Reading Primary Sources

One of the primary sources I have found for my paper is a document detailing the decrepit state of several Dominican missions at the beginning of the 19th century. It was written by Father Roman Lopez, the President for the Dominican missions in Baja California. It was written in December of 1808 and intended for the vicar general for the Order of Preachers–Father Alexander Fernandez. The main purpose of the letter is an argument for the Presidente of the Dominicans to be allowed a greater allowance so he can fix the current state of the missions.

To go about reading this source, I read it over once, just to take it in and get a general idea of the purpose of the document. Then, I went back over it, highlighting the important parts and taking in more details. I also tried to understand and pay extra attention to the parts I found confusing the first time around. For example, for this document, at first, it seemed like someone else was writing on behalf of the president,  because of the way it is introduced. However, upon reading it and the introduction to the document more closely, I realized, the author was separating himself and his office itself at the beginning of the document, arguing for why the office needed more money, not necessarily himself.

The next step to reading a source is evaluating the possible bias behind it. For this, I looked at the author of the document and thought about his purpose and goal for writing the letter. Because Lopez is asking for money for himself and the missions he is in charge of, it is possible and even likely that he would exaggerate how bad the state of the missions are, in order to achieve his goal of receiving a larger allowance for his office.

The last step is to think about how I might be able to use this source in my paper. So, I needed to think about the limitations as well as the strengths that come from this document. As it is coming for someone asking for money for their own benefit, this limits how much weight can be placed on his words. While I wouldn’t discount them completely, it is important to recognize that I shouldn’t take this lone document as exact proof that every Dominican mission was falling apart. However, he does make it a point to mention other missions that are better off, giving him credibility that he isn’t just looking for a pay raise but is generally trying to help these worse off missions that are in desperate need of repair. Also, while this document doesn’t generally focus on art, it does make a small mention of a mission owning paintings. However, I intend to use it as a helping guide in my comparison between the orders (Franciscan, Dominican, and Jesuit). I’m wondering if there is any monetary or economic connection that can be seen with access to resources in each order and how that could’ve affected their administration of and reliance on art.


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