History & Collection Descriptions

Mesoamerican Manuscripts at Princeton brings together three collections of manuscripts housed at Princeton University Library: the Garrett-Gates Collection of Mesoamerican Manuscripts (C0744), the Garrett Collection of Mesoamerican Manuscripts (C0744), and the Princeton Collection of Mesoamerican Manuscripts (C0940). For a history of the formation of the collections, see Teresa T. Basler and David Wright, "The Making of a Collection: Mesoamerican Manuscripts at Princeton University," Libraries & the Cultural Record 43, no. 1 (2008): 29-55, https://doi.org/10.1353/lac.2008.0011.

Garrett-Gates Collection of Mesoamerican Manuscripts

The Garrett-Gates Collection of Mesoamerican Manuscripts (C0744) contains approximately 250 Mesoamerican manuscripts, chiefly written in Latin script. Maya languages are well represented, predominantly Yucatec and K'iche', and to a lesser degree Kaqchikel, Tzutuhil, Tzeltal, Pokoman, Chorti, Cholti, and K'eq'chi. In addition, there are several manuscripts in other Mesoamerican languages, including Nahuatl, Zoque, and Otomì. Many of the manuscripts also contain Spanish and/or Latin devotional, liturgical, and other texts. The collection consists of original manuscripts, documents, and transcriptions of ancient hieroglyphic texts, dating from the time of the Spanish conquest to the early 20th century, and includes ritual incantations, Chilam Balam books, Caste War letters, Spanish translations of Christian doctrinal works, manuscript dictionaries of the native languages, histories, autograph letters, land documents, maps, and confraternity records. William Gates acquired these manuscripts between 1910 and 1930 for the purpose of linguistic study. The manuscripts offer copies of texts in indigenous languages and provide evidence of the history and evolution of those languages under the influence of Spanish civilization during the period of Western contact with the indigenous peoples of the Americas. The materials also illustrate how the Spanish culture affected all aspects of life in New Spain, from the practice of religion to transfer of lands from the natives to the Spanish colonists. Robert Garrett deposited the Garrett-Gates Collection at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton in 1942. The collection was transferred from the Institute in 1949, at Garrett's request, and donated to the Princeton University Library. From 1930 to 1949 Garrett continued to acquire other Mesoamerican manuscripts.

Garrett Collection of Mesoamerican Manuscripts

From 1930 to 1949 Garrett continued to acquire other Mesoamerican manuscripts. To complement the predominantly Maya Gates Collection, Garrett chose to broaden the scope of his collecting to encompass all of Latin America. The Garrett Collection of Mesoamerican Manuscripts (C0744) contains 21 manuscripts and documents from Central and South America, dating from the 16th to the 20th century. Contents include pictorial manuscripts, “lienzos” (maps), histories, catechisms, and land documents, written in Tarascan, Nahuatl, Otomí, Latin, and Spanish (Latin script predominates, but there are others in hieroglyphics). For detailed discussions of the Otomí manuscripts in these collections, see David Charles Wright Carr, “Manucritos otomíes en la Biblioteca de la Universidad de Princeton,” Estudios de cultura otopame, no. 4 (2004).

Princeton Mesoamerican Manuscripts Collection

Since 1947, the Princeton University Library has acquired Mesoamerican manuscripts and artifacts as gift and purchase. The Princeton Mesoamerican Manuscripts Collection (C0940) is an open collection, currently containing 21 Pre-Columbian and Colonial manuscripts, documents, and artifacts, dating from the 7th to the 19th century. Contents include land documents, a manuscript copy of a Nahuatl play concerning the Wednesday of Holy Week, incised bone with Maya glyphs, leather maps with glyphs, Zapotec text on bone, Maya funerary vessels, and an Inca quipu. Texts are written in Latin script or Maya hieroglyphics. Languages represented include Zapotec, Yucatec, and Nahuatl. Several of the manuscripts also include Spanish and/or Latin text.

Of related interest is the Pre-Columbian Stamp Seals and Roller Seas Collection (GC185). It consists of 147 clay stamp seals and roller or cylinder seals dating from the pre-Columbian era and post-Conquest until 1600 AD, chiefly from Mesoamerica but possibly from other places in the Americas. These seals (sellos) include anthropomorphic, zoomorphic, floral, and geometric designs, and were probably used to decorate fabric and/or the human body. Some of the stamps contain remains of pigments. This collection has not yet been digitized and is only accessible on site.