Workshops in Cultural History 2014/ Talleres de Historia de la Cultura 2014

By Tess Knighton


Workshops in Cultural History 2014/ Talleres de Historia de la Cultura 2014
Tuesday 27 May, Sala de Musicología, Institució Milà i Fontanals (CSIC)

I          Aspectos sociales y culturales de la Inquisición

The first of our four interdisciplinary workshops took place in the Sala de Musicología this week and was atended by 16 historians of different specializations from the IMF, the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona and the Universitat de Barcelona as well as independent scholars. We gathered round a long table on an uncharacteristically grey morning in late May for a session dedicated to discussing various types of documentation relating to the Inquisition and the information that could be extrapolated, interpreted and contextualized to shed new light on various aspects of cultural activity and social practice. Speakers had previously been circulated with Javier Marín’s essay ‘A conflicted relationship: Music, power and the Inquisition in vice-regal Mexico City’ (in (eds) Geoffrey Baker and Tess Knighton, Music and Urban Society in Colonial Latin America (Cambridge University Press, 2011), pp.43-63), and this was the subject for his key-note talk that formed the first part of the seminar. Beautifully presented, Javier’s paper went beyond the data on oral musical traditions in Mexico City he had extrapolated from the Inquisitorial archives there to relate that material to surviving instruments, dance forms and modern-day interpretations on CD. Well aware of the pitfalls of such hypotheses, Javier nevertheless pointed out some striking resonances between the melodies and dances prohibited by the Inquisition in the early modern period and musical traditions that survive today. Texts from the 18th century are still being sung, and dance types such as the ‘Pan de járabe’ and ‘chuchumbé’ are still known as popular dances, though of course it is difficult (almost impossible) to determine the extent to which current melodies/ harmonies and dance steps correspond to earlier practices. Would the sound of the  ‘mosquito’, the smallest of the large guitar family of Mexican folk tradition, have been heard in the street music of the past? Pepe Pardo pointed out that the ‘past’ is generally the ‘nineteenth-century past’ and that beyond that era it is difficult to make connections or discern continuities with any degree of certainty. From photos and videos presented by Javier, it’s clear that at least the impressively wide-brimmed hats of the musicians have not changed over a century or so.


Pepe took up the debate after coffee with a detailed response to Javier’s essay, showing how in many ways Inquisitorial documentation could shed light on the history of medicine that, as in the case of oral musical traditions, was not easily obtainable from any other source, notably as regards the doctor-patient relationship. Again, this was essentially an oral, undocumented process that tended to slip through the records. Doris Moreno took this line further, offering in an impressively wholistic survey of the different kinds of Inquisitorial records. In addition to the well known procesos, other types remain to be explored by historians, in particular the libros de testificaciones or witness statements. These accounts were not made under duress or threat of torture, but more or less freely by witnesses, and therefore offer a reasonably high degree of verisimilitude, even bearing in mind the ‘promiscuidad confesional’ encouraged by the context of interrogation. Doris also made the important point that material gathered from Inquisitorial documents must be considered alongside documentation from other archives (especially local ones) to obtain complementary perspectives. This is essential in order to gain a bottom-up rather than top-down understanding of the structure and processes of the Inquisition that leads to a more rounded view of the role and practices of the Inquisition in society and a more nuanced approach to a social institution that was more tolerant and pluralistic than has traditionally been portrayed. Ascensión Mazuela then presented some of her recent findings from Inquisitorial documents in Madrid and Barcelona, notably the association between witches/ sorcery, dancing and certain kinds of instruments (generally simple percussion instruments), as well as fascinating details of professional musicians active in Barcelona who had been questioned by the Inquisition. The discussion that followed all these rich presentations was stimulating for everyone present and ranged from the surprising lack of reference to politically inspired songs amongst those cited in Inquisitorial documents in Mexico City to the potential of this kind of material for the history of emotions. (TK)


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