BLOG: Navigating the Portal de Archivos Españoles by William Cohoon

Gretchen Pierce (She/her/hers) Blog Post

I am pleased to present the second in a three-part series on digitial archives useful to scholars of colonial Peru. If you missed the first post on the Archivo General de la Nación del Perú, please click here. If you're interested in contributing any posts of your own, please email me (Gretchen Pierce) at or fill out this Google Form.

William Cohoon earned his Ph.D. in colonial Latin American history at Texas Christian University and teaches History of the Americas at Uplift Williams Preparatory School in Dallas, Texas. His research focuses on the emergence of the early modern surveillance state for the purposes of social and spatial control in Bourbon Peru. Historia y Cultura recently published his work “Los caminos borbónicos y el esfuerzo para mejorar la infraestructura de comunicaciones del Perú, 1718–1809’ which demonstrates how the Bourbon monarchy hoped to use infrastructure as a means to expedite communication and to ‘civilize’ provincial Peru. For his article, he used digitized documents from the audiencia de Lima through the website known as the Portal de Archivos Españoles.

Navigating the Portal de Archivos Españoles

In 2006, Spain’s Ministerio de Cultura y Deporte (Ministry of Culture and Sport) established the Portal de Archivos Españoles (PARES, see Figure 1). As of today, PARES provides public access to more than five million descriptions of sources and over thirty-five million total images of digitized documents, photographs, art, and maps that are located in twelve archives throughout Spain.1 The vastness of the PARES collections can make them difficult and cumbersome to navigate, so for the purposes of this post I will refer to my experience working with materials from the Archivo General de Indias (AGI).2 Located in Seville, Spain, the AGI’s holdings contain information pertaining to the empire’s overseas colonial administration and PARES has made available all eighteen fondos (subsections) of the archive’s resources (although not all documents within each fondo have been digitized). On the homepage researchers receive the option to carry out research either in Spanish or English and the choice to conduct a búsqueda sencilla (simple search) or búsqueda avanzada (advanced search) (see Figure 2) from here as well.3 Additionally, users not only have the option to search by specific words but also to narrow these criteria down by description, producer, archive, and date. At the bottom of the advanced search page, you can also select sources by digitized, undigitized, or all documents as well. Typically, I prefer to conduct my searches using all documents, which allows me to see the variety of sources available on my subject.


Figure 1: Screenshot of PARES homepage.


Figure 2: Screenshot of Advanced Search Engine.

For my research on roads in the Viceroyalty of Peru’s provinces of Guamanga and Tarma, I used the advanced search engine. To begin I entered “Guamanga” in the word search while selecting the Archivo General de Indias. In this initial search, I left the fondos (source) subsection blank (see Figure 3), but at the bottom of the page I included a date range of 1700 to 1821 to avoid pre-Bourbon rule documents. Once submitted, my search generated seventy-nine sources in the correos (royal mail), estado (government administration), contratación (governing body of trade), audiencia de Lima (judicial court), mapas y planos (maps and diagrams), and indiferente (various correspondence) (see Figure 3). On the result page’s righthand side, users can sort materials by digital and nondigital sources, levels of description, start and end date, and by text. Each category informs the user about the quantity of materials available.


Figure 3: Screenshot of results page.

Once a source is selected to examine, users then proceed to that document’s homepage. The homepage allows individuals to email the page’s link, view the image, or add the reference to your notepad, a subject I will discuss at the end of this post. On this page, scholars will find information that pertains to the material. This data includes an Identity Statement area that contains the source’s supplied title, reference number, date of creation, level of description, and a reference code with a link to the location in the archive. Additionally, scholars will find a Context section that offers archival history, biography/administrative history, and a hyperlink to the name of the creator(s)—for instance the government entity that generated the source. Following this portion of the page, the Content and Structure segment presents brief descriptions of each letter, who wrote a letter and who received it, plus the origin and end date of the exchange. The Conditions of Access and Use section offers another helpful feature with the description of indices. Here researchers will find subtopics affiliated with their search (see Figure 4). For my topic on roads, I found hyperlinks to themes on public works, urban environments, and my region of study. Once I clicked public works, I found related documents in seven additional archives, such as the Archivo General de Simancas, that often contains materials on the Americas and the Atlantic and Pacific Worlds.4 These related documents had materials that focus on Cuba, the Philippines, Peru, and Spain, to name a few of the countries.


Figure 4: Screenshot of a document’s homepage.

After reaching the document’s homepage, researchers can then click on the camera icon to view the image(s). If your source has multiple pages users will see a thumbnails section on the left-hand side of the highlighted folio. Above the selected picture is a tool bar with a series of icons that allow individuals to zoom in or out from an image, increase or decrease the brightness, alter the contrast, print, save, and/or add the entire document to your notepad (see Figure 5). There are several ways to save the documents to your desktop for your research files. One method requires you to save each photograph individually, and then you can make one large pdf file. Naturally, for a large document this process will prove time-consuming. Another possible approach is to click on the printer icon over the thumbnails section and when the print page appears you may select save as pdf.


Figure 5: Screenshot of document, thumbnails.

A new aspect on the results page is the Add to Notepad feature and the ability to share your discovery on Facebook and/or Twitter. To use the notepad, scholars need to create an account, which then allows them to save any searches, catalog descriptions, and/or images (see Figure 6) by topical categories. In addition to these options, users are able to add notes to each item saved in the category, delete, or relocate a search to a new category folder. For my own personal research, I prefer to save art and maps in the Saved Images section and documents in the Catalogue Description section. The latter shows the archive, dates, and reference number that is associated with any image or document. In contrast, the Saved Images section provides the source’s affiliated description. Although I have only recently started to use this new feature, my initial reaction is that this tool will prove incredibly useful for my future searches on PARES.


Figure 6: Screenshot of notepad feature.

While working on my dissertation and now on other projects, I have found that conducting research online is incredibly beneficial due to the difficulties in finding sufficient funding and time to travel to distant archives. Furthermore, with the COVID-19 pandemic still leaving many scholars in limbo with long quarantines and limited space in the archives that have opened, digital archives will continue to gain importance. Since the Archivo General de la Nación del Perú (AGNP) and the Portal de Archivos Españoles have made many of their sources available to the public on a global scale, I feel that my work has not been hindered by these limitations. While nothing replaces the experience of personally working in the archives, I have been fortunate to expand my own research with online sources. In my next post, I will update readers on the process of purchasing digitized documents from the AGNP. I will provide a step-by-step process to help readers navigate the process on the AGNP’s website, and comment on my overall experience and how long it takes to receive my sources.


1The archives are as follows: Centro Documental de la Memoria Histórica, Archivo General de Simancas, Archivo Histórico de la Nobleza, Archivo General de la Administración, Archivo Histórico Provincial de Bizkala, Archivo de la Corona de Aragón, Archivo Histórico Provincial de Álava, Archivo de la Real Chancillería de Valladolid, Archivo Histórico Nacional, Archivo General de Indias, Archivio Histórico Provincial de Gipuzkoa, and the Archivo Central del Ministerio de Cultura. For a more detailed information on the number of images and how much PARES has grown since 2006 please click the Estadísticas tab on the PARES homepage.

2 Of the twelve archives that PARES offers access to, the AGI possesses the most materials on Latin America. However, in several instances of searching for sources on Mexico and Peru, I discovered documents and images located in Archivo de la Corona de Aragón, Archivo Histórico Provincial de Álava, Archivo de la Real Chancillería de Valladolid, Archivo Histórico Nacional, Archivo General de Simancas, and Archivo Histórico de la Nobleza.

3 For the AGI, the eighteen subsections are as follow: Casa de Contración, Consulados, Contaduría, Correos, Diversos, Escribanía de Cámara de Justicia, Estado, Galería de Retratos de los Gobernadores y Capitanes Generales de Cuba (1771-1893), Gobierno, Justicia, Juzgado de Arribadas de Cádiz, Papeles de Cuba, Patronato Real, Títulos de Castilla, Tribunal de Cuentas, Ultramar, and Mapas, Planos, Documentos Iconográficos, y Documentos Especiales.

4 The other archives in my case included the Centro Documental de la Memoria Histórica, Archivo Histórico de la Nobleza, Archivo de la Corona Aragón, Archivo Histórico Provincial de Álava, Archivo Real Chancillería de Valladolid, and the Archivo Histórico Nacional.