BLOG: Acquiring Digitized Documents from the Archivo General de la Nación del Perú by William Cohoon

Gretchen Pierce's picture

Today we conclude William Cohoon's helpful series on digitial archives covering colonial Peru. Plese check out the first or second posts if you missed them. Summer is winding down: do you have time to write any posts of your own before life speeds up in the fall? If so, 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 AP Geography at Uplift North Hills Preparatory School in Irving, Texas. His research focuses on the emergence of the early modern surveillance state for social and spatial control in Bourbon Peru. Historia y Cultura recently published his article “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 means to expedite communication and to ‘civilize’ provincial Peru. For this article, he completed research at Archivo General de la Nación del Perú and relied on materials located in the fondos varios (mixed sources) and superior gobierno (supreme/viceregal government) sections of the Archivo Histórico. His current project on how the Bourbon reformers utilized Enlightenment theories of science to manage Lima’s urban environment has relied on acquiring digitized documents from the AGNP’s real audiencia (royal court).

Acquiring Digitized Documents from the Archivo General de la Nación del Perú

In my post on June 28, I discussed the Archivo General de la Nación del Perú’s (AGNP, see Figure 1) efforts to digitize its holdings and I discussed a new feature that the archive has recently started to offer researchers.1 Since the COVID-19 pandemic, academics have been limited in their ability to travel for research. Subsequently, these archives have lost an important source of revenue from researchers who pay fees to access archival materials, purchase digital copies of documents, and/or buy journals and other secondary sources that these places offer. In response to the pandemic, the AGNP now allows researchers to browse its archival indices and to order digital copies through an online process. My post focuses on how to order digitized documents and my experience with this service.

Figure 1: Screenshot of AGNP's new home page.

The process to submit a request begins on the AGNP’s homepage. Users will navigate to the section titled servicios en línea (online services). Below servicios en línea there are three icons: plataforma virtual de servicios al ciudadano (virtual public services platform), consulta de documentos históricos en línea (consult historical documents online), registro de consultas sobre normativadad archivística (records of consultations on archival regulations; see Figure 2). After clicking on the first option, scholars will be taken to the datos personales page (personal information; see Figure 3). First time users will need their passport number to create a new account, which will then allow them to login and examine the AGNP’s catalogs and indices.

Figure 2: Screenshot of servicios en línea icons.

Figure 3: Screenshot of datos personales page.

Once logged in, researchers will have the option to view their trámites pendientes (pending requests) or start a nuevo trámite (new request; see Figure 4) by accessing the Archivo Histórico (Colonial and Republican Archives), Archivo Intermedio (Intermediary Archive), or the Archivo Notorial (Notarial Archives).2 Select an archive to examine, and for this blog, I will use the colonial holdings in the Archivo Histórico section for an example. Highlight the archive and click on continuar (continue) to proceed to the following webpage where users will find under the greeting an icon called ver inventario (examine inventory; see Figure 5).

Figure 4: Screenshot of trámites.

Figure 5: Screenshot of welcome page.

Upon clicking the ver inventario icon, users then can access either the guía Archivo Histórico (historical archive catalog) or the guía Archivo Colonial (colonial archive catalog; see Figure 6).3 On this same page, researchers can scroll through the five different sections of the Archivo Histórico.4 Scholars will see at the top of the table: fondo (source), inicio (beginning date), and final (end-date). On the far-left portion of the table, researchers will see the agregar (add) button (see Figure 6). Users click on any fondo located within each archival section. For this post, I accessed the cabildo de Lima (town hall of Lima). After clicking on the link, the indices for this section appear shortly. Once the indices load, scholars will have the option to choose 10, 25, 50, or 100 listings per page. Additionally, users have the choice to conduct a word search using the buscar (search) field (see Figure 7). The indices are setup as a table with the headings of código (code), legajo (file), documento (document), folio (pages), lugar (location), fecha (date), descripción (description), archivo (archive), and añadir (add). If one clicks the latter function, it places the document in the request basket for digitization. Next to each heading, there is one arrow pointing up and one arrow pointing down for ascending or descending order. Once a user locates the document, they will click enviar (send) on the far-right hand side of the table. Enviar sends the source to the solicitud (request) page (Figure 8). All headings from the table show up in the solicitud for the archivists to locate the document.

Figure 6: Screenshot of inventory page.

Figure 7: Screenshot of cabildo de Lima’s documents.

Figure 8: Screenshot of populated solicitud page.

After submitting the request, users will find under trátmites pendientes the archive and date that their requests were submitted for the document (see Figure 4). Under acción (action) scholars can open their request to find the status of a submission. I received a message from the archivist about ten minutes later indicating he had received my submission for sources. In this email, he confirmed that I wanted digital copies of the records. Two days later I received another email that included a pdf of the solicitud de costo de reproducción, or the breakdown for the cost of digitizing the source (see Figure 9). In my case, the document had fourteen folios, equating to twenty-seven photos, for a total of 40.50 soles, or $10.28. This amounted to approximately $0.39 per photo.5 After confirming the expenses, a shortened message appeared under my submission request page (see Figure 10). Besides the cost breakdown for the document, the archivist’s email included information on how to wire transfer funds into the AGNP’s account at the Banco de la Nación. At my bank, I was able to create an account for the AGNP and transfer funds in soles without accruing any fees for this service. However, before completing the transfer, my bank informed me I would have to pay a service fee at the Banco de la Nación that amounted to 50.76 soles, or $12.48. Therefore, it is my suggestion that when ordering digital copies for multiple documents to wait to wire funds to the AGNP and only pay the fee once. I submitted my transfer on July 15 and late the following day I received confirmation from my bank that the Banco de la Nación had received my funds. Upon receiving this notification, I submitted my solicitud de costo de reproducción and comprabante de pago (proof of payment) to the archivist at the AGNP.

Figure 9: Screenshot of solicitud de reproducción de documentos.

Figure 10: Screenshot of submission request page.

Allowing users to download previously digitized documents and offering to generate new digital copies of sources creates a unique opportunity for scholars at any stage of their career, but especially students who are considering a Master’s degree or Ph.D. focusing on Peruvian history. Before these services existed, students could look at catalogs and see the types of sources available, however, they can now examine the AGNP's indices to develop a broader understanding of the archive’s holdings before spending thousands of dollars on travel to Peru. Yet challenges exist by relying solely on digital archives. Part of visiting the archive includes developing relationships with the archivists and other academics and learning the culture of the archive itself. Archivists and scholars can help to contextualize sources or help with transcriptions. An additional issue emerges with having to acquire an entire document based on a short description. This situation could prove expensive when the number of folios amounts to several hundred images, or worse the document does not provide as much depth as initially hoped. With this said, I have found the process of ordering documents through the AGNP’s online service easier than I previously anticipated. On July 14, I placed my request for documents and received my images on the 30th of the month. Other users may not experience a wait as long as sixteen days. During this time, Peruvians celebrated the country’s independence day. Typically, the festivities last for two days but given it was the bicentennial the government likely shut down for a longer period, extending my wait. Overall, I believe the pros outweigh the cons. With the restrictions and difficulties of traveling abroad at this moment and for the foreseeable future, I plan to continue utilizing the AGNP’s service and I hope that some of the smaller regional archives in Peru will eventually adopt a similar program.


1 Since my post on June 28, the Ministry of Culture has updated the AGNP’s website.

2 The Archivo Intermedio contains documents that are contemporary enough that they are not considered historical yet.

3 Should one choose to read the catalog, the individual will receive the choice to download a scanned copy of the Archivo Histórico from 1997. This catalog contains both the colonial and republican holdings. The Archivo Colonial catalog is from 2009 and is searchable.

4 These five sections include: I, instituciones coloniales (colonial institutions), II, instituciones republicanas (republican institutions), III, protocolos notariales (notorial records), IV, colecciones-fondos fácticos (collections-factual sources), and V, mapas y planos (maps and diagrams).

5 In my previous post on the AGNP, I incorrectly posted that each photo cost $0.70.


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