Inquisitio: A Global Survey of Sources for Inquisition History

This grant enabled Dr. Vose to travel to Chile and Spain in the Spring-Summer of 2012, as one of the phases in his five-year research project.

Summary of project:

Inquisition tribunals were dedicated not only to rooting out religious beliefs and practices deemed “heretical’; they also generated massive quantities of written records and preserved invaluable testimony for all aspects of life in their host societies. Inquisitors were far more scrupulous than most contemporary observers in the intimate attention they paid to topics ranging from economic and social relationships to cultural practices and gender roles. Texts composed for internal purposes, too, shed light not just on the lives of interrogated subjects but also on the ideological and practical underpinnings of local power structures. A great many such records, preserved in a wide variety of formats, remain housed in archives and libraries around the world, yet few resources are available to help researchers grasp the scope of this documentation. As a result scholarship to date has tended to focus on a relatively narrow set of records, often relating to Spain or Italy alone, while neglecting other aspects of the inquisitorial legacy in diverse regions of the globe.

My project contributes both to the development of more global inquisition studies and to a range of other historical speciality areas by systematically surveying, categorizing and analyzing the contents of key inquisition archives worldwide. In phases 1 and 2 preliminary surveys were carried out in major US and Spanish collections such as the University of Notre Dame’s McDevitt Collection, the Lea Collection (University of Pennsylvania) and the Archivo Histórico Nacional in Madrid; a visit to Mexico’s Archivo General de la Nación is pending for the spring of 2012. GISI funding will permit me to embark on phase 3 of the project, expanding my research to cover the Peruvian Inquisition archives (now held at Santiago de Chile). This will require a two-week stay in situ at the Archivo Nacional Histórico, as well as a brief followup visit to Madrid to check my findings against the colonial files held there.

Since I have yet to see the holdings of the little-used Peruvian archives-in-exile, I cannot say what the results of my visit will bring. However I am confident that I will locate sources that correspond to some of the document types previously identified in the preliminary stages of my project as described on the project website <>. Trial records will undoubtedly be found, each with its own intriguing story to tell; I will examine not only their contents but also the layout and formatting of such transcripts in comparison to those produced by other tribunals. I am also eager to see what non-trial volumes and folios sueltos may reside in this collection, whether similar to those I have already identified in other settings (manuals, auto de fe accounts, etc.) or perhaps items which are entirely unique to the Peruvian Holy Office. Either way, I fully intend to have material to share with the Research Associates of the GISI upon my return, and I will also present my findings at the annual meeting of the Association for Spanish and Portuguese Historical Studies in 2013 or 2014.

In collaboration with other experts, and building on my own previous research, I will further disseminate the full results of my investigations (phases 1-8) over a five-year period through a series of articles on discrete documentary categories such as procedural literature, sermons read out at sentencing ceremonies, and internal historiographies. Collected together and expanded with further research, these focused studies will ultimately form the core of a new interactive website along with a published scholarly monograph designed to orient novice and seasoned scholars alike to the complexities, idiosyncrasies, and potential uses of inquisitorial sources.

Robin Vose