The First Modern Statistical Analysis of Mexico & the Southwest

Pristine Manuscript 1804

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186. HUMBOLDT, Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Alexander. “Tablas geografico-politicas del Reyno de la N. Espa. Que manifiestan su superficie, poblacion, agricultura, frabricas, comercio, minas, rentas y fuerza militar. Por El Baron de Humboldt Presentadas al Sor Virrey del mismo reyno. En el año de 1804.” [112] leaves written in ink on both sides on paper watermarked Elias. 8vo (22 x 16 cm), original plain self wrappers, stitched. Ink highlighted in silver. Dated at end Mexico, 16 July 1804. Pristine in a highly legible professional scribal hand. A very fine, early copy of the entire work.

     The “Tablas” were not completely published completely until 1970 (Miguel S. Wionczek & Enrique Florescano, editors, Tablas Geográficas Políticas del Reino de Nueva España y Correspondencia Mexicana, Edición de Homenaje, México: Dirección General de Estadística, 1970). Previously, the "Tablas" existed only in partially printed versions or in manuscript copies, such as this one. The earliest publication in any form was in vol. 4 of El Diario de México (1-31 May 1807), wherein appeared the sections on superficie and población. Publication was probably stopped by the Viceroy because of security concerns. The first book publication was Tablas geográficas políticas (Mexico: Ontiveros, 1822). See also: Fiedler & Leitner, Alexander von Humboldts Schriften 4.6.9 (pp. 209-21l). Electra & Tonatiuh Gutiérrez, Tablas geograficos politicas de Nueva España (Mexico: Privately published 1986, facsimile with notes), and the edition of Humboldt’s Tablas edited and with notes by José G. Morena de Alba, Tablas geográfico políticas del Reino de Nueva España (Mexico: Instituto de Investigaciones Bibliográficas, 1993).

     After Humboldt compiled his statistical tables, he took his original manuscript back to Europe with him but presented a manuscript copy on 3 January 1804 to Viceroy de Iturrigaray before his departure. Apparently from that copy other copies such as this were made, and several others are known (Sutro, Biblioteca Nacional of Mexico, Bancroft [3 copies], Clements Library, Yale, Private, and Tulane), dated variously between 1804, the end of the decade, and even later. Some are only partial transcriptions of the entire document. A French “Extrait” is located in the Library of Congress.

     Humboldt apparently used his manuscript for various purposes, including as an organizational tool or aide-mémoire for his own larger work, as a promotional tool, and as a personal pedagogical method whereby he could receive corrections and emendations to his work. Despite the overarching, magisterial work that resulted from Humboldt’s research, these tablas reflect the grinding, statistical underpinnings that formed the basis of his vision. The present work is divided into several sections, the first of which is “Poblacion de la N.E”, which covers 48 pages. That is followed by a section entitled “Ciudades y villas pr[incip]ales [de] México,” which covers 22 pages. After that come smaller chapters covering such matters as manufacturing, tithes, taxes, mining, and military strength. It discusses physical geography, agriculture, industry, and Native American populations. Of special Southwest interest are contemporary statistics and conditions for California, New Mexico, and Texas.

     Taken as a whole, this is the first modern statistical analysis of Mexico and the Southwest and was of considerable contemporary interest, as its repeated copying attests. Despite its importance in the overall structuring of Humboldt’s writings on New Spain, that it was not published in extenso until well into the twentieth century is an historical irony. This is the earliest manifestation in any form of the great work that Humboldt would eventually publish. Two excellent recent works in English on Humboldt are Laura Dassow Walls, The Passage to Cosmos: Alexander von Humboldt and the Shaping of America (Chicago & London: University Press, 2009), and Aaron Sachs, The Humboldt Current: Nineteenth-Century Exploration and the Roots of American Environmentalism (New York & London: Viking, 2006). See next entry for more on Humboldt and the first edition of Humboldt’s Essai politique sur le royaume de la Nouvelle-Espagne.


Sold. Hammer: $5,000.00; Price Realized: $6,125.00

Auction 23 Abstracts

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