Graduate student makes revisions to 16th-century text

Monday, Nov 23, 2020

A graduate student in the Department of Modern Languages is preparing a 465-year-old document for publication in an open-access, digital archive early next year.

Osvaldo Martínez Morones, a first-year student in the Master of Arts in Modern Languages, will submit his edition of Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca's La relación y comentarios to the Hispanic Seminary of Medieval Studies (HSMS) Digital Library of Old Spanish Texts.

The text describes the Spanish explorer's adventures in North and South America during Spain's colonization of the continents in the 16th century. A copy of the chronicle from 1555 resides in the Special Collections at UTA Libraries.

"It's a very significant primary source of historical and literary importance," says Morones. "Cabeza de Vaca provides vivid and in-depth descriptions of the land and various indigenous groups of North and South America. [He] encountered many South American indigenous peoples, such as the Guaycurues, Guaranies, Agazes, Payaguaes, Guxarapos, among others. His text helps to reconstruct the history of these groups, some of which still exist today."

Cabeza de Vaca was a true pioneer. He is the first European to land on the shores of what is now the state of Texas and is attributed with the discovery of Iguazú Falls. In addition to his groundbreaking exploration, Cabeza de Vaca is known for opposing the harsh treatment suffered by native peoples at the hands of Spanish colonists.

"According to scholars, [La relación y comentarios] is one of the first Spanish accounts that calls for a compassionate and tolerant policy towards the natives of the Western Hemisphere," reports Morones.

Morones' edits to the manuscript will prepare it for digital publication on an interactive platform where scholars can closely examine Cabeza de Vaca's writing.

"I review the text line by line to catch any detail possibly forgotten during the original transcription," says Morones. "I also have to pay attention to any editorial deletions or additions, among other important conventions, to prepare it for electronic publication."

The Digital Library of Old Spanish Texts, launched in 2011, is the latest iteration of a decades-long project by HSMS to restore the integrity of original transcriptions and archive the Spanish-language texts. The collection is a free, electronic resource for students and scholars whose research intersects with these early Spanish narratives.

Morones' work is part of an independent study led by Sonia Kania, associate professor of Spanish. Kania is a major contributor to the Digital Library of Old Spanish Texts. She and co-editor Francisco Gago Jover, professor at College of the Holy Cross, produce corrected editions of colonial Spanish texts, which is a period under-represented in existing digital archives.

"I want to thank Dr. Kania for offering me this incredible opportunity and for the trust she has in me," says Morones. "I am extremely glad to be able to learn from her expertise."