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Revista Interamericana de Bibliografía (RIB)
Número: 1-4
Título: 1997
Sección: Artículos / Articles


In 1844 President Manuel Bulnes urged the Chilean Congress to create a “National Archive” to bring together public documents since independence.1 “This measure is essential for the interest of the State, also for private individuals,” he insisted, “and lastly it is called for to facilitate statistical work.”2 This proposal was the first of several steps that led to the creation of today’s National Archive of Chile, the nation’s richest source of unpublished materials and one of the most outstanding institutions of its kind in Latin America. Three years later the legislature voted to establish the archive, and official documents began to be deposited in a common home.

During the next half century, the nation’s population continued to grow, the economy witnessed rapid development, and governmental activity also increased. To the original Ministries of the Interior, War and Navy, and the Treasury were added those of Justice and Public Instruction, Foreign Relations, and Public Works. In 1887 President José Manuel Balmaceda established the General Archive of Government where “the diverse Departments” of state were directed to send their individual archives after five years and their copy-books after ten. Meanwhile, legislation passed in 1875 ordered the legal tribunals to deposit their materials in separate archives in the capital and in Valparaíso.

These nineteenth-century depositories were not created to preserve colonial governmental documents or private collections. The National Library of Chile, founded in 1813, gradually assumed this role. Andrés Bello, the Venezuelan founder of the University of Chile, sent his annual memorias históricas to the library during his rectorship, and the notes and collected documents of the French pioneer of the natural sciences in Chile, Claudio Gay, also found a place in the institution in 1878. The writer and bibliophile Ramón Briseño, head of the library in 1883, noted that also among the institution’s 64,308 tomes were many items purchased in 1861 from the indefatigable researcher and historian Benjamín Vicuña Mackenna and the papers acquired in 1877 of José Ignacio Víctor Eyzaguirre, a mid-nineteenth century cleric and historian.3 Collections of official colonial records were brought to the library after 1813, and in 1886 its new director, Luis Montt, established the Sección de Manuscritos that by the end of the century had become the depository for almost all of the still-extant records from the Spanish period, as well as a growing collection of private papers.4

By the twentieth century the dedicated labors of historians such as Vicuña Mackenna, Briseño, and José Toribio Medina, Chile’s greatest bibliographer who published 392 volumes of historical documents, had won the respect of their counterparts throughout the hemisphere. According to one North American observer, “The Chilean devotion to historiography... far and away surpassed historical interest in other Spanish American countries.”5 The contributions of colonial materials and private papers by many nineteenth-century historians to the National Library helped to establish a strong archival collection.6

President Arturo Alessandri in 1925 created the National Historical Archive to bring together the collections in the National Library’s Sección de Manuscritos and official documents of historical value no longer needed by the government. The decree founding the National Historical Archive affirmed, “It is in the national interest and a true necessity to assemble in a single establishment in a form that shall guarantee its conservation and shall facilitate its use for the history of a country all the administrative, political, judicial, and military documentation of the country.” In addition, the new archive was instructed to acquire private papers useful in reconstructing Chile’s past.7

In 1927 President Carlos Ibáñez del Campo signed a decree creating the present National Archive of Chile. “The National Archive has as its purpose,” this measure stated, “to assemble and conserve the records of the Departments of State and all the documents and manuscripts relating to national history....”8 This archive united the official records in the General Archive of Government and in the judicial depositories with the historical documents in the National Historical Archive founded two years earlier. By statute the new institution was charged “to bring together and conserve the archives of the departments of State and all the documents and manuscripts related to the nation’s history....”9 The National Archive was originally housed in the new building of the National Library on the Alameda, the major boulevard in downtown Santiago. For three centuries prior to 1913 the Monasterio de las Religiosas Clarisas had occupied this site.

Since 1927 the National Archive of Chile has continued to bring together official records and private papers, and today its collections are of inestimable value to the study of the nation’s history. Seven conservadores or directors have headed the institution. The first was the well-respected historian Ricardo Donoso who from 1927 until 1954 labored to see that the government ministries fulfilled their obligation to send their documents to the archive, prepared catalogues of many of the colonial and independence-era fondos, oversaw the publication of several volumes of the institution’s colonial papers, and dedicated his seemingly untiring energies to acquiring private collections. In addition to these duties, all of the directors have been concerned with providing better facilities for the archive and the difficult task of finding adequate funding to carry out the institution’s charge.

The recent directors have been particularly concerned with taking advantage of modern technological changes and with improving the professional preparation of their staff. Like so many libraries and archives elsewhere in Latin America, the National Archive in Santiago has had to carry out its work on a limited budget, but since the late 1960s its employees have received specialized training. The members of its photocopying, restoration, and cataloguing sections, in particular, are familiar with the many advances that have occurred in their fields in the last decades.10

The archive’s most noticeable changes in recent years are its new buildings. After decades of trying to gain new quarters, arrangements were made in the 1970s to relocate the archive in the former National Historical Museum adjacent to the National Library at 50 Miraflores Street between the Alameda and Moneda Street. Under Javier González Echenique, the director from 1975 until 1990 and a professor of colonial Chilean history at the Catholic University, the archive began transferring its holdings to the new site in 1978 and officially occupied its present building in 1983.11 Built in 1940, this impressive neo-classical structure of two stories and a basement provides much more area than the archive’s former corner in the National Library. The spacious, tastefully appointed reading room with its high ceilings and a row of large windows looks across the well-landscaped Plaza de Benjamín Vicuña Mackenna with its statue of this important nineteenth-century historian to, appropriately, Santa Lucia Hill, the original site of the Spanish settlement of Santiago.

The National Archive is open to researchers Monday through Friday. Foreigners may consult its holdings after describing their research and presenting a letter of introduction from their embassy in Santiago to a staff member at the reception desk in the entrance hall of the archive.12 The well-lighted reading room is entered from the foyer and is attended by a staff member. It comfortably accommodates 36 readers who may use portable computers, typewriters, and tape recorders, as well as pencils and paper, to take their notes.

Despite the welcomed additional space, the new building has proved inadequate for the archive’s vast and growing collections. A warehouse was leased for a decade to house many twentieth-century government documents. In 1992 these materials were moved to the archive’s new branch, the Twentieth-Century Archive, a four-story building across from the Quinta Normal Park at 3250 Agustinas Street, on the corner of Matacana Street. The head of the National Archive since 1990 and a historian of Chile’s ethnic past, Jorge Hidalgo Lehuedé, oversaw the transfer of some 140,000 volumes from the rented warehouse in thirty trips by document-laden trucks to their new, permanent quarters. Most of the archive’s official records from this century are stored on ten kilometers of shelves in the new branch. In addition to its excellent storage conditions, the Twentieth-Century Archive has a comfortable reading room with microfilm and microfiche readers and space for exhibitions. Scholars interested in twentieth-century government records or materials copied on microfilm or microfiche may consult these sources there.

During the past quarter century, the National Archive has tried to take advantage of modern technology to make its resources more easily available to researchers. Begun in 1969, the microfilming project first photographed the “Actas del Cabildo de Santiago” and those of the Cabildo de La Serena, as well as documents of the colonial notarios in Santiago. By 1979 these records had been reproduced on 54 rolls, and during the 1980s the materials of the Capitanía General were microfilmed. There is a typed list of the volumes photocopied. Thanks to a grant from the private Fundación Andes and matching government support, an additional 8,500 volumes of colonial documents were photographed on film and microfiche from 1990 through 1993. By 1998 the remaining 12,500 tomes of colonial records are scheduled to be copied. The microfilm and microfiche copies are available to researchers at the Twentieth-Century Archive. Funds made available jointly through the Fundación Andes and the government also are being used to restore several hundred badly deteriorated colonial volumes, as well as maps, drawings of architectural plans and property boundaries, and city plans.

The National Archive’s computerization projects are still in their infancy. In 1989 the Red Nacional Bibliográfica de Computación (RNBC) set out to place the holdings of the nation’s most important libraries and archives on computer. But a continuing lack of funds, insufficient staffing—the National Archive counts only 40 employees—and the central network’s current lack of computer capacity have forced the archive to bring to a “virtual halt” all efforts to make computer records of its holdings.13 However, a “Guía de fondos documentales del Archivo Nacional,” a computer printout, lists the more than 400 fondos or collections in the archive, giving the inclusive dates and the number of volumes in each.14 The archive has only two computer on-line catalogue terminals—both are for internal use—so researchers should ask to consult a printout of this guide. Although there are plans to prepare on-line computer catalogues of two colonial collections, the Intendencias and the Notarios, there are not yet any computerized aids to individual collections. Printed, typed, or mimeographed guides are available for most colonial and many private and governmental collections.

The National Archive’s more than 200,000 bound volumes and almost 150,000 legajos are deposited in the more than 400 fondos that comprise its governmental and private collections. The official documents date from three signed letters by the conquistador Pedro de Valdivia to the many records arriving almost daily from the government ministries and other official agencies. Among this vast amount of materials are copies of the original decrees of the cabildo of the “very noble and loyal city of Santiago,” a signed announcement by the Emperor Charles V of his retirement in 1556, Bernardo O’Higgins’ letter of resignation as Supreme Director of the nation in 1823, and original copies of the Chilean Constitutions of 1833 and 1925.

Most of the official colonial records are found in the sixteen separate Fondos Coloniales, one of the five major divisions of the National Archive according to the 1994 computer printout.15 The two Contaduría Mayor collections in this division contain more than 8,500 volumes, the contents of which are still being catalogued. These many thousands of papers include interesting administrative records for 250 years from the customs houses, the treasury, hospitals, and orphanages, as well as censuses, military accounts, and church financial records. There is an incomplete inventory of the Contaduría Mayor, Primera Serie, collection of 4,845 volumes, and there is an unpublished catalogue to the 3,741 tomes in the Contaduría Mayor, Segunda Serie, collection. A useful overview of these two collections is presented by Teresa Esterio Stevens, “El Archivo de la Contaduría Mayor,” in the Revista Chilena de Historia de Derecho, 1 (1959), on pages 36-53. Located in a large steel filing cabinet in the reading room is a card index arranged according to topics for the Contaduría Mayor collections.

Three other archives in the Fondos Coloniales contain thousands of reports, letters, accounts, and legal descriptions from important royal agencies. The Real Audiencia papers make up 3,272 tomes, the Capitanía General 1,083, and the Inquisición de Lima 514. Autos and expedientes comprise the majority of the documents in the Real Audiencia papers, but the volumes of cédulas and copy-books in this collection are important for colonial political history. The materials in this archive provide information on a host of subjects: tithes, the treatment and conversion of the Indians, royal inspectors’ visits to Chile, residencias on corregidores completing their service, contraband inventories from captured vessels, private contracts, penalties and punishments, the functioning of the gremios, and the establishment of religious congregations.

The records of the Capitanía General include judicial documents as well as materials pertaining to finance, the patronato, and war. In the Capitanía General papers are many causas particulares covering a very wide variety of topics, including irrigation disputes, the expulsion of foreigners, the price of sugar, travel permits, permission to raise pigs on properties in Santiago, and the pay of domestic servants. The Inquisición fondo contains papers relating principally to the economic activities of the inquisition in Chile, such as the sale of property of condemned individuals and the collection of amounts due to this tribunal.

There are printed catalogues for the materials in the Real Audiencia, Capitanía General, and Inquisición collections. The four-volume Catálogo de la Real Audiencia de Santiago16 offers a very useful guide to this collection. The Archivo del Ministerio del Interior: Indice de causas particulares, período de la colonia (Santiago: La República, 1884), the “Indice de veinte volúmenes del Archivo de la Capitanía General de Chile,” published in the Revista Chilena de Historia y Geografía, 63 (1928), pages 300-328, and the “Indice, Capitanía General,” offer helpful—but incomplete—guides to this fondo. In the steel filing cabinet in the reading room are card indexes arranged according to year for the Real Audiencia documents and both chronologically and by name for the records of the Capitanía General.

Eleven other archives are included in the Fondos Coloniales division. The 974 volumes of the papers of the Escribanos de Santiago contain thousands of legal items, such as wills, contracts, dowries, endowments, deeds, and marriage licenses covering the years 1559-1800. The filing cabinet in the reading room contains a card index organized by names for the Escribanos de Santiago collection. The three-volume Guía para facilitar la consulta del Archivo de Escribanos offers a partial catalogue of these papers.17 Two of the Fondos Coloniales, the Archivo de Simancas and the Archivo de Indias, contain copies of documents from these Spanish archives that relate to Chile—including correspondence and reports from royal officials and ten tomes of letters, decrees, and sentences taken from cases brought before the Inquisition Tribunal in Lima. The other eight separate archives in the Fondos Coloniales division are smaller and contain from 9 to 64 volumes each. These collections cover the University of San Felipe, the Tribunales de Cuentas, del Consulado, and de Minería, the Real Hacienda, Bienes de Difuntos, the Parroquia de Belén, and Seminarios y Convictorios. The Tribunal de Minería papers include such subjects as mining regulations, methods of refining metals, and permits to exploit minerals, while the Consulado archive contains accounts, ship manifests, membership lists, and commercial decisions on pricing and marketing. The University of San Felipe materials encompass ordinances, examination books, and lists of degrees awarded. There are typed or mimeographed catalogues for these collections.

Two other principal divisions of the National Archive, the Fondos Municipales and the Fondos Judiciales, Notariales and Conservatorios, bring together vast numbers of public records. These two divisions comprise approximately 13,000 volumes and more than 130,000 legajos. The documents in these fondos come from almost a hundred cities throughout the nation. Many of the individual archives include a large number of colonial materials, but most of these holdings are from the republican period—some of these papers bear dates as recent as 1984.

The largest collection in the Fondos Municipales division are the 530 tomes from Santiago (1551-1924) that include the “Libros de Actas” of its cabildo, 286 volumes from Iquique (1888- 1953), and 186 from Valparaíso (1779-1908). Most of the actas of the Santiago cabildo have been published. The 21 folios comprising the Concepción fondo contain the “Libros de Actas” since 1782 and city records until 1883. The typed “Catálogo: Actas de las municipalidades del país,” prepared in 1967, offers a general index to the collections in the Fondos Municipales. The Índice general del archivo in two volumes covers the Valparaíso materials from 1779 through 1896.18 Indexes for the archives of the San Felipe and La Serena cabildos were published in 1899 and 1900.19

The division titled Fondos Judiciales, Notariales and Conservatorios includes literally hundreds of thousands of documents concerning such matters as legal claims, court decisions, and records of real-estate sales, deeds, mortgages, and tax payments. These archives include materials from the colonial period until the mid-twentieth century. The oldest papers in this division are found in the 253 tomes in the Notarios de Talca fondo and date from 1601. The collections for Santiago are the most numerous and comprise 3,265 volumes and 4,446 legajos covering the years 1702-1930. The Fondos Notariales contain a wealth of information on land ownership, mortgages, inventories, agricultural accounts, and litigation. The Fondos Judiciales include transcripts of bankruptcy, criminal and civil cases, as well as probates of divorce proceedings and wills. There are unpublished catalogues for the Fondos Judiciales and Notariales, but they are incomplete. The typed “Catálogo notarial” lists records from throughout Chile from 1607 until 1919, and the “Indice de registro de propiedades de Punta Arenas” offers a guide to notarial sources for this city from 1878 through 1906. The published Índice de los protocolos notariales de Valdivia, La Unión, Osorno y Calbuco y alcabalas de Chiloé, 1774-1848 (Santiago: Dirección General de Talleres Fiscales de Prisiones, 1927) provides more complete information for these cities. Forty-eight typed volumes, arranged chronologically, by names, and by crimes, furnish a guide to the Fondos Judiciales.

The largest division of the National Archive is made up of public papers belonging to the Fondos Administrativos Republicanos. Literally millions of official documents are conserved among the approximately 150,000 bound volumes in this division. The Fondos Ministerios section includes the papers of 17 government ministries. In the case of the Ministerio de Defensa Nacional there are separate archives for its Subsecretarías de Aviación, Carabineros, Guerra, Investigaciones, and Marina, while the records of the other ministries are each kept in individual collections.

By law all but two of the ministries are to send their records to the National Archive after 5 years. Under a decreto supremo issued by the Augusto Pinochet regime in 1987, the Ministerio de Defensa Nacional was relieved of its obligation to send its papers to the National Archive. This ministry was given permission to destroy its records, guard them in its own archive in the Edificio Diego Portales—a depository closed to scholars—or send them to the National Archive. Since 1987 the ministry has not availed itself of the opportunity to do the latter. There are more than 13,000 volumes in the several Ministerio de Defensa Nacional fondos.

The Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores is the second exception. It traditionally sent its unclassified papers to the National Archive after 30 years and guarded its confidential materials for 60 years. Documents relating to Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru, the countries bordering Chile, always have remained in the ministry’s own archive. Because of a continuing lack of space at the National Archive and a trained staff at the Foreign Relations archive, this ministry is no longer forwarding its papers to the National Archive.

Researchers interested in Foreign Relations documents from 1810 to 1957 should consult the 6,458 volumes of the Fondo Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores in the National Archive. Since “Culto” and “Colonización” were divisions of this ministry until the early twentieth century, this collection includes many volumes of church records and governmental efforts to attract European colonists. The typed “Catálogo: Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores” gives an index by title—but without any despcription of contents—to 1,809 volumes in this fondo, covering the years 1810-1914. For materials since 1957 and for many documents before then, scholars are welcome to use the Historical Archive of the Ministry of Foreign Relations at 52 Bandera Street in downtown Santiago.20

In the Fondos Ministerios section, there are four individual collections comprising more than 10,000 volumes. The Ministerio de Educación’s archive with 34,344 tomes is the largest, while the Ministerio de Justicia fondo includes 19,419. The collections of the Ministerios del Interior and de Hacienda fill 18,359 and 12,954 volumes respectively.

The ministerial archives usually include correspondence, budgets, reports, lists of employees and their salaries, and similar information related to each ministry and are organized chronologically. For example, the Ministerio del Interior records include these materials—in this case letters to and from intendants and governors figure prominently among the correspondence—and the expected records concerning internal security. But this ministerial collection also contains documents on roads, customs, telegraphs, and railroads until 1887 when the Ministerio de Industria y Obras Públicas was established to oversee these responsiblities. Correspondence with Andrés Bello, rector of the University of Chile from 1843 to 1865, reports from the Instituto Nacional, studies on curricular reforms, decrees, and communication with schools throughout the republic are among the papers found in the Fondo Ministerio de Educación.

The Índice de los documentos existentes en el Archivo del Ministerio del Interior (Santiago: Imprenta de la República J. Núñez, 1884), compiled by José Toribio Medina, and the mimeographed “Indice del Ministerio del Interior,” brought together in 1975 by Gonzalo Izquierdo Fernández, provide a catalogue to 2,510 volumes in this fondo covering the years 1653- 1900. There is a typed guide to the Ministerio de Educación archive.

Among the other sections in the Fondos Administrativos Republicanos are the Fondos Intendencias with 22 individual archives and the Fondos Gobernaciones with 42. The Intendencia collection is of particular interest to students of local government, as its papers contain the correspondence of local officials and cover such multifarious topics as schools, sanitation, public works, and health concerns. A mimeographed “Inventario de los archivos de intendencias: Aconcagua, Atacama, Colchagua, O’Higgins y Valparaíso, 1820-1930,” proffers a guide to the more than 1,000 tomes from these districts. There are typed individual catalogues for the Intendencia records from Coquimbo, Chiloé, Concepción, Talca, and Tarapacá. State agencies such as Aduanas and the Corporación de la Reforma Agraria (CORA), among others, as well as public institutions, including the National Library and the University of Chile, have their separate archives.

There are no catalogues for several of the Fondos Administrativos Republicanos and most of the indexes to official papers are incomplete—particularly for twentieth century materials. To consult administrative collections that are not covered by any guide, the researcher should request documents by year—and by city when applicable. For many governmental fondos there are lists of materials by ministry or agency according to the date of their arrival at the National Archive.

For the past three decades, most government records from the provinces have not been sent to Santiago. In addition to the archives of regional organizations—such as municipalities—other official records that are not being forwarded to the National Archive include the voluminous papers generated by the regional branches of the ministries and agencies headquartered in the capital—such as the Ministerios de Justicia, Trabajo, and Vivienda y Urbanismo, and the customs houses. Since the National Archive lacks sufficient storage space, recent public documents have remained in usually very inadequate depositories in their cities of origin throughout the nation. Under Javier González Echenique plans were drawn up to create seven regional archives to provide adequate quarters for provincial records, but to date no funding has been provided for these branches.

Although composed primarily of private company archives, the Salitre section is a part of the Fondos Administrativos Republicanos division of the National Archive. There are 21 individual collections of more than 2,500 volumes, dating from 1885 to 1975, in this section. Although most of these archives are composed of the records of nitrate companies, separate fondos are devoted to the Actas de Direcciones Fiscales, the Asociación de Productores de Yodo, and the Sociedad Química y Minera de Chile. Four separate fondos are devoted to the Compañía Salitrera Anglo-Lautaro. Many of the papers in the Salitre archives are in English and include the minutes of directors’ meetings in London, contracts, balance sheets, and monthly and annual reports. The 213 tomes of the Compañía Salitrera Antofagasta have been catalogued, but the 1,745 volumes in the four Compañía Salitrera Anglo-Lautaro fondos are still being processed. In 1992 a former functionary of the Compañía de Cables Submarinos gave the archive this firm’s papers covering the company’s work in Chile in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

For many researchers, the Fondos Históricos, Colecciones y Misceláneos have proved to be an invaluable source of information. This fifth principal division of the National Archive contains most of the institution’s private or non- governmental collections. These include both colonial materials and papers from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The Fondo Jesuitas de Chile y América is of special importance and covers the years 1580-1823. It includes 134 volumes concerning the Society of Jesus in Chile, but this archive also contains 325 tomes dedicated to the order’s history in the Antilles, Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, the Philippines, Peru, Spain, and Venezuela. The non-Chilean Jesuit records were purchased from the Spanish government in the nineteenth century. Letters, sermons, information on schools, parishes, and hospitals administered by the order, work with the Indians in southern Chile, materials on the Jesuits’ expulsion from the Spanish Empire in 1767, wills, rents, finances, and reports are some of the many items encompassed in this large archive. The Catálogo de los manuscritos relativos a los antiguos jesuitas de Chile (Santiago: Imprenta Ercilla, 1891) furnishes a useful guide by name and by topic to the Chilean volumes in this collection. Many non-Chilean tomes not covered in the published Catálogo are included in an unfinished, typed “Catálogo,” but this index does not offer any details about the country, topic, or year of the volumes listed.

The Mapoteca archive includes more than 3,000 items, dating from 1550 to 1935. Among the many maps, architectural designs, city plans, and drawings in this section are a 1768 map of the “Reino de Chile,” drawn by Ambrosio O’Higgins, later governor of Chile and subsequently viceroy of Peru, designs for fortifications constructed in the 1830s, and a plan drawn up by the victorious government officers detailing their movements in March 1859 against the “revolutionaries of Copiapó.” A mimeographed guide to this collection was prepared by González Echenique in 1976.

The Fondos Históricos include separate archives dedicated to the correspondence, notes, and manuscripts collected by Chilean intellectuals, as well as by religious, business, and political leaders. The separate Fondo Jaime Eyzaguirre was established in 1969 on the death of this well-respected historian. Among the documents collected by him are 25 volumes of papers of prominent Chileans, including members of his distinguished family, from the eighteenth century through the early twentieth century. In this fondo are letters of Bernardo O’Higgins, Francisco Bilbao, Aníbal Pinto, Benjamín Vicuña Mackenna, and José Manuel Balmaceda. The mimeographed “Catálogo del Archivo Jaime Eyzaguirre,” prepared in 1974, offers the titles of all pieces in this archive and an author index to the materials in this collection.

The archive of the nineteenth-century French natural scientist Claudio Gay includes 70 volumes of documents, histories, and copies of papers from 1551 to the 1860s, as well as the notes for his 24-volume Historia física y política de Chile (Santiago: Museo de Historia Natural de Santiago, 1844- 1871). Royal cédulas, colonial administrative and religious records, studies on the nation’s flora and fauna, and letters from participants in the struggle for Chilean independence give a special importance to this very diverse collection. The Catálogo del archivo Claudio Gay (Santiago: Editorial Nascimento, 1963) provides a complete index to the volumes in this collection.

The papers of the mid-nineteenth-century cleric and religious historian, José Ignacio Víctor Eyzaguirre, make up a separate archive in the Fondos Históricos. The 68 tomes in this collection include pastoral letters, sermons, royal decrees, examinations from the University of San Felipe, and correspondence from José Miguel Carrera, Bernardo O’Higgins, and other Chilean patriots. The bulk of the documents in this fondo are from the years 1780 to 1824. The Catálogo de la colección de manuscritos de D. José Ignacio Victor Eyzaguirre (Santiago: Dirección General de Prisiones, 1944) provides a very useful guide to these papers.

The archive of Emilio Rodríguez Mendoza, a journalist, novelist, and politician during the first half of this century, comprises a separate collection of 22 volumes. The most important part of this fondo is his correspondence with Chilean and other Hispanic literati, including José Enrique Rodó, Jacinto Benavente, Enríque Molina, Vicente Huidobro, Pedro Prado, and Gabriela Mistral, as well as with Chilean Presidents Arturo Alessandri and Juan Antonio Ríos. The typed “Archivo Rodríguez Mendoza” provides a catalogue to these papers. The Fondo Valentín Letelier is composed of 21 volumes of dictámenes written by this educator and legal scholar while he was fiscal of the Tribunal de Cuentas from 1891 to 1918. This archive contains only these legal materials. Many other papers of this prolific pedagogue and head of the University of Chile from 1906 to 1911 are in the archive of the Central Library of the University of Chile.21

Two of the most important collections in the Fondos Históricos are the separate archives of Francisco Vidal Gormaz and of Benjamín Vicuña Mackenna. The Fondo Francisco Vidal Gormaz, named for an early nineteenth-century explorer, geologist, and bibliophile, is made up of 23 volumes of unedited travel accounts relating to Chile written between 1557 and 1824. Such subjects as port information, population, political descriptions, local customs, and conditions of travel are covered. These materials were copied in Madrid and are indexed by names, ships, and topics in the Índice del archivo hidrográfico “Vidal Gormaz” (Santiago: Universitaria, 1938).

The extensive Fondo Benjamín Vicuña Mackenna includes 426 volumes of notes, original and copied documents, letters, and clippings pertaining to three centuries of Chilean history. Several volumes of Tribunal de Minería materials are in the Vicuña Mackenna collection. The Archivo Bernardo O’Higgins forms a major part of this fondo and includes the private papers of the Chilean liberator and José Miguel Carrera, as well as copies of manuscripts from the General Archive of the Indies in Seville made by Vicuña Mackenna. Many of the O’Higgins papers have been published in the nine-volume Archivo de don Bernardo O’Higgins, edited between 1946 and 1951 by Ricardo Donoso, and in the two dozen additional volumes published through 1985.22 The Vicuña Mackenna collection also includes this journalist and historian’s newspaper articles in 40 volumes, the notes for his many historical works,23 and his personal papers, containing correspondence with Bartolomé Mitre, Alberto Blest Gana, José Victorino Lastarria, Domingo Santa María, José Manuel Balmaceda, and Agustín Edwards, among many others.

The Catálogo de la biblioteca y manuscritos de don Benjamím Vicuña Mackenna (Santiago: Imprenta Cervantes, 1886) is a guide to the collection arranged according to the date of acquisition. This catalogue does not provide a complete or an always reliable index to this large fondo. The typed “Catálogo del archivo Vicuña Mackenna” offers a thorough index to the first 100 volumes covering the O’Higgins archive. The “Catálogo Archivo de Indias,” typed in 1961, furnishes a guide to volumes 263 through 304 covering the materials copied in Seville, and an unpublished memoria at the University of Chile, prepared by Paz González Vial in 1974, gives the contents of volumes 337 through 390 containing Vicuña Mackenna’s personal papers.24 There is no complete index for the remaining 232 tomes in this massive archive.

Several important collections in the Fondos Históricos are devoted to statesmen and businessmen. The Salvador Trucíos archive includes 66 legajos of correspondence, copy-books, and accounts of this leading Santiago merchant of the late eighteenth century. Acquired in the mid-1970s, this fondo has not yet been catalogued. Individual collections have been formed around the papers of Juan Luis Sanfuentes, president of Chile from 1915 to 1920; Emilio Bello Codecido, founder of the Liberal Democratic party in 1891 and a minister under President Arturo Alessandri in the 1920s.

The papers of Carlos Morla Vicuña, a prominent, late nineteenth-century diplomat, make up 63 volumes. These documents include many original letters and copies of records from 1561 to 1886. The correspondence of Peruvian viceroys, Chilean governors and bishops, and presidents of the Real Audiencia are among the important sources found in this collection, as are materials from the Patria Vieja period. A detailed, typed index of 360 pages gives an annotated guide to this archive. Guillermo Feliú Cruz’s Historiografía colonial de Chile (Santiago: Nascimento, 1958) discusses this important colonial collection on pages 138- 152.

The papers of Pedro Aguirre Cerda, the Popular Front president of Chile from 1938 to 1941, comprise 77 volumes. This fondo contains mostly correspondence with contemporary politicians, and its typed catalogue includes a list of these writers. The most recent fondo brings together the papers of Gabriel González Videla, the Radical party president of Chile, 1946-1952. This collection will encompass approximately 140 tomes when catalogued.

The Fondos Históricos have two special collections that bring together the private papers acquired over the years by the National Archive that do not belong to a separate archive. These are the Fondo Antiguo and the Fondo Varios. The former includes 133 volumes of documents donated to the National Archive before 1935. The published and written materials in the Fondo Antiguo cover the years 1493 to 1874, with emphasis on the period 1750-1820. Included in this collection are memoirs, chronicles, reports, and the discourses of colonial officials and early republican statesmen, as well a papal bulls and royal orders. The typed “Índice de la colección Fondo Antiguo,” compiled in 1936, provides indexes according to name, organization (Real Audiencia, etc.), and content (ecclesiastical, history, etc.) for the materials in this archive. Ricardo Donoso’s “Inventario de la Colección Fundo Antiguo en el Archivo Nacional,” published in 1937 in the Handbook of Latin American Studies (Cambridge: Harvard University Press), pages 547-572, describes the varied contents of this collection. The index provided in the mimeographed “Catálogo Fondo Antiguo,” brought out in 1966, is much less complete than the 1936 typed “Índice.”

The Fondo Varios is composed of the private papers acquired by the National Archive since 1935 that have not been placed in individual fondos. In 1994 there were 1,094 volumes in this collection. Some of these materials include colonial documents, such as letters from Charles III and IV and from Ambrosio O’Higgins, though most of the items date from the independence era through the 1950s. Among the pieces in this eclectic collection is the correspondence of individuals such as José de San Martín, Lord Cochrane, Diego Portales, Joaquín Prieto, Manuel Bulnes, Joel R. Poinsett, José Victorino Lastarria, Manuel Antonio and Guillermo Matta, Valentín Letelier, Manuel and Pedro Montt, Arturo Alessandri, Amanda Labarca, and Eduardo Frei, as well as 96 volumes of the Iquique Junta during the Revolution of 1891.

The Fondo Varios continues to receive new documents. In 1992 and 1993 the National Archive purchased several large private collections with special government funds, and these materials were added to the Fondo Varios and other appropriate collections. These new sources include letters of Aníbal Pinto, president of Chile from 1876 to 1881, family correspondence of Arturo Prat, the famous naval hero of the War of the Pacific, and secret government papers relating to this war. The Catálogo Fondo Varios (Santiago: Dirección General de Prisiones, 1952) offers an index by names and topics for the 850 volumes of bound materials given to the National Archive between 1935 and 1952. The typed “Anexo al Catálogo Fondo Varios” provides separate indexes by names, places, and organizations for the items donated after 1952.

Since there is no single author or topical index covering all of the collections in the Fondos Históricos, researchers should carefully consult the guides to the individual archives that are most likely to contain materials relevant to their specific interests. Although there is no separate fondo dedicated to José de San Martín, for example, many of his letters may be found by consulting the Catálogo de la biblioteca y manuscritos de don Benjamín Vicuña Mackenna, the typed “Catálogo del archivo Vicuña Mackenna,” and the four indexes to the Fondo Antiguo and the Fondo Varios.

There are no recently published works on the National Archive of Chile, but some earlier pieces offer helpful information about its holdings. Although now out of date, a still useful description of the archive’s colonial and nineteenth-century holdings is found in Tomás Thayer Ojeda’s “La Sección de Manuscritos de la Biblioteca Nacional de Chile. The Manuscripts Section of the Biblioteca Nacional of Chile” in the Hispanic American Historical Review, IV (February 1921), pages 157-197. Ricardo Donoso’s “El Archivo Nacional de Chile” in the Revista de Historia de América, 11 (April 1941), pages 47-78, includes a list of catalogues of the institution’s holdings as of 1941.

The most complete account of the historical development of the archive is Donoso’s El Archivo Nacional: Antecedentes de su fundación y reseña de la labor realizada (Santiago: n.p., 1946). This work also includes Donoso’s annual reports as director of the archive from 1927 through 1945. Despite its 1945 publication date, the chapter on the Chilean archive included in Roscoe Hill’s The Archives of Latin America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press), pages 36-45, presents a helpful, concise survey of the institution’s collections at that time. Hill updated the materials in this book four times in articles titled “Latin American Archivology,” published in the Hispanic American Historical Review.25 The third volume of Guillermo Feliú Cruz’s Historia de las fuentes de la bibliografía chilena (Santiago: Biblioteca Nacional, 1966), pages 99-110, offers a general description of the institution’s holdings.

Several more recent works include material on the National Archive. A former director, Juan Eyzaguirre, prepared a very useful “Guía de los archivos de Chile,” published in 1976 in the Boletín Interamericano de Archivos, III, pages 160-187. A survey of the archive’s holdings is given in Peter J. Sehlinger’s A Select Guide to Chilean Libraries and Archives (Latin American Studies Working Papers, 9; Bloomington: Indiana University, 1979), pages 10-14. Although intended as an introduction to specific research topics, the very useful volume edited by John J. TePaske, Research Guide to Andean History: Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador and Peru (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1981), contains six articles on Chilean economic and political history that devote several pages each to pertinent collections in the National Archive.26

In 1982 Juan Eyzaguirre and Javier González Echenique published a useful list of the National Archive’s most important collections with brief descriptions of their contents in Guía de los archivos históricos de Santiago (Santiago: Instituto Geográfico Militar), on pages 11-53. This was compiled by Eyzaguirre, González Echenique, José Joaquín Matte Varas, and Ramón Ramírez Ramírez. Javier González Echenique’s Archivo Nacional (Santiago: Calderón y Compañía, 1983) is a beautifully illustrated volume that offers an overview of the institution’s collections and the workings of its departments.27

Because of the size of the National Archive’s holdings and the many guides to its numerous fondos, investigators should be certain to consult with the institution’s staff before undertaking their research. These employees are well trained and familiar with the general and even specific contents of many of the collections. The directors of the archive traditionally have welcomed foreign scholars and assisted them with their work. Indeed, researchers will find their experience in the National Archive of Chile both pleasant and rewarding.