Tuesday, October 23, 2018

It's All About Record Keeping

For about 100 years after the "discovery" of the new world, Spain had a monopoly on all trade and economic activity relating to the Americas. The center of that monopoly was the city of Sevilla. During that monopoly, Catholics, tired of merchants using the space around the cathedral for vulgar trade and shipping activities, forced the creation of a building to house these "unsavory" activities.

Some time later, the river from Sevilla to the ocean became un-navigable. Spain subsequently moved all of this trading active to Cadiz, on the Atlantic coast. The trade building in Sevilla became a tenement building. It stayed that way until after the Napoleonic era. At that point, Spain converted the old trade building, now a tenement, to an archive. All documents pertaining to the new world were consolidated into this one building in Sevilla called:

The Archive of the Indies. Inside is row-upon-row of original documents:

On shelves like these:

They even have fire extinguishers everywhere. Presumably to avoid the kind of tragedy that occurred most recently in the National Museum of Brasil:

Of course, you can't just open a box and look at the documents, though visiting scholars are allowed to do so in special rooms on the premises. However, there are a number of sample documents on display. Here are a few I like. All were behind plexiglass so there is an unfortunate glare. This is a map of the Mississippi River region from the 1500's. If you look closely at the bottom you see a bit of the arc of the Gulf of Mexico:

This is a map of the Dominican Republic (for Rachel), also circa 16th century:

This is a crib sheet of Spanish to "native" language translation. If you really zoom in you can recognize some of the Spanish words in the left-hand columns. Presumably the native words in the right hand column are phonetic spellings:

There were other artifacts too. The inside of the lid of this "treasure chest" had a fantastically intricate and complicated latching mechanism. Turning a crank in the middle caused this complicated collection of levers to retract all of the latches around the edge of the lid simultaneously:

Finally, like many other museums in Sevilla, there were a Murillo exhibit going on. This is the 400th anniversary year of the famous Spanish painter's birth in 1618. This sketch of Murillo depicting the baby Jesus lying asleep on a cross with his arm draped over a human skull is really bleak. The angels watching over him from above are sad, presumably knowing his destiny:

I've really gotten to like Murillo as I've looked at his work around Sevilla. He was a very thoughtful painter with a fantastic ability to convey complicated theological ideas through his imagery.


Started using github a couple of days ago to develop a software project. I have to say, it was a lot easier to get going with it than I expected. The newly release desktop tool is wonderful. It really keeps you organized.


Really warmed up today, maybe 80 degrees. Supposed to get cool over the weekend, maybe lows in the 40's. That would easily be the coldest weather we've experienced here so far.