Archivo General de Puerto Rico
by Micah Wright
Texas A&M University
The Archivo General de Puerto Rico falls under the auspices of the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture, a government institution tasked with preserving and disseminating knowledge of the island’s culture and history. The building, which also houses the National Library of Puerto Rico, is located at Avenida Ponce de León #500, in the Puerta de Tierra neighborhood of San Juan, across from Luis Mu᷉noz Rivera Park. Due to the island’s lengthy history, the archive’s collections span centuries and house documents of widely divergent provenance. Some of the more frequently consulted collections include: the Records of the Spanish Governors of Puerto Rico, the Records of the Department of State (especially the series dedicated to nonprofit organizations,) and the Robert Junghanns Collection (Colección Particular 25). The archive also boasts impressive collections of newspapers, photographs, and maps.
While no appointment is required, first time researchers must conduct an interview with an archivist before requesting documents. Though not technically a requirement, advance notice will ensure that this interview includes helpful guidance relative to your project. Given the volume of documents available and the sometimes vague finding guides which accompany them, graduate students will save valuable research time by working closely with an archivist. Researchers should be aware that the vast majority of the archives collections are not listed online. Depending on the nature and scope of the project, one should expect to spend up to a full day conducting the initial interview and referencing various finding guides before getting underway. In addition to the ability to read Spanish documents, researchers should have a basic proficiency in spoken Spanish. While the archivists show remarkable patience with nonnative speakers, not all members of the staff are fluent in English. Finally, researchers should be aware that although the reference room is open daily (except Sundays) documents are only pulled on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Thus, documents requested on a Friday will not be available until the following Tuesday.
The Archivo General provides all of the standard amenities befitting a major research center. Each reference table contains two power outlets, a lamp, and Ethernet connection. In addition, researchers are provided lockers capable of holding a full-size laptop bag and accessories. Scholars may use a digital camera, with or without a copy stand, though the archive requires that a permission form be filled out for each box of documents from which photographs are taken. The staff can also make copies of documents for a small fee.
Unfortunately, the archive’s location adjacent to the popular tourist areas of Old San Juan and Miramar (site of the convention center), makes finding inexpensive accommodations a challenge. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that most short-term rentals in San Juan are billed as vacation rentals with concomitant prices. For those on a budget, more realistic rates can be found in areas such as Río Piedras, though this will require a daily commute. San Juan does boast a fairly extensive public transit system, including buses and a commuter rail. There is a bus stop directly across the street from the archive, but potential riders should be aware that the bus routes sometimes change without prior warning, especially during the summer when rallies and outdoor events are common. For short trips, hotels in the area of Puerta de Tierra start at around $80 a night, depending on the season. For longer stays, researchers would do well to contact the University of Puerto Rico in Río Piedras, which can sometimes provide inexpensive short-term housing for visiting researchers (though a faculty sponsor is required.)