Because of the Global Pandemic, we have decided to highlight some of the recent experiences of our graduate students. This month we will highlight a research trip that a graduate student took in the summer of 2019.
Aimee Hisey, a PhD Candidate in the History and Philosophy of Science program at Oregon State University spent three weeks in the summer of 2019 at the Archivo General de la Nación (AGN) in Mexico City, Mexico conducting research for her dissertation.
Like a good researcher, Hisey began preparations for her trip months before she left for Mexico. The first thing she did was to learn paleography, the study of ancient handwriting. Because Hisey’s research explores Jewish surgeons in the Viceroyalties during the 16th century, the majority of her primary source documents are handwritten Inquisition cases against Jewish surgeons written by notaries. Additionally, to help her prepare, Hisey began brushing up on her Spanish. The paternal side of her family is from San Luis Potosi, Mexico. While Hisey mostly communicates with her family in English, in preparation for the trip, Hisey switched to Spanish in the weeks leading up to her trip.
Because Hisey had been to AGN once before on a research trip for her master’s thesis, she has become quite familiar with the AGN website. For this project, therefore, she began to identify documents that may be of interest to her research. And even though the website can be quite finicky at times, when it is working, it can be incredibly useful, and according to Hisey she was “able to compile an entire list of cases that I wanted to access before ever leaving Oregon.”
The research process at AGN proved to be incredibly useful to Hisey once she was there. Prior to her trip, Hisey was interested in healers during the 16th century in the Viceroyalties, but as she began to conduct her research, she focused on Jewish surgeon barbers and their experiences, which is now the focus of her dissertation.
Even though the research was incredibly rewarding, it was a lot of hard work. For example, Hisey quickly learned that notaries oftentimes spelled the word “herbs” differently by using “hierbas” and “yerbas” interchangeably. This discovery allowed Hisey to search for dozens of additional cases that used these two different spellings. But Hisey was not alone. She was helped throughout the process with her advisor and mentor, Professor Nicole von Germeten, the head of the School of History, Philosophy, and Religion, who accompanied Hisey on the research trip. Undergraduate student, Ismael Pardo, also went to AGN with Hisey and von Germeten.
Research at AGN poses its own unique challenges and experiences. AGN serves as Mexico’s national archive. Since 1980, AGN has been located at the Palacio Lecumberri. Prior to being the location of AGN, the Palacio Lecumberri was a panopticon prison which was decommissioned in 1976. One odd quirk of an archive housed at a decommissioned prison is that the microfilm machines are in old jail cells. Because Hisey’s research involves documents from the 16th century, many have become too delicate to handle and are now on microfilm. This necessitated Hisey to work in the jail cells in order to conduct much of the research.
During her three week visit to Mexico, Hisey had some free time. She used much of this time to explore Mexico City and visit some of her family who still live in the city. Some of Hisey’s favorite places she visited were the Templo Mayor and the Museum of Anthropology. She also enjoyed the dining in Mexico City. One of her favorite indulgences were the conchas, a weekend breakfast treat. In fact, since returning to the US, Hisey has successfully made conchas, albeit not quite on the same caliber.