The Book as Archive

Alex Hidalgo

A Rare Book School lecture followed by a brief Q&A scheduled for Tuesday, 15 June 2021,  5:30–6:30 p.m. ET, via Zoom. 
Registration is now closed. The lecture will be recorded and made available at a later date on the RBS YouTube channel and on Soundcloud.

Readers in America and Europe in the early modern period deposited a wide range of things inside books. Spectacles, legal documents, flowers, hair, and other ordinary objects found homes between the pages of a book sharing space with statements of property, annotations, drawings, doodling, or the occasional curse inscribed by a reader. Because these things do not constitute a formal part of a book, cataloguers have struggled with ways of recognizing and describing such data in bibliographical records. By mere accident do we encounter these fragments of the past when on the road to another destination. What happens when we stop to look more closely? What do the material aspects of books tell us about the way people used books and how they stored memories? What made a record or object worthy to preserve in a book? This talk centers on an intriguing handwritten account Alex Hidalgo found stitched inside the pages of a seventeenth-century book of natural history. The document recounts the 1741 stillbirth of conjoined twins in Oaxaca’s central valley, a rich and fertile region in the southern reaches of Mexico. Inserting documents and prints of various kinds into books represented for historical actors a distinct kind of archival practice that combined careful observation, deliberation, and a certain measure of dexterity to manipulate the physicality of a book. Examples of objects found in other titles from the same time period and region help to contextualize the way people used books and how they stored memories, but also what we as researchers can learn when critically analyzing the materiality of print.   

Everyone is welcome to attend. To ensure the security of the event, advance registration is required for anyone not registered for an RBS course the week of 13 June 2021.

Registration closes at 8 a.m. ET the day of the lecture. Your registration will be automatically accepted. You will receive an email reminder the day before the lecture. The day of the lecture, we will send you the Zoom URL and password. Please direct any questions to

Follow the conversation on social media using hashtag #RBSonline or #RBS2021. 


Photo by Joyce Marshall.

Alex Hidalgo is associate professor of Latin American history at Texas Christian University with interests in print and manuscript culture, ethnography, collecting, and critical cartography. He is the author of Trail of Footprints: A History of Indigenous Mapmaking from Viceregal Mexico (University of Texas Press, 2019), an analysis of Mesoamerican and Spanish ideas of placemaking, memory, and knowledge. His second book, Mexican Soundscapes of the Colonial Era (in progress), considers the way ethnic diversity and racial difference influenced understanding of sound and listening. Hidalgo has received support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Ford Foundation, and the Library of Congress. He is a Junior Fellow in Rare Book School’s Andrew W. Mellon Society of Fellows in Critical Bibliography.


Banner image: Account of a waterspout, July 4, 1760, in Joseph Antonio Villaseñor y Sánchez, Theatro americano, descripción general de los reynos, y provincias de la Nueva España, y sus jurisdicciones (Mexico City, 1748), Biblioteca Francisco Burgoa. Courtesy of Alex Hidalgo.

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