Official Documents vs. Truth

“Residencias” were conducted to ascertain the probity of an outgoing official’s conduct. This particular residencia from Popayán, Colombia, looks into the conduct of one notary named Joachin Sanches. Popayán Papers.

UNC Professor of History Kathryn Burns delivered the RBC/ISA 2nd annual Hispanic Heritage Month Lecture last evening to an engaged and enthusiastic audience. Discussing her archival experiences in Cuzco that resulted in her recent book Into the Archive: Writing and Power in Colonial Peru (Duke, 2010), Burns provocatively challenged received notions of what official notarial documents can offer us. The talk stimulated much thought, and the question-and-answer portion of the evening was as lively as the lecture. Attendees came away with a sense of how archives and their documents are complicated constructs, and how they require careful interpretation, paralleling the kind commanded by printed books.

On display for the evening were the Hanes Foundation quipu, as well as rare books from the Bernard J. Flatow (UNC A.B. 1941) Collection, and eighteenth-century documents from the Popayán Papers that illustrate notarial practice as discussed in Burns’s book. It was hard to close the  Wilson building, with so many people wishing to linger over the exhibits, their eyes opened to the objects’ significance by Prof. Burns’s lecture. Although on display for just one evening, the materials are, of course, always accessible in our Wilson special collections reading rooms. All you need is curiosity, and a photo ID.

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