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date: 19 November 2017

Digital Resources: The Mexican Digital Library, BDMx (Mexican National Council for Culture and the Arts)

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Latin American History. Please check back later for the full article.

The Biblioteca Digital Mexicana (BDMx) provides access—for the average user as well as for students and scholars—to significant historical materials, "unpublished or very rare," as was said in the second half of the nineteenth century, the golden age of Mexican historiography. The BDMx is not concerned with documents that have a principally symbolic value (such as autographs or decrees about the founding of cities); rather, it deals with those with high cultural density, whose value is not diminished upon their first reading. Finally, the BDMx contains only materials that are not already easily found online, which, unfortunately, excludes a great number of very valuable works.

This initiative was founded and directed with the support of a directorial council comprised of the directors of four important Mexican institutions connected to Mexican history and culture: the Archivo General de la Nación (AGN), the Biblioteca Nacional de Antropología e Historia (BNAH), the Centro de Estudios de Historia de México (CEHM-Carso), and the Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes (Conaculta). With this institutional backing, the BDMx has been able to add eight additional archives and libraries, and it continues to grow.

The AGN houses most national historical archives; the BNAH holds the main Mesoamerican Codices collection of the country, and its Colección Antigua has long been appreciated by scholars, with holdings such as the Franciscan Archives collection; CEHM-Carso is a private library that has acquired unique archival collections; Conaculta is our Ministry of Culture and, as such, has under its wing many regional museums, important photography collections, and more. The BDMx also works closely with the Universidad Iberoamericana's Biblioteca Francisco Xavier Clavijero, a private library that holds the Porfirio Díaz Archives and much more. And the Mapoteca Manuel Orozco y Berra, founded in the nineteenth century, holds a trove of historical maps.

The BDMx chooses the documents by common agreement with the curators of these collections. It looks for variety in the types of documents and supportive materials (books, other publications, manuscripts, pictography, photography, lithography, and so on). The themes are self-selected, due to their own worth and because they might mark an important anniversary or a centennial. Up to the present, some of the principal selections have been Mesoamerican codices, the unpublished oeuvre of Guillén de Lampart, ancient maps and plans, and the work of Rodrigo de Vivero.

Each item is accompanied by a historiographical introduction that aims to be up to date and relevant. The user is distracted with nothing other than the presentation of the documents, in a clean and friendly format. And the worth of the project lies in the quality of the documents. This is an example where less is more.