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By Georges Baudot

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By Georges Baudot

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1 This point must be emphasized in order to understand the origins of the actions that produced the chronicles. However, the works were not done entirely by one person and could not be so, because of their very purpose. The long preparatory investigations, the production of information, and the interpretation of data presupposed an infrastructure, or, if one prefers, preexisting, or at least concurrent, intellectual and material sources and materials. Without the Colegio (School) of Santa Cruz of Tlatelolco, the chronicles about Mexican civilization would never have seen the light of day, or would have remained as technical memoranda passed on by word of mouth.

What better means to achieve fame and impress the imperial court, the dispenser of rewards, the source of privileges expected from such outstanding enterprises? However, the Cartas de RelaciĆ³n and similar accounts should not be confused with the ingratiating reminiscences that were presented by the conquerors to support their numerous petitions and which are of little interest for our purposes. 6 The Cartas de RelaciĆ³n give us the first ethnographic data about pre-Hispanic civilization. It is natural to find in accounts of this kind a detailed geographic description of the terrain, due to an interest in future tributes.

It was not that they converted history into fables, something that rarely occurs, but that their writings almost necessarily contained some ethnographic information, which must be considered, although at times it was secondhand, because it derived from or followed what the missionaries were gathering and recording. On the other hand, we can hardly imagine that the complex works to which the missionaries devoted themselves were developed only to satisfy the administrative needs of the Council of the Indies or of the viceroy, or only as an obeisance to an intellectual cult, however justified that might have been.

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