Among the holdings of the Benson Latin American Collection, the Relaciones Geográficas collection is consistently a major attraction for visiting scholars. Documents within the Relaciones Geográficas collection have dates ranging from 1578 to 1586 and serve as primary sources of information about the Spanish conquest of Middle America. The documents comprising the Relaciones Geográficas are original responses to a questionnaire initiated by the Spanish Crown in 1577, requesting information about Spanish held territories in the Americas. There were 191 responses to this questionnaire, of which the present location of 167 are known, including the 43 held by the Benson Latin American Collection. Information requested in these questionnaires covered such topics as; population demographics, political jurisdictions, language(s) spoken, physical terrain, and native vegetation. The other known existing Relaciones Geográficas are held by the Archivo General de Indias, Seville and the Real Academia de la Historia, Madrid.
The images from the collection which are available through this Internet site include the text of the Relaciones Geográficas request letter and 11 maps which were submitted in response to this inquiry. Comprehensive background information pertaining to the Relaciones Geográficas can be found in the "Handbook of Middle American Indians, Volume 12: Guide to Ethnohistorical Sources, Part 1." Robert Wauchope-General Editor, Howard F. Cline-Volume Editor. University of Texas Press: Austin, TX. 1972. ISBN 0-292-70152-7. An in depth study of the origins of the Relaciones Geográficas can be found in the book "The Mapping of New Spain: Indigenous Cartography and the Maps of the Relaciones Geográficas." Barbara E. Mundy. University of Chicago Press: Chicago, IL. 1996. ISBN 0-226-55096-6.