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Statement of Purpose

The Guadalajara Census Project (GCP) was created in the early 1990s to serve the pedagogical goals of the Department of History at Florida State University–as a training tool for graduate students and as a model to introduce quantitative methods into undergraduate classes. As the project grew, it soon became clear that the GCP also would be able to produce a database which, as a primary historical resource, would be potentially useful to scholars in several disciplines, and to genealogists and Hispanic family historians. Finally, in the process of designing and carrying out the research project, and in the problems encountered along the way, we saw a need to create a practical guide for social historians working in quantitative data.

The training aspect of this project has turned out to be even more useful than we had envisioned. The GCP emphasizes graduate student involvement in all phases of the project: research design, methodology, paleography, data collection, coding, data entry, data verification, the writing of user guidelines, Website maintenance and CD-ROM development. Graduate students have been at the heart of this project and have contributed not only their time and abilities, but original and innovative solutions to the many large and small issues which continually demand solutions.

As a primary historical resource, the GCP is an experiment in the preservation and public access to the statistical resources of an important Mexican city–Guadalajara, the capital of the western state of Jalisco, and today second only to Mexico City in size and importance. Although the undeniable quality of Guadalajara’s historical resources dictated the choice, in the early nineteenth century, the city stood as one of the hemisphere’s great cities. By the beginning of Mexico’s independence, only Mexico City and possibly Puebla were larger; in the United States, none but Boston, New York and Philadelphia. The 1821 census counted nearly forty thousand inhabitants and the actual total was likely closer to forty-five thousand. Indeed, Guadalajara was one of the largest interior cities on the continent, towering over Chicago, for example, which would surpass it only in the last half of the nineteenth century.


In order to facilitate access to not only to the database but also to the many essays and guides, in so far as practical, all instructions and text will be offered in English and Spanish. By doing so, we hope to create a joint resource for these two nations who share a common border yet who often seem divided by differences in language, culture and history. The project involves students, teachers, scholars and the interested general public from both nations as an example that history may also unite as well as divide.

Further, the data will be available in various forms and formats, and with appropriate instructions, to insure access not only by scholars and researchers, but by a broad range of users. In particular, we have worked to insure that the data is available and accessible to genealogists and Hispanic family historians. It is our intention to create a historical resource combining humanistic values and quantitative methods, where professional historians, teachers, students and families searching for their past will find common ground. We are particularly adamant that “popular” history has a place at the historian’s table, that links between historians and the public raise the level of historical dialogue and, perhaps surprising for professional historians, may even provide food for both.

In much the same sense, this project is meant to serve as a bridge between the humanities and the often presumed foreign, and therefore feared, realm of statistics. Often demographic statistics are seen as a specialized resource, primarily useful for the social sciences. Today’s wide-spread computer literacy offers an opportunity to construct an alternative vision, linking humanistic issues to digital technology. The Windows applications have almost eliminated the complicated, syntax-driven formulas of just a decade ago. Now, instead of spending considerable time learning the techniques, the user can concentrate on the data itself.


Another objective is to create a scholarly resource which will particularly illustrate the lives of ordinary people, whose history often goes undocumented. Their world is mostly glimpsed through “captured eyes,” in documents prepared by others, often with only grudging testimony from common people. Yet as the census takers walked their rounds, they unwittingly preserved the complex tapestry of everyday life, often in ways that cannot be duplicated easily by any other means. A census is among the most truly random bits of information about that life to which historians have access.

In the same vain, a census is far more than a snapshot of a society frozen in time. The generations recorded on those pages paint miniature portraits of earlier times, like layers of artifacts at an archaeological site, reaching as far back into the past as the oldest generation still living. The gender and ethnic divisions, the occupations practiced, even the names they were given, tell us about a particular generation and the ways in which they experienced history. Even death tells a tale, for in their absence, the dead speak to us about those who survive and those who do not. A census represents not just a year but the generations whose story it records.

In recent decades, scholars have come to view quantitative methodology with a certain post-modern skepticism. Certainly the methodology has languished for more than a decade, in part because of the more exaggerated claims of some of its practitioners. Statistics do give the appearance of precision, it is true, but the numbers themselves are no more (and no less) facts than public papers or private documents. Statistics are simply the “small documents” among which the investigator must rummage, searching for patterns. They are rarely the end product of that search. Rather, they are the clues which send historians on to other sources, or which give them insight to infer cause or question convention. The compiler of a recent catalogue of census manuscripts contends that Latin American archives contain “the largest accumulation of demographic information available for any major region of the world,” speaking of the critically important years between 1763 and 1821.1 Surely such data must be one of the largest untapped resources for reconstructing the life and times of colonial Latin America. The Guadalajara censuses will provide one such resource. And we offer the specific suggestions from our own practical experience to facilitate the process of discovery.


Statistics as Culture. In the process of creating a database from an entire census, if the Guadalajara Censuses Project is typical, one will encounter a culture. A census is not just a faceless statistical resource; it can be read as any other historical document. Hidden within the manuscript pages of our current project, an urban culture speaks to us about its life and times. We come across a family of puppeteers (titiriteros), a host of actors (cómicos) and wandering musicians (tamboristas) making their living on the streets. Here and there within families were society’s mentally impaired– inocentes they were called, reflecting a particularly Hispanic cultural perspective on mental illness. Their names also often openly acknowledge physical deformities in ways which sound harsh to our modern ears–as in “Juana la Jorbada (the hunchback). Or occasionally our census takers will gossip about a women whose husband “fled with another women,” or the disgraced husband, whose wife “fled with another man.” Census data affords our modern age a window into the world of nineteenth century urban life. And that life can be read as well as measured.

1. Lyman D. Platt, Census Records for Latin America and the Hispanic United States (Baltimore, 1998), 7. He listed four thousand censuses and called that number very conservative.

 

 

 

 

 

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