Skip to Content

Home > Colombia > projects > Project Description

Project Description

EAP 640: Digitising the documentary patrimony of Colombia's Caribbean coast: the ecclesiastical documents of the Department of Córdoba

Project Director: Dr. Jane Landers, Vanderbilt University

With the support of a British Library Endangered Archives Grant (EAP 640), this project digitized historic and endangered ecclesiastical documents located in the Colombian Department of Córdoba. Córdoba is one of the poorest areas in Colombia and the region remains marginalized in Colombian and Latin American historiography.

Córdoba is also one of the oldest and most ethnically diverse areas of Colombia. Spaniards invaded the region in the sixteenth century, establishing towns and indigenous missions in an area that formed a bridge between the province of Cartagena and the Andean regions of Colombia. Córdoba also served as the breadbasket for Cartagena de Indias, South America's only legal and largest slave entrêpot. This region was home to historic indigenous communities such as Ayapel and Tolú Viejo, settled in 1534 and 1535 respectively, to Spanish towns, and to communities of African slaves who escaped from Cartagena to form large maroon communities in the vast hinterland.  Cordoba’s endangered ecclesiastical and notarial documents, thus, provide unique information on racial demography, social and kin networks, and economic conditions of the region and will contribute to scholarship on Latin America, the Atlantic world, the circum-Caribbean, slavery and borderlands studies.

Despite the region’s historic significance, governmental and ecclesiastical authorities devoted few resources to preserving local archives. Not only were historic documents affected by centuries of high temperatures (average 38° C), humidity, the effects of fungi and inadequate preservation, but they are located at the crossroads of an ongoing war. In such conditions, little attention has been paid to the storage of Córdoba’s unique documents. Centuries-old leather-bound books were jammed into wooden bookshelves in rooms lacking climate control. The ink has eaten through some pages, water and insect damage have left holes, and the documents are extremely fragile. An estimated 25-30% of the documents were beyond saving, but 70-75% have now been digitized and preserved.

The EAP 640 project preserved endangered records in Córdoba pertaining to the Parroquia San Jerónimo de Montería, the Iglesia San Francisco de Asís de Chinú and the Iglesia de San Andrés de Sotavento. The collection includes baptismal, marriage, burial, and confirmation records, religious brotherhood records administrative records and correspondence among church figures. It also preserved a large group of secular records from the Archivo Histórico de Mompox and the Archivo Histórico de Cartagena, totaling approximately 90,000 images.

Colombia is still struggling with the legacy of slavery. Approximately one-fourth of the nation has African ancestry and yet their history has been largely ignored. Recently, there is a growing interest in Colombia's multi-racial past and the Colombian Constitution requires inclusion of Afro-Colombian history in school curricula. The rescued documents will enrich the national and regional narrative by capturing a multi-racial frontier society that included enslaved and free people of African descent as well as many other ethnic groups.