RBSC Home Library Home Princeton University Home Search
Friends of the Princeton University Library
Department and Collections Conducting Research Catalogs, Databases, and Finding Aids Exhibitions New and Notable Visiting Fellowships
  Friends Home

2002-2003 Visiting Fellows

David Charles Wright
College of Michoacán, Mexico


I applied for a visiting fellowship at the Princeton University Library to gather data for two intertwined projects: a contribution on colonial Mexican Otomi manuscripts (pictorial, alphabetic, and mixed) for a forthcoming supplement to the Guide to ethnohistorical sources, Handbook of Middle American Indians, and a Ph.D. dissertation presently in preparation, entitled Los otomíes: lengua, cultura y comunicación gráfica, to be presented in the Doctorado en Ciencias Sociales, El Colegio de Michoacán.

The following excerpt, taken from my initial proposal outlines my research goals at Princeton:

I chose the Princeton University Library as one of the collections that I would like to visit because it owns an important Otomí pictographic catechism, painted in a style often called "Testerian," in which the Catholic doctrine was written with signs apparently developed just for that purpose. I was unable to find this manuscript in Princeton University Library's database (MASC), but I have a xerographic copy of a published facsimile: Gillett G. Griffin, An Otomí Catechism at Princeton, Princeton University Library, 1968. What most interests me about this manuscript is Griffin's claim that "The Princeton catechism [...] seems primarily to be a rebus containing [...] what might be some Otomí syllabic substitutes." I am currently developing a database of Otomí pictorial graphemes, and phoneticism is one of the aspects I'm most interested in. Griffin reports that in 1837 a Catholic priest and professor of Otomí language in the 19th century, Francisco Pérez, "made a translation of our manuscript into Spanish, line-for-line." It is not clear from this reference whether or not the Pérez translation is also owned by the Princeton University Library; this is something I would look into during my proposed visit.

While at Princeton University I would like to look at the materials in the William Gates / Robert Garrett collection (acquired by Princeton in 1949) for other possible Otomí manuscripts and cartographic documents in the native tradition. I would also like to take advantage of the opportunity to copy articles relevant to my project from my "Lacunae" list, including sources that I have been unable to locate in the Mexican libraries that I habitually use for my research.

The Friends of Princeton University awarded me a grant of $2,500 to travel from my home in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico to Princeton to work on these projects. In addition to a fifteen-day stay at Princeton (October 1-15, 2002), this grant facilitated my work at the Newberry Library in Chicago, which awarded me $1,200 for a stay of one month (September 3-30). Since the more modest Newberry grant did not cover airfare, I combined both Fellowships into a six-week research trip. The two grants combined covered all of my expenses for this period, including air-fare and other transportation, room, board, and reproductions (several reels of microfilm, a few color slides, thousands of xerox copies, and a several publications).

In the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, I found that the Garrett Collection was being reorganized, and that no formal catalog was available. However, due to Alfred Bush having ordered the manuscripts in this collection by language, I was able to quickly locate the Otomi manuscripts. There are only three: the pictorial Testerian codex published by Griffin, cited above (Garrett Collection [WC036], provisional no. 290); a related manuscript by a catholic priest, Francisco Pérez, with an interpretation of the latter manuscript in Spanish, followed by copies of two additional Testerian pictorials, also with interpretations in Spanish (Garrett Collection [WC036], provisional no. 291); and a lengthy manuscript (over 331 folios) in tiny, close-spaced calligraphy with an abundance of phonetic diacritics, in Otomi, consisting mostly of sermons (Garrett Collection [WC036], provisional no. 289).

The first two manuscripts (nos. 290 and 291), while interesting and important, were somewhat disappointing, since they contained no alphabetic texts in Otomi. It was useful to examine them, however, since they will be included in the Handbook of Middle American Indians supplement, mentioned above. While at Princeton I purchased the facsimile edition of the pictorial manuscript, surprisingly still in existence after publication in 1968, and made a complete transcription of the Pérez manuscript, copying the pictorial signs and alphabetic glosses onto 8 x 5" file cards.

The last manuscript (no. 289), practically unknown to contemporary Otomi specialists, was a surprise, and together with a related manuscript at the Newberry Library, permitted me to identify and define a school of writers in the Otomi language that has only been hinted at in the published literature. Marginal notes in Spanish give a tantalizing peek at the wealth of ethnohistorical material that a full translation will reveal, especially in one of the sermons toward the end of the manuscript. I transcribed all of the headings and marginal notes, as well as the index and a few sample texts, and ordered a microfilm copy, which should reach me sometime this year.

Other activities in the Rare Books and Special Collections reading room included reviewing hard-to-find sources relating to these and other Otomi manuscripts, such as old sales catalogs of the Gates Collection (the source of much of the Garrett collection) and nineteenth-century guides to the Aubin Collection now at the Bibliothèque Nationale (Aubin probably owned the Testerian pictorial and Pérez manuscripts now at Princeton). I was able to finish my work in this Department during the first half of my fellowship, so I spent the remaining days in the general stacks of the Firestone Library, making xerox copies of sources from my lacunae list, most of which I was able to locate. The open-shelf policy enabled me to find additional resources related to my research projects. I also visited three other libraries at Princeton University to obtain copies of material housed in collections outside of the Firestone Library.

To sum up, I was able to accomplish all of the goals established in my initial proposal, as well as locating and processing additional materials, which will contribute greatly to both of my interrelated research projects. I also gathered sufficient material, at both the Princeton University and Newberry libraries, to write an article on the Otomi manuscripts in these collections, including general descriptions, comments on their significance, notes on their provenance, and comments on the collectors that owned them over the centuries, including colorful anecdotes gleaned from unpublished manuscripts by both William Gates and Edward Ayer (collectors that formed the greater part of the indigenous language materials at the Princeton University and Newberry libraries). This article will be finished soon and I will send a copy to the staff at the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections when it is published.


PU home
© 2001 Princeton University Library
One Washington Road
Princeton, New Jersey 08544 USA
Department of Rare Books and Special Collections
Email: rbsc@princeton.edu 
Tel: (609) 258-3184
Fax: (609) 258-2324

Copyright infringement reports