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date: 28 May 2017

Digital Resources: Digital Projects in Mexico City’s Archives and Libraries

Summary and Keywords

Researchers in major Mexico City archives in the early 1970s had access to very few finding aids for historical documents and record sets. Since then, archivists and researchers have worked diligently to organize record sets and create catalogues for an untold number of documents. Since the early twenty-first century, researchers in the Archivo General de la Nación, the Archivo Histórico de la Ciudad de México, the Archivo Histórico del Arzobispado de México, the Archivo Histórico de la Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional, and the Archivo General de Notarías have been able to access databases, searchable PDF catalogues, and a small array of digital collections.

Work toward inventorying and cataloguing record sets began long before the development of technologies available today. Typescript catalogues for record sets in the Archivo Histórico de la Ciudad de México date from the 1920s. Work on inventories, card catalogues, typescripts, and published catalogues for record sets in the Archivo General de la Nación and the Archivo Histórico de la Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional began during the 1930s and 1940s. Work on cataloguing the documents in the Archivo General de Notarías and the Archivo Histórico del Arzobispado de México began during the 1980s and 1990s. Since the early twenty-first century researchers have been able to access databases, searchable PDF catalogues, and a limited number of digitized documents for all these major archives.

New technologies began to make digitization possible, and thus Mexican libraries, along with archives, began to digitize primary and secondary sources. Some of those projects involve digitizing microfilm; others involve digitizing complete record sets and printed books. Still others involve transcriptions of historical documents. While the scope and quality of those projects vary from institution to institution, all create heretofore unimaginable access to historical documents.

Keywords: Mexico City, archives, libraries, finding aids, digital collections, Archivo General de la Nación, Archivo Histórico de la Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional, Archivo de la Suprema Corte de la Nación, Archivo Histórico de la Ciudad de México, Archivo Histórico del Arzobispado de México, Archivo de Notarías

This article describes the scope of catalogues, databases, and digital projects in major Mexico City archives along with online finding aids and digital collections in several libraries. Researchers in major Mexico City archives into the 1970s had access to very few finding aids for historical documents and record sets. Since then, archivists and researchers have worked diligently to organize record sets and create catalogues for an untold number of documents. Researchers by the early 21st century in the Archivo General de la Nación (AGN), Archivo Histórico de la Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional (AHSDN), Archivo Histórico de la Suprema Corte de la Nación (AHSCJN), Archivo Histórico de la Ciudad de México (AHCDMX), Archivo Histórico del Arzobispado de México (AHAM), and Archivo General de Notarías (AGNot) have had access to databases, searchable PDF catalogues, and select digital collections.

Similarly, many libraries, which for the most part did have card catalogues, had not completely catalogued their collections by the early 1970s. One library, the Biblioteca Miguel Lerdo de Tejada, the library of the Secretaría de Hacienda y Crédito Público into the late 1970s, maintained a closed catalogue to prevent theft of cards from its card catalogue. Its online catalogue is a vast improvement. Clearly, librarians have made great strides in cataloguing rare and recent books and are still working on cataloguing pamphlet and newspaper collections. Many now have online catalogues, and some have begun to digitize rare books and pamphlets or at least have begun to experiment with digitizing select works. The major challenges libraries and archives have faced have been the dynamics of rapidly changing hardware and software, the lack of trained archival and library staffs, and the “disappearance” of works from their collections.

Work toward inventorying and cataloguing record sets in archives began long before the development of technologies available today. Typescript catalogues in the AHCDMX date from the 1920s. Work on inventories, card catalogues, typescript catalogues, and published catalogues for record sets in the AGN and the Archivo Histórico de la Secretaría de Defensa Nacional (AHSDN) began during the 1930s. Cataloguing the documents in the Archivo General de Notarías (AGNot) and the AHAM began to appear during the 1980s and 1990s.

As new technologies began to permit digitization, Mexican archives, private institutions, and libraries began to digitize primary and secondary sources. Some of those projects involve digitizing microfilm; others involve digitizing complete record sets and printed books. Still others involve transcriptions of historical documents. While the scope and quality of those projects vary from institution to institution, all create heretofore unimaginable access to historical documents, images, newspapers, books, and pamphlets.


According to a 2012 online publication by the Escuela Nacional de Biblioteconomía y Archivística, there are at least 104 historical archives in Mexico City. Usefully, that compilation includes physical and email addresses, as well as phone numbers, and where available the URLs of websites. Clearly this brief article cannot identify the scope and significance of all those repositories along with their digital and electronic works. Consequently, this article will highlight some of the more significant archives that have made strides toward crossing the electronic and digital frontiers.

The AGN is the most extensive federal archive in Mexico City. Founded shortly after independence, the AGN became the repository for colonial record sets from judicial and administrative offices abolished just before and after independence in 1821. Following the Mexican Revolution (1910–1917), the AGN received even more record sets from 19th-century administrative institutions. Subsequently, shortly before and after the archive moved into its current building, the Palacio de Lecumberri, a variety of executive branch offices transferred even more boxes of old government documents from warehouses to the national archive. And the AGN also began soliciting private individuals who had significant historical collections to donate those collections. The AGN houses more than 750 sections, series, and record sets. With new laws requiring government institutions to archive their documents, the holdings continue to grow. While most archives quantify their holdings in linear meters of shelf space, the national archive quantifies its holdings in kilometers—over sixty kilometers and counting.

Today the national archive contains millions of documents, maps and plans, photographs, and radio and television recordings. Though principally an archive of the executive branch of government, it also has significant judicial record sets. Documents from colonial courts include Real Audiencia, Inquisición, and the Ramo de Tierras—the colonial land and water court. Notable, the AGN also houses the historical archive of the Mexico City superior court, which contains more than 1.2 million case files dating from the 16th century to 1947; the digital archive of the 19th-century Mexican Supreme Court, which has over 157,000 case files and administrative documents; and the pre-1910 archive of the federal district court in Cuernavaca, Morelos, which remains to be catalogued. While the legislative branch of government maintains its own archives, the national archive does have extensive collections of laws, decrees, and regulations in manuscript and printed collections, and its library has official newspaper collections for the colonial period and the 19th into the 21st centuries. While the archive does not have the technical equipment to make the radio and television recordings accessible, everything, except for the rarest of documents, is accessible to researchers.

Because the Palacio de Lecumberri had formerly been a penitentiary, its architectural design—comprised of seven wings and several outbuildings—well served the distribution of paper into colonial, 19th century, 20th century, presidential, fiscal administration, judicial archives, maps and plans, private collections, photographic collections, sound and visual collections, and microfilm holdings. The initial modern efforts to inventory and catalogue all these holdings began during the 1930s, the results of which the archive published in the Boletín del Archivo General de la Nación. Beginning in the late 1970s, the archive embarked on identifying, inventorying, and cataloguing the vast scope of its holdings. The initial result of those efforts became the Guía General del Archivo General de la Nación (1990) and two CD-ROMS—ARGENA and ARGENA II—with searchable databases for Windows 3.1, in-house Access databases, then online C++ databases with advanced search capabilities, but only accessible with Internet Explorer or Firefox.

Online capacity did become limited by the early 21st century. Privately, this researcher, frustrated by the bulkiness of the online tool, also began to develop a searchable PDF catalogue and has regularly donated that ever expanding finding aid to the national archive, which published the 2012 edition on DVD. Though now out of print, that catalogue is continually updated as new finding aids are developed by the archive staff and individual researchers and is available in the archive’s reference center. The July 2016 edition of that catalogue contains over 210,000 pages and inventories of AGN record sets. It includes global search and more limited global search capabilities of major sections: Novohispano (colonial), Indiferente Virreinal (250,000 more recently incorporated colonial documents), Administración Pública (1821–1993), Presidencia (1994–2006), Fondos Judiciales (1821–2005), Colecciones y Archivos Particulares, Centro de Información Gráfica, the inventory of microfilms, the finding aids in the reference center, and catalogues of the rare books and newspapers in the archive’s library.

Most recently, the AGN has purchased a new Oracle database system but lacks the capacity to make that available online; it is consultable, however, in the archive. Unfortunately, the archive has not updated the online catalogue in over a decade; thus, those searching for references in the more recently catalogued record sets cannot do so at a distance. And, as with the C++ system, the Oracle system continues to be rather bulky to use. Nevertheless, the catalogues are continually updated, and there are links to digitized documents. Still, there are a number of colonial and modern record sets in the PDF catalogue that have never been incorporated into AGN databases, notably the Ramo de Historia, initiated during the 1790s with documents from the archive of the viceregal secretariat that colonial officials at the time perceived as significant policy-related files.

In addition to cataloguing and inventorying record sets, the national archive has microfilmed virtually all of the colonial record sets and has ventured into digitizing some of its collections. The first effort involved digitizing maps and plans, initially photographed and published in a multivolume paper catalogue (MAPILU: Mapas, Planos e Ilustraciones) during the 1980s. The digital edition of the images is available via the online catalogue, though only accessible with Internet Explorer or Firefox. However, while the images are accessible, they are not downloadable; creative users will have to resort to screenshots. The AGN had plans to publish the chronological catalogue and imagebase in a DVD edition this researcher produced with the approval and support of previous archive directors and staff. That catalogue and imagebase have an HTML interface with links to the 5,901 images of the maps, plans, and other images, reproduced at 250 dpi, permitting it to fit on a single DVD. That project is currently on hold in the AGN but is accessible in the AGN reference center.

Other AGN digital projects have involved digitizing microfilm. While it was initially believed to be a major step forward for the preservation of 300 to 500 year old paper, users and staff quickly found that the quality of the digital image was dependent on the quality of the microfilmed image. Consequently, while digitizing the microfilm of both the Ramo de Tierras and the Inquisition record sets might have been a grand idea, the quality of the microfilm images is so variable that the archive embarked on scanning the Ramo de Tierras, which is the most extensive of the colonial record sets, containing more than four thousand volumes, then put that project on hold to begin digitizing the Inquisition record set. While those projects will take many years to complete, the digital images are being made accessible in the Oracle-based system in the archive. Additionally, the archive has digitized several photographic archives, including the Hermanos Mayo and Tomás Garrido Carbajal collections, exceptional early to mid-20th century collections. And the archive has received a digital version of the Segundo Imperio record set, digitally photographed by a private Austrian researcher who donated the imagebase to the AGN.

Importantly, most (though not all) of the documents stored apart from the main collections due to their rarity or historical significance are digitized and available for viewing on computers in the archive. And there are scattered digitized documents accessible in the archive’s Oracle-based system. Even though there is no public inventory of all those documents, the archive staff does inform researchers of the internal-network availability of those documents. Finally, the quality of the documents the archive has and is scanning is excellent. Most documents are now digitized at 800 dpi and reduced to 300 dpi for integration into the system. More than a few researchers anxiously await further investment in software that might make the database catalogues and digitized documents available online.

Two other federal archives that have invested in digitizing holdings are the historical defense archive, AHSDN, and the Supreme Court archive. Both have staff and budgets that have afforded significant advancements in digital projects, though staff and budgets are not the only considerations for successful digital projects.

The AHSDN archive is organized into two main sections: Sección de Historia and Sección de Cancelados. The former contains the documents on military operations between 1821 and 1932, the latter personnel files for the 19th and 20th centuries. Just when the SDN began its digital project for the Sección de Historia is unclear; it did finish that project in time to put it online as part of the Mexican bicentennial celebrations in 2010. In the archive the Sección de Historia is organized into two groups: 19th century and Revolution. The 19th-century group includes over fourteen thousand documents, organized primarily chronologically, and colonial documents from the Colegio de San Francisco de Pachuca, which had the responsibility to establish missions in the northeastern regions, including Texas. The Revolution group is organized alphabetically by state. Unlike the 19th-century group, which is a document-by-document compilation, the Revolution section groups many documents from the same state in large files of 250 folio pages or more. The initial online project afforded users access to 99.9 percent of the documents dating to between 1821 and 1920. More recently, the technical staff has removed the Revolution record set from online access, unfortunately neglecting to pay attention to the relationship between the database and imagebase; consequently, while the database for the 19th century record set remains accurate, many of the hyperlinks between the database and the imagebase no longer coincide. The online documents are in JPEG format at 200 dpi. Even though the documents are downloadable, users must take the additional step of “saving as” with a distinct filename as every image downloads with the same filename. Still, because personal access to the defense archive involves considerable red tape and time, online access is a welcome advance. Nevertheless, those who wish to consult the personnel files must still invest the time and patience required to obtain formal permission to research in that repository. Given that the personnel files take up the overwhelming majority of the space in the historical defense archive, there is little expectation that those records will be digitized in the near or even distant future.

The Mexican Supreme Court has living and historical archives that contain over eighty kilometers of records. The Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nación (SCJN) archive is not accessible online even though that institution has invested considerable funds digitizing and trying to create interactive indices that might permit users to access the imagebase. In the late 1990s the court contracted with Xerox to digitize its archive. Xerox expeditiously digitized the documents in ten-image TIFF files. Unfortunately, one must use Microsoft Office Document Imaging to view multiple-image TIFF files, apparently a necessity not clearly understood in the court at the time. Much remains to be done to create a flexible, user-friendly imagebase and interface. Confronting the fact that ten-image TIFF files remain inaccessible on most computers, the court has embarked on digitizing anew in JPEG format. When that project will be completed is unknown. Perhaps to compensate for the digital archive project, the court has put a searchable database online with the index of the 1825–1928 documents and has digitized a limited number of rare books, available for viewing online. For those interested in contemporary matters, the SCJN does regularly produce CD-ROMs and DVDs with up-to-date jurisprudence. However, the online and electronic productions are surrounded with levels of security that make academic consultation rather unwieldy, if not impractical.

An agreement between the SCJN and the AGN made a digital edition of the more than 157,000 19th-century Supreme Court files available in the national archive. That imagebase arrived without a finding aid but with disk directories in four short-title text files. Those directories reflect the major sections in the Supreme Court historical archive: civil, criminal, personnel, and plenum files. Consequently, this researcher downloaded the imagebase and text files, converted the ten-image TIFF files to ten-page PDF files, and created a simple HTML interface for the 19th-century digital edition, only available in the national archive. That product also includes a complete long-title catalogue in PDF. However, the serious researchers must cope with the varying quality of the digitized images, which, unfortunately, are in black and white, an option that does not do justice to 19th-century manuscript documents. Nevertheless, the 19th-century documents are available for consultation in the national archive without going through the bureaucratic process to gain access to the paper in the living archive of the court. For those wishing to obtain PDF copies from the Supreme Court, that staff will black out all names, regardless of the century of origin.

A more successful federal judicial digital project is the online publication of the superior agrarian court’s findings in its Boletín del Tribunal Superior Agrario. After this researcher produced a searchable PDF edition of the first twenty years of the Boletín for that court’s library, astute staffers adapted that approach to create online PDF editions of the Boletín and have continually updated the site to include each monthly publication. The significance of that publication is that it contains all of the court’s findings, and each finding includes the name of the community, the name of the district (municipio), and the name of the state. Fortunately, the PDF editions are downloadable and the more recent editions searchable.

In addition to federal archives, other public and private archives have embarked on electronic cataloguing and digital projects. Notable among those are the AHCDMX, AHAM, and the Archivo Ricardo Flores Magón (ARFM). Also worthy of mention and praise, Mexican academics have worked for decades indexing the documents in Mexico City’s historical notarial archive (AGNot) and have created online searchable indices for colonial and 19th-century documents to 1860.

Organizing and cataloguing the holdings in the Mexico City historical archive began during the 1920s for the Mexico City council documents. Then during the late 1990s and continuing into the present, the archive staff, confronted with much, much more paper, embarked on organizing and describing the vast scope of its current holdings. The first major advancement came in the form of its Guía General del Archivo Histórico del Distrito Federal (2000), which describes the scope and content of major sections and record sets. Those sections are Actas del Ayuntamiento, the minutes for city council meetings, which date between 1524 and 1928; Ayuntamiento, which contains thematically and alphabetically organized record sets from the city council’s archive; Cárceles (jails and prisons), which includes the more than 435,000 prisoner entry files between 1920 and 1976 from the Palacio de Lecumberri when it was a penitentiary; Municipios, which has what remains from municipality archives in the federal district until they were abolished in 1928; Planoteca, which contains over eighty thousand maps and plans primarily related to monuments, constructions, drainage and water projects, and street improvements in the federal district; Gobierno del Distrito Federal, which has administrative documents from the administration of the federal district between 1827 and 1928; Departamento del Distrito Federal, the subsequent administrative entity for the federal district between 1929 and 2000, which though inventoried remains to be completely catalogued; and Archivo Esperanza Iris, which contains the photographic and administrative archives of Esperanza Iris, a theatre entrepreneur of the early to mid-20th century.

It should be noted that the AHCDMX is not as comprehensive an archive as one might hope, particularly for the colonial and early national periods. As the story goes, shortly after the Mexican Revolution (1910–1917), Mexico City councilmen began selling high-cotton-content paper to paper mills—and most of that paper was colonial documents. When Francisco Gamoneda became the director of Mexico City’s archive and libraries during the early 1920s, he immediately placed a halt on the selling of high-cotton-content paper. By that time, though, what might have been truly extensive record sets became dramatically reduced. While the archive does have a virtually complete collection of city council minutes, actas, which date from 1524 to 1928, much colonial and 19th-century administrative paper became reduced to pulp. Of note, the archive does not have actas for the years 1641–1691, likely burned during the 1692 riot, and one should not overlook the sacking and theft that has taken place over the centuries—and into the present. The collection of nobility documents once had illustrations of the family crests of Mexico City noble families. Someone at some time carefully cut all of those illustrations from the volumes. In the years since the archive transcribed and published the two manuscript volumes on the 1847 defense of Mexico City during the Mexican-American war (1846–1848), one of the manuscript volumes “disappeared” from the archive.

In terms of catalogues and digital projects in the AHCDMX, this researcher has worked closely with a productive archive staff to make searchable PDF catalogues available. While the archive cannot sell that CD-ROM product due to the lack of an accountant, it will trade paper, CD-ROMs, DVDs, USB drives, pens, pencils, and the like for the catalogue. The most recent edition of that CD-ROM contains over 26,300 pages of catalogues. In terms of digital projects, there is an in-house digital edition of the photographic archive of Esperanza Iris. Additionally, the compilation of 7,259 laws, decrees, and regulations, Bandos, Leyes y Decretos, 1825–1925, Gobierno del Distrito Federal, a collaborative project with the Instituto José María Luis Mora, became available on DVD in 2014 and more recently online. Similarly, as in-house products, this researcher developed HTML indices that permit users to access the JPEG and PDF files of restored early 20th-century paper posters, cartels, which announced theatre, circus, movie, boxing, and similar events in Mexico City, and of restored maps, plans, and illustrations. With the financial support of the Fundación ADABI, the archive has also produced apart an electronic catalogue of the Planoteca. While the city government has not made resources available to put AHCDMX catalogues and digital projects online, researchers will find a welcoming staff at that archive.

Among the most successful cataloguing and digital projects are those in the Mexico City archbishop’s historical archive, AHAM. Cataloguing and digitizing colonial documents began during the late 1990s. As a testament to the extraordinary commitment of a very small staff, that archive has completed cataloguing its paper holdings: oversized bound volumes, rare books, colonial documents, 19th-century (1821–1862) documents, and record sets of more recent archbishops—Pelagio Antonio de Labastida y Dávalos (1863–1891), Próspero María Alarcón y Sánchez de la Barquera (1892–1908), José Mora y del Río (1907–1928), and Pascual Díaz y Barreto, S. J. (1929–1936). The staff has also inventoried its microfilm collection. Ambitiously, the archive has completed digitizing most books, colonial documents, and the José Mora y del Río record set; the staff is currently digitizing the Pascual Díaz y Barreto record set.

With the support and approval of that archive this researcher has created an HTML indices with links to the PDFs of the colonial and the José Mora y del Río record sets and the digitized books. The colonial record set is available for purchase, albeit at the rather hefty sum of twelve thousand dollars. Within several years the oversized bound volumes and the José Mora y del Río record sets should also become available for purchase. Most recently, as priests have begun to donate photographic collections, the staff has begun the daunting task of cataloguing photographs. While the AHAM is a private archive, access is open to qualified researchers. Unfortunately, the AHAM does not have the resources to put its digital collection online. Regardless, the staff will digitize and provide 300 dpi JPEG images of documents or partial documents for a small fee to researchers.

Another private archive that has successfully embarked on digitizing its collection is the Archivo Ricardo Flores Magón (ARFM). Not limiting its digital collection to its own paper holdings, the ARFM staff has worked with other institutions to offer as complete a collection as possible of printed works and newspapers. The online site includes literary works (1910–1917), newspaper articles (1900–1918), Discursos (1910–1918), correspondence (1899–1922), PDF files of Ricardo Flores Magón’s library, the Biblioteca Sociológica “Regeneración”, and the newspapers Regeneración (1900–1918), Regneración Sección Italiana (1911), and Revolución (1907–1908). All are online and downloadable. That archive’s staff continues to work on digitizing Manifiestos y circulares (1900–1918) and Miscelánea, the remaining record sets.

With the support of decades of directors of the Mexico City notarial archive, AGNot, a dependency of the Consejería Jurídica y de Servicios Legales de la Ciudad de México, Mexican academics have led succeeding teams of young scholars in cataloguing thousands of colonial and 19th-century documents. That archive has 29,152 volumes that date between 1525 and 1948. The content of those documents ranges from wills and contracts to powers of attorney and dowries, along with a variety of other notarized documents fundamental to judicial culture in Mexico and virtually all other civil law countries. The documents are bound in volumes according to the particular notary. Some public notaries left but one volume; others, who apparently had the trust of the public, left multiple volumes. Most notaries did index their volumes. Comically for today’s researchers, many of the colonial volumes are indexed according to the first name of a party—José and Juan are frequent entries.

Ivonne Mijares Ramírez, a researcher at the historical research institute at the national university, Instituto de Investigaciones Históricas, Universidad Autónoma Nacional de México (IIH, UNAM), has labored for decades directing the cataloguing and abstracting of 16th- and early 17th-century documents. Most recently, she has incorporated the 16th-century work into an online searchable database of the 27,511 documents in the ninety-eight volumes containing 16th century documents, roughly 1 percent of the archive’s holdings. The online database permits advanced searches and indicates whether or not a document has been digitized. Future plans include incorporating digital images into the site, significant because eighty-one of those ninety-eight volumes are no longer available for public consultation due to the fragility of the paper.

Complementing if not duplicating the work of the IIH teams over the decades, researchers at the Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas (IIE, UNAM) have also catalogued documents in the volumes of 16th-century notaries. These are printed catalogues, published in four volumes in the IIE publication Catálogo de documentos de arte. As with its catalogues of holdings in other public and private archives, the IIE catalogues are not comprehensive catalogues of all the documents in a particular volume but include a selection of documents related to the history of art and architecture. The two most recent volumes (vols. 29 and 30, 2004 and 2005) are accessible via the IIE website. The earlier catalogues of notarial documents, published in 1993 and 1996, are only available in paper.

Another team of researchers that has had the support of the notarial archive staff are those under the direction of Pilar Gonzalbo Aizpuru at the Centro de Estudios Históricos at the Colegio de México (CEH, COLMEX). Initially in collaboration with Josefina Vásquez Zoraida, also of COLMEX, that project first resulted in paper catalogues and then a CD-ROM index with summaries of the mid-19th-century documents. Most recently, the technical staff at COLMEX has successfully incorporated the summaries of the notarial documents between 1821 and 1860 into an online database. Much like the AGN site, the COLMEX site only works with Internet Explorer and Firefox. Google Chrome and Safari users will have to adapt to those other browsers. Balanced against the burden of perusing thousands of pages of notarial documents in search of information on a single individual or group of individuals, the online finding aid for the 19th-century documents is most welcome. It offers a variety of advanced search options. While it is not clear from the online information how many document summaries are in the database, this researcher does know that there are 98,572 pages in PDF of the summaries for the 1828–1860 period, a project that preceded the online database.

In addition to the work of academics, the staff in the notarial archive has been compiling a database index to 17th- and 18th-century notarial documents, notary by notary. That database is consultable in the notarial archive. While that archive is a public archive, there is a certain amount of red tape researchers must deal with to gain access to its volumes.

Three additional public archives that have made great strides toward digitizing their collections are the Mapoteca Manuel Orozco y Berra (MMOB), the Mexican Senate’s historical archive, and the national human rights commission (Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos, CNDH). The MMOB has an excellent collection of more than three thousand historical maps donated by Manuel Orozco y Berra that date from the 17th century to late 19th century. Other private collectors, such as Domingo Díez, Pastor Rouaix, and Amado Aguirre, have also donated their collections of letters, maps, and documents. The Instituto Panamericano de Geografía e Historia in 1977 transferred its collection of more than fifty-eight thousand documents dating between the 18th and 20th centuries and forty thousand letters to the MMOB. Additionally, the MMOB has a valuable collection of approximately five thousand technical files and field notes that date from between 1860 and 1970. Even though not all of the maps are on-line, researchers will be pleased with the high quality of the digital products that are accessible and downloadable as 300 dpi JPEG files.

While the Mexican Senate’s historical archive is not a vast collection, it does contain a complete collection of debates in the Senate between 1875 and the present along with committee reports. Some years ago that archive published a CD-ROM index of the committee reports. More recently, it has generated more than 2.5 million images that represent 97 percent of its books and commission reports. And it has concluded digitizing its collection of Senate debates, which are on DVDs in PDF and text files. While these resources are not available online, researchers may consult them on the computers in the archive.

The CNDH is an autonomous constitutional organization, established in 1992, that receives complaints about administrative acts or omissions that violate fundamental human rights, excluding judicial findings and electoral matters, and publishes findings with recommendations for state and federal legislative and executive officials. Beyond having developed an informative and user-friendly site, the CNDH has digitized its findings in its Gaceta, online in downloadable PDF files, along with other information. The CNDH digital library has downloadable PDFs of books related to Mexican and international human rights scholarship and issues. From a research perspective, the CNDH resources serve as a complement to the national agrarian court resources, permitting those interested in troublesome contemporary issues in the states to gain preliminary insights into the scope and nature of problems raised by ordinary citizens throughout the country. Because drug-trafficking violence and criminal organizations are prevalent in some regions, novice as well more experienced researchers have the opportunity to survey land and sociopolitical dynamics at a distance.


There are a myriad of public and private libraries in Mexico City: general public libraries, semi-autonomous libraries, city libraries, university libraries, and civil association libraries, in addition to federal executive-, legislative-, and judicial-branch libraries. Many have begun to digitize books and pamphlets; others are still cataloguing their collections, particularly rare books and pamphlets. Some have entered into collaborative digital projects; others have embarked alone on digital projects.

The Mexican Association of Private Archives and Libraries, A.C., (Asociación Mexicana de Archivos y Bibliotecas Privadas, A.C., AMABPAC) has a useful site with links to its member libraries. The National Network of Public Libraries (Red Nacional de Bibliotecas Públicas, RNBP), has an online listing of 408 public libraries in the Federal District in its network of 7,388 public libraries throughout the country, which account for 93.2 percent of public libraries in Mexico. The network also has links to the more than three thousand digitized works in the public domain, which are provided to public libraries throughout the country on hard drives by the National Council for Culture and the Arts (Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, CONACULTA).

While many are still on the cusp of the digital frontier, Mexican libraries have recognized the utility of modern technologies and begun to digitize holdings and support digital projects. The Biblioteca José Vasconcelos in Mexico City hosted the second digital humanities meeting, which took place inside Mexico in May 2014. And the Digital Humanities Network (Red de Humanidades Digitales, Red-HD), has given impetus to a variety of digital humanities projects.

For the purposes of this article, with its focus on digital scholarly historical resources, just a few institutions and projects are relevant. Among those are resources at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, UNAM), the National Library (Biblioteca Nacional de México, BNMx), the National Newspaper Library (Hermoteca Nacional de México), the Center for the Study of Mexican History (Centro de Estudios de Historia de México, CEHM, CARSO), and the Biblioteca Digital at COLMEX. Also worth noting are the projects led by Estela Cicero González at ADABI (the Apoyo al Desarrollo de Archivos y Bibliotecas de México). Finally, several library sites outside Mexico City valuable for research merit mention.

The vastest university network of libraries in Mexico can be found in the multiple libraries at the UNAM. Scholars can gain insights into the enormous scope of that university’s research programs by simply perusing the diversity of its libraries. Several related to historical scholarship merit mention here. The central university library has an impressive collection of digitized theses. The historical research institute (IIH, UNAM) has begun to digitize its collection of rare books. Additionally, as a bicentennial project, it transcribed the Hernández y Dávalos papers related to the wars of independence. With an increasingly populated site, the IIH is making significant strides toward making rare books and documents accessible to the general public. Its serials, Estudios de Historia Novohispana and Estudios de Historia Moderna y Comtemporánea, are also available online. Similarly, the aesthetics arts institute (Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas, IIE, UNAM) has also placed its serials online, which is significant because its researchers have published catalogues with references to art, art history, and architecture in both public and private collections.

A third and amply populated UNAM site is the digital library of the juridical research institute (Instituto de Investigaciones Jurídicas, IIJ, UNAM). While not the IIJ library’s site, the biblio.juridicas site includes virtually all of the publications of the IIJ in separate searchable databases for journals, collective works, and books that are accessible in downloadable PDF files. The IIJ library, Biblioteca “Jorge Carpizo,” has a significant collection of books and journals. While American researchers are accustomed to vast databases that index professional journals, this is not the case for Mexican researchers. The IIJ library staff assumed the challenging task of cataloguing all of the articles in the journals in its collection and has converted its card catalogue of journal articles into an advanced search database. Additionally, the IIJ library has an advanced search database of its books and pamphlets. The significance of the IIJ online tools is that the institute has a strong tradition of research in the history of Mexican colonial and 19th-century law, as well as contemporary law. IIJ researchers are among the foremost historians of derecho indiano, a field that for more than fifty years has specialized in exploring the dynamics of colonial institutions. Both biblio.juridicas and the library’s holdings reflect that scholarship.

Also administered under the auspices of UNAM, although separate from it, are the national library (Biblioteca Nacional de México, BNMx) and national newspaper library (Hermeroteca Nacional de México, HNMx,). While the national library has an impressive collection of rare books and documents in its Fondo Reservado, it has not been quite as successful in digitizing its collection as one might hope. It did invest in digitizing its 19th-century pamphlet collection, Colección Lafragua, but neglected right away to understand the necessity of an interactive index. Nevertheless, in addition to card catalogues of its manuscript collections, it has an online advanced search database for catalogued works. Unfortunately, there are still an untold number of uncatalogued works, particularly its collection of the libraries of diverse colonial monasteries and convents. Researchers should be advised that there are formalities required to research in the Fondo Reservado.

On the other hand, the national newspaper library has made significant strides toward digitizing its collection. Its site includes a catalogue of all its holdings that indicates which newspapers are digitized. Problematically, the HNMx site frequently has an extremely slow response, and the online quality of the digitized historical newspapers might leave researchers hoping that the HNMx had invested in an overhead scanner rather than in digitizing microfilm. Nevertheless, the availability of newspapers at a distance is an important contribution to the research community

A second significant research library that has invested in digitizing documents and collections is the library at the Centro de Estudios de Historia de México, CARSO, Fundación Carlos Slim (CEHM, formerly CONDUMEX). Its archival collection, organized with Roman numerals according to each document group’s incorporation into the center, offers a vast scope and variety of private and public documents dating from 1491 to 1999. After varying efforts to place its resources online, the CEHM most recently has provided researchers at a distance the opportunity to explore and download documents in the archival collection. Of course, the CEHM has not digitized all of the documents and rare publications in its collection. Regardless, its efforts to make its holdings accessible online have advanced significantly. In addition to documents that span the vast scope of Mexican history, it also has photographic collections. Users may view and download images to print, although only in a low resolution, 75 dpi; users also will have to shrink the display size in order to view the totality of information on CEHM web pages.

The private foundation Apoyo al Desarrollo de Archivo y Bibliotecas de México(ADABI) has dedicated itself to the recovery, preservation, evaluation, documentation, and bibliographical research and dissemination of information in public and private archives, particularly those that otherwise would remain hidden from the research communities. One of its more important contributions to date has been the cataloguing of heretofore uncatalogued rare book collections in public libraries, particularly those with libraries of monasteries and convents, but also libraries under the auspices of different institutions. Significantly, those institutions contain works not just rare in Mexico but rare globally because so many libraries, particularly in Europe, have not survived centuries of warfare, natural disasters, and looting by private individuals. ADABI’s online bibliographic database includes rare manuscripts and printed works in twenty-three libraries; its 132,649 registers with complete bibliographic details provide unprecedented information not just about the history of the book but also the intellectual climates in diverse institutions. Originally having produced its archival inventories on CD-ROMs, ADABI now has most of the inventories it has produced online in downloadable PDF files. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the archival catalogues it has produced. Still, the scope of ADABI’s work and its contribution to current and future scholarship is unparalleled in Mexico and beyond.

The Biblioteca Daniel Cosío Villegas at El Colegio de México, perhaps the premier humanities and social science university throughout Latin America, has a variety of digital and electronic resources online. Its digital library includes author and title indices to digital collections. COLMEX’s electronic resources include a database to the first nine volumes of Legislación Mexicana compiled by Manuel Dublán and José María Lozano. While some of its scanned material is wanting in quality control and some of its databases are rather bulky for the user, the COLMEX library does include links to a fair number of sites with digital resources. Notable among those sites is the Biblioteca Digital de la Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León, which, despite an extremely slow server, has prioritized digitizing its impressive collection of printed works in history, law, theology, economics, literature, and more.

In addition to the COLMEX library site, the Centro de Estudios Históricos (CEH) site includes an interface to its faculty’s digital projects. Those include the above mentioned searchable index for 19th century notarial documents, substantial data from colonial treasuries throughout the Americas, and a site on the history of oil in Mexico, among several others. CEH faculty members have also undertaken revamping the website for the Comité Mexicano de Ciencias Históricas. That site’s digital resources link is particularly useful as a centralized site for sites relevant for Mexican history.

For the inquiring Mexicanist scholar there are also several other institutions that have embarked successfully on digital projects. The Peruvian congressional library has digitized the first edition of the laws of the Indies, Recopilación de las leyes de las Indias. The Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León has digitized the printed editions of the Actas del Cabildo de la Ciudad de México between 1524 and 1630. The library at the Universidad de Sevilla in Spain has an impressive digital collection of over four hundred the rare books in its law library, downloadable in PDF format, along with 112 rare books related to the history of the history of the Americas. The Universidad Veracruzana has a searchable database for Jalapa’s historical notarial archive online. And scholars at the Universidad del Estado de México in Toluca have completed digitizing that state’s congressional debates and laws, both on DVD. Finally, the library of the lower chamber of the Mexican federal congress, the Cámara de Diputados, has regularly updated indices to the Diario Oficial de la Federación, which significantly enhance researching the texts accessible on the DOF site, and complete texts of major laws and constitutional changes during the 20th and 21st centuries. And lest one forget, Google Books and Hathi Trust continue to add to already impressive online access to printed works, including many classic texts that have been hidden away on bookshelves in libraries around the world.

Discussion of Related Research Tools and Future Directions

In some respects Mexican archives, libraries, and private organizations are still on the cusp of the digital frontier. Clearly, some institutions have prioritized digitizing collections, while others have dabbled with new technologies. Others have prioritized cataloguing and making catalogues accessible online or on DVDs and CD-ROMs. Some recognize that microfilm is still the most stable technology for the preservation of fragile paper. Others have invested resources in hardware, software, and personnel to make the contents of their collections accessible to distant researchers. Most have recognized that one-third of any budget for electronic and digital projects is consumed in simply digitizing; one-third in creating metadata, cataloguing, and describing the digital product; and one-third in administering and controlling the quality of the digital product. Some institutions have made astute decisions about hardware, software, and access; others are still learning that knowing how to turn on a computer, access email, or write a document does not also mean that one has the expertise to plan, control quality, and execute a successful digital product. And as users will discover, site administrators should, but do not necessarily, update their in-house and external links.

Mexican archives and libraries will undoubtedly create online access to more rare books, documents, photographs, maps, and personal papers, some over the web, others via in-house networks. Individual researchers will continue to compile private collections of USBs, solid state hardware, and internal and external hard drives. Most recently, several young enterprising Mexicans showed this researcher their project for digitizing, transcribing, and making available select archival documents related to material culture, which they are producing as a Google app for tablets—but at a cost to researchers who might want to download the transcriptions or PDFs of the documents. Their test site has already been accessed by individuals in Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas. Whether public or private, institutions and individuals committed to digitizing rare books and archival documents and to creating, testing, and optimizing digital projects are enhancing access for researchers as well as the simply curious Internet users.