility in visualization and output. It is of course still subject to editorial decisions what details make it into the mark-up, which elements are silently standardized, and similar aspects. Just a few examples of my decisions in the project: I did not tag each person mentioned in the letters, only writers and recipients, because most people are now unknown and are typically mentioned only once. I did modernize punctuation—this and other silent editorial interventions are pointed out in the <header> section of each letter document. On the other hand, I very carefully marked abbreviations. The typical abbreviation for the word comercio, “com.o,” would be marked up like this:

<abbr>com<am>.</am><ex>erci</ex><hi rend=“superscript”>o</hi></abbr>

To wit, <abbr/> shows us that this word is abbreviated; <am/> marks the abbreviation marker; <ex/> marks the editorial completion; and, the last tag <hi/> tells us that the last letter is in superscript.

As is evident, reading raw TEI code can make one’s eyes bleed, so the public view of the text must be styled. One can convert files into different formats, such as PDFs, ebook formats (epub), Microsoft Office Word format, or—most importantly for online presentations—HTML. To accomplish this, one needs a style sheet (XSLT) that sets rules for how to convert TEI elements into HTML elements. There are some ready-to-use style sheets in text editors such as OxyGen, but it is not uncommon to adapt these style sheets to meet specific wishes or to write an entirely new one.

For our project, I wrote two such sets of rules, one more resembling the original, maintaining, for example, the abbreviation “s.or” by not carrying over the text of <ex/>; and in the other version, it is the <a.m./> which is eliminated and all superscripts within an <abbr/> are ordered to be stripped of their tag so they appear as normal letters. Similar rules were made to convert <gap/> into a grey HTML <span/> element, which varies in size depending on a specified length of the gap; and to show <unclear/> passages as red text. Both elements are styled in CSS to show a tool tip with some more information on the nature of the problem, such as if the reason for the gap is illegibility, damage to the paper, a bad reproduction, an ink blotch, voluntary erasing by the author. I also indicate the level of confidence attributed to the supplied transcription in the case of unclear text.

What has not been done, because of a lack of funding but also because it would have bloated the already messy mark-up, was a parallel, fully modernized edition for a general audience. And this is where using the TEI standard paid off unexpectedly and at a later moment. Since making the edition, TEITOK, a very powerful and useful tool for such a purpose, designed by Maarten Jansen has come into existence: a tool made for corpus linguistics that starts with ready TEI/XML files, visualizing it as HTML on-the-fly and adding a wrapping token (<tok>) around each word.35 Different forms (such as modernized reading) for each token can subsequently be specified, but these additions are stored separately, not directly in the file. Also it allows side-by-side display with the facsimile image, and it is easy to specify if the image is only visible for administrators/editing purposes or available for everyone. So, while the project’s website at the moment does not include a modernized reading, I am currently working with Maarten’s help on a TEITOK-based visualization.36 As is often in such cases, a certain amount of clean-up or change in the original code is needed to get really perfect results and compatibility, but instant integration into TEITOK was possible by simply importing the files, to an absolutely satisfactory degree! This, to me, is an indicative that the definitions of elements in TEI, despite the unquestionable advantages of more homogeneous usage as developed by the special interest group, suffice to mark-up letters in a standardized form that is objectively understandable across projects.

The Online Presentation and Its Functionalities

The online presentation of the marked-up letters has been devised to be as slim as possible, designed mainly to showcase the possibilities of converting a single TEI mark-up in different XHTML outputs in a bilingual presentation (Spanish and German). The comparatively small number of letters luckily did not make it necessary to invest much in creating complicated search facilities and queries.

Now to the website itself: One page informs, in more limited form than here, about the historical context, another section sketches the methodology of letter edition. Exploration of the resource and access to the texts of the letters can be done in two ways. First, the user may choose a letter via a simple, sortable, and filterable JavaScript table. A search field (Búsqueda) allows one to filter the letters, searching the fields of the table dynamically while entering text, a hidden field takes care to track some variant spellings. The second form to explore the corpus is the temporal and spatial search. It uses the Timemap JavaScript library, designed by Nick Rabinowitz at MIT, which combines the Simile widget for creating interactive timelines, with an online map such as OpenLayers or GoogleMap (for the website, I used the GoogleMap API). A Google spreadsheet from the TEI <header>-metainformation of the letters was created as an input dataset, similar to that in the searchable table. Furthermore, some important events, both in Spain and in America, were added to provide context. The Google Geocoding service was used to coordinate those places, which is quite simple to implement: As long as a Google spreadsheet has a column for the location/address and you add a “Latitude” and a “Longitude” column to the right of it, you can automate the process by adding a ready-to-use script—I used “Geocode Google Sheets”—to the spreadsheet and running it.

On the page, this translates in a quite broad timeline and two maps underneath (figure 1).

Digital Resources: En el Ojo del Huracán, Private Letters from the Caribbean to SpainClick to view larger

Figure 1. Screenshot of the TimeMap Navigation on the Project’s Homepage.

On the timeline, one can scroll through the year by dragging on either the day part or the month part of the timeline. In the upper section, the user sees events and letters in the visible extent with bullets. The large number of letters written on June 19 made it necessary to extend the upper part of the timeline to make all letters fit. In the left map below, one sees all places where letters were written during the visible part of the timeline as bubbles. Clicking them opens some information on the letter and a link to the text. Lamentably, we were unable to customize this visualization to create a list in case there were several letters written in the same place. However, clicking the bullet of one of the letters in the timeline above centers the map below and opens the respective pop-up dialogue.

The map on the right side shows the letters grouped by place of destination, which we know for 56 of 65 letters, thanks to the high number of envelopes archived along with the letters. The remaining 9 letters received dummy coordinates just west of Cádiz. This map does not have the same temporal filter and interaction with the timeline, since TimeMap cannot handle two different location fields or relate one timeline to two maps. On the plus side, in this visualization, the bubble increases in size and shows a number, in case there is more than one letter written to a person living at that place.

The frame for the presentation of the letter’s text features three elements (figure 2): On the right side, the user finds a static box with notes that explain how editorial additions and defects in the transcription are highlighted, and a box with more detailed info drawn from the raw XML-file, including information on the original handwriting, the layout of the original letter, the exact archival reference, and so on. On the left side, there are two tabs that show the two different HTML outputs generated from the XSLT files—as described in the previous section: one more paleographic mode, with a lesser degree of modification of the original, and one for an easier reading of the text. There is also a button giving access to the raw TEI-XML file and a link to the TEITOK-version of the displayed letter.

Digital Resources: En el Ojo del Huracán, Private Letters from the Caribbean to SpainClick to view larger

Figure 2. Frame for Visualizing the Letters on the Project’s Homepage.

As mentioned, a fully modernized version for a more general audience had to be put aside and is only now under development in collaboration with TEITOK. Figure 3 gives a small sneak preview of the same letter as above in the TEITOK framework, which allows for four different visualizations, highlighting those words that are visualized differently under the current view (in the figure, the “normalized view”) with respect to the original.

Digital Resources: En el Ojo del Huracán, Private Letters from the Caribbean to SpainClick to view larger

Figure 3. Visualization of a Letter on the Project’s TEITOK Mirror.

Finally, the letter edition has also been incorporated into the “visual correspondence” framework (as one of 54 collections, at the moment), where the user can request several forms of data visualization, for instance as a map, by drawing from the corpus’s core metadata (dates, people, and places).

Conclusive Remarks

Summing up, the project, In the Eye of the Hurricane puts on display a small, but compact and multi-perspective corpus of autographs, focused on a crucial moment in various histories. The sources observe, reflect, and comment on the important political events of early 1823 in three spaces—Spain, the Caribbean, and Tierra Firme. They are mostly written from a safe place and authors fully trusted in the confidentiality of their letters—a treacherous belief. The contextualization of the political outside within the private lives and experiences gives us a peak view on the immediate impact of those turmoils that so often remain abstract in historical analysis. The overseeable size of the corpus also contributed to making it possible to explore possibilities of digital editions, since bad initial decisions could easily be corrected. Using digital TEI mark-up for the transcription and edition of manuscript primary sources, as exemplified here, may be unfamiliar to many, but it is not beyond the capabilities of the typical disciple of the Humanities. Using it pays off in multiple ways as long as the digital edition follows the standard. Visual output can be altered, designed for different readerships, interests, and output formats without altering the transcription at the basis; yet non-existent tools for analysis, organization, compilation, or visualization of the sources and their metadata will be possible in ways we have not yet even thought about.


Interactive maps and the writing of this article were accomplished within the project “Vom Imperium zum Territorium. Eine dynamische, WebGIS-basierte Rekonstruktion der Kolonialherrschaft in Hispanoamerika,” (From empire to territory: A WebGIS-based reconstruction of colonial rule in Hispanoamerica), funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF), project number P 26379-G18. I would like to thank the reviewers and editors for their valuable comments.

Main website of the In the Eye of the Hurricane project.

Temporary URL of the project’s TEITOK realization.

Homepage of the TEI.

Homepage of the TEITOK project.

Homepage of the letter edition Project P. S. Post Scriptum.

Homepage of the correspSearch, search scholarly editions of letters.

Niall O’Leary, visual correspondence.

Github documentation of TimeMap Javascript API.

WIKI of the Special Interest Group for using TEI with correspondence.

Further Reading

Brown, Matthew, and Gabriel Paquette, eds. Connections after Colonialism: Europe and Latin America in the 1820s. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press 2013.Find this resource:

    Earle, Rebecca, ed. Epistolary Selves: Letters and Letter Writers 1600–1945. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 1999.Find this resource:

      Eastman, Scott, and Natalia Sobrevilla Perea. The Rise of Constitutional Government in the Iberian Atlantic World: The Impact of the Cádiz Constitution of 1812. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2015.Find this resource:

        Espinosa Fernández, José Manuel. Elites y política colonial en los márgenes del imperio: Puerto Rico, 1765–1815. Seville, Spain: Escuela de Estudios Hispano-Americanos, 2015.Find this resource:

          Guerra, François–Xavier. De los imperios a las naciones. México, DF: Fondo de Cultura y Economía, 1994.Find this resource:

            Lorente Sariñena, Marta, and José Ma Portillo Valdés, eds. El Momento Gaditano: La Constitución en el Orbe Hispánico (1808–1826). Madrid: Congreso de los Diputados, 2012.Find this resource:

              Paquette, Gabriel. Enlightenment, Governance, and Reform in Spain and its Empire, 1759–1808. Basingstoke: Palgrave McMillan, 2008.Find this resource:

                Rodríguez, Jaime, ed. La independencia de América Latina. México, DF: Fondo de Cultura y Economía, 2005.Find this resource:


                  (1.) Cristóbal Bohórquez to his mother and sister. La Guaira. 2 January 1823, Archivo Histórico Naciona (AHN), Estado 6375, n. 14, doc. 1.

                  (2.) The events narrated here are well known and can be easily verified in standard handbooks and encyclopedias, so I omit detailed citations. The events are important to be narrated here, nonetheless, to explain the precise situation of the Spanish Ultramar at the time the letters were written.

                  (3.) Diego Fernández Peredo to his cousin José Fernández Peredo, September 2, 1816. Spanish original is transcribed in Werner Stangl, Zwischen Authentizität und Fiktion: Die private Korrespondenz spanischer Emigranten, 1492–1824 (Vienna: Böhlau, 2012), letter no. 324.

                  (4.) On the impact of economic factors on Cuba’s colonial trajectory in the 19th century, see in detail Antonio Santamaría García and Sigfrido Vázquez-Cienfuegos, “Progreso Económico y Refundación Colonial: Cuba en la Era de las Independencias Hispanoamericanas,” Revista Hispano Americana 7.

                  (5.) Raquel Rosario-Rivera, “LosPasaportes en Puerto Rico: Movilidad en el Período de 1791–1848,” Revista Universidad de América 10, no. 2 (1998): 20–30.

                  (6.) For the events in Puerto Rico, see Héctor Andrés Negroni, Historia militar de Puerto Rico (San Juan, PR: Comisión Puertorriqueña para la Celebración del Quinto Centenario del Descubrimiento de América y Puerto Rico, 1992), 74–76; and see also Pablo E. Gil-Loyzaga, Cuatro Siglos en Puerto Rico (Madrid: Vision Net, 2007), 62–65.

                  (7.) Traditional claims that those powers stipulated an invasion in a secret treaty are false. However, the talks certainly were important to give a “green light” to France. Rosario de la Torre del Río, “El Falso Tratado de Verona,” Cuadernos de Historia Contemporánea 33 (2011): 284–293.

                  (8.) Emilio La Parra López, Los cien mil hijos de San Luis: El ocaso del primer impulso liberal en España (Madrid: Marcial Pons, 2007).

                  (9.) Negroni, Historia militar, 75–76.

                  (10.) AHN, Estado 6375, numbers 13, 14 and 15. The digital edition does not include those marked as business letters (number 13).

                  (11.) José G. Rigau Pérez, Puerto Rico en la conmoción de Hispanoamérica. Historia y cartas íntimas, 1820–1823 (San Juan: Editorial Revés, 2014). This edition also includes the letters from number 13. It is important to know that both editions were done independently and differ in purpose and methodology. “In the Eye of the Hurricane” was realized as an edition in 2013, went online first in 2014, and was published with its current domain in 2015. Rigau’s monograph gives a more complete contextualization of Puerto Rico at that time and also analyzes the corpus statistically, while the focus of this project is editorial practice, standards, and benefits of their use (cf. section Methodology of Edition and Digital Preparation with TEI).

                  (12.) Ramón Zerón y Pérez to his friend Tomás Hernández. Puerto Rico, June 20, 1823, Archivo Histórico Nacional (AHN), Estado 6375, no. 14, doc. 18–20. Místico, it is important to know, is not part of the ship’s name but a small type of vessel with generally two masts with Latin sails, particularly popular among Catalans.

                  (13.) In international conflicts that happened frequently, however, as the British National Archive vividly testifies, complete shipments of Dutch, French, and Spanish letters were intercepted during wartime.

                  (14.) Civil court cases, e.g., María del Carmen Martínez Martínez, Desde la otra orilla. Cartas de Indias en el Archivo de la Real Chancillería de Valladolid, siglos XVI–XVIII (León, Spain: Universidad de León, 2007); Inquisitorial cases: Rocío Sánchez Rubio and Isabel Testón Nuñez, El hilo que une: Las relaciones epistolares en el Viejo y el Nuevo Mundo, siglos XVI–XVIII (Mérida, Spain: Universidad de Extremadura, 1999); notary records: Jesús María Usunáriz Garayoa, Una visión de América del XVIII: Correspondencia de emigrantes guipuzcoanos y navarros (Madrid: MAPFRE, 1992); and José Miguel Aramburu Zudaire, Vida y fortuna del emigrante navarro a Indias, siglos XVI–XVII (Pamplona, Spain: Departamento de Educación y Cultura, 1999); and see Enrique Otte, Cartas privadas de emigrantes a Indias, 1540–1616 (Seville, Spain: Junta de Andalucía, 1988); Isabelo Macías and Francisco Morales Padrón, Cartas desde América, 1700–1800 (Seville: Andalucía 92, 1991); Rosario Márquez Macías, Historias de América: La emigración española en tinta y papel (Huelva, Spain: Ertoil Lubricantes, 1994); María Dolores Pérez Murillo, Cartas de emigrantes escritas desde Cuba: Estudio de las mentalidades y valores en el siglo XIX (Cádiz, Spain: Universidad de Cádiz, 1999); and Stangl, Zwischen Authentizität.

                  (15.) For the cartas de llamada, see particularly, Werner Stangl, “Consideraciones metodológicas acerca de las cartas privadas de emigrantes españoles desde América, 1492–1824: El caso de las ‘cartas de llamada,’” Jahrbuch für Geschichte Lateinamerikas 47 (2010): 11–36.

                  (16.) Again, some important editions: John L. Kessell, Remote Beyond Compare: Letters from Don Diego de Vargas to his Family from New Spain and New Mexico, 1675–1706 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1989); Meredith D. Dodge and Rick Hendricks, Two Hearts, One Soul: The Correspondence of the Condesa de Galve, 1688–96 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1993); and Patricio Hidalgo Nuchera, Entre Castro del Río y México: Correspondencia privada de Diego de la Cueva y su hermano Juan, emigrante en Indias, 1601–1641 (Córdoba, Spain: Universidad de Córdoba, 2006).

                  (17.) Rosario Márquez Macías, “Puerto Rico en el siglo XIX a través de las relaciones epistolares,” Rábida 20 (2001): 117–146.

                  (27.) Ramón Capdeaigua to his Brother Antonio Capdeaigua, Puerto Rico, 20 June 1823, AHN, Estado 6375, n. 14, doc. 23. In the original, the underlined words were, furthermore, written larger than the rest of the text.

                  (29.) “Defensa e impugnación contra el papel titulado Idea Sucinta que del carácter y disposición militar del Mariscal de Campo Don Miguel de la Torre, ha dado a la prensa el coronel don Sebastián de la Calzada. Instruida por D. Ramón Hernández de Armas, Auditor de Guerra de Marina del Apostadero de Puerto Cabello y honorario de Departamento,” referenced in Tomás Straka, La Voz de los Vencidos: Ideas del Partido Realista de Caracas, 1810–1821 (Caracas: Bid, 2007), 349.

                  (30.) Translation by Werner Stangl Manuel Álvar, “La investigación del español en América. Proyectos inmediatos,” José Manuel Blecua, ed., Actas del Congreso de la Lengua Española, Sevilla del 7 al 10 de Octubre, 1992 (Madrid: Instituto Cervantes, 1994).

                  (31.) Rigau, Puerto Rico en la conmoción, 237. Compare the same letter in the digital edition.

                  (32.) To be fair, TEI does allow for this. I just used it as a placative example.

                  (33.) One Spanish project is Epístola. Cf. Juana María González García, “El proyecto Epístola: Edición digital de los epistolarios de la Edad de Plata,” Janus Anexo 1 (2014): 197–208.

                  (34.) Peter Stadler, Marcel Illetschko, and Sabine Seifert, “Towards a Model for Encoding Correspondence in the TEI: Developing and Implementing<correspDesc>,” Journal of the Text Encoding Initiative 9 (2016).

                  (36.) A preliminary work-in-progress by the time of this writing is Overseas, but the URL is likely to change. I will maintain a link to the URL of that side project on the website.