With the conclusion of the War of the Spanish Succession by the Treaty of Utrecht (1713), Spain began a broad programme of political and administrative reform. From France what is known as the “spirit of Enlightenment” or simply “the Enlightenment” stimulated Spain with its familiar notions of critical thinking, rationalism, the denial of revealed truth, philosophical optimism, scientific inquiry and the search for material and cultural progress. The concept of Critical History, based upon reliable sources, meant that archives were of especial interest to those associated with the Enlightenment and the new dynasty. Consequently, provision for preserving archives increased substantially during the 18th century.
Such measures also had an impact upon the long-established Royal Archives of Barcelona, founded in 1318, which were subject to fresh regulations in 1738 and again in 1754. Their official title was changed to Archives of the Crown of Aragon, a term that had been in use since the late 17th century and the name by which the collection is known today. In 1740, Francisco Javier de Garma y Durán, author of several learned works and a member of Barcelona’s Royal Academy of Letters, was appointed as archivist. Garma introduced various reforms including, in 1766, the transfer of the archives to new premises within the building of the ”Diputación del General”. From this moment on, the Archives of the Crown of Aragon became known among learned scholars throughout Europe for the intrinsic value of its collections. Antonio de Capmany, a renowned historian of the period wrote in 1792 that it was “the most outstanding archive in all Europe on account of its long history, importance, state of conservation, richness and diversity of resources and the sheer number and variety of nations for which it has direct relevance.”
Such projects of enlightened reform reached their peak between 1814 and 1849 under the aegis of Próspero de Bofarull y Mascaró. His contribution was a turning point in the Centre’s history. Bofarull transformed the Archives of the Crown of Aragon into both a resource for modern historical research and a cultural centre. He was faced with an immense task; he implemented important measures regarding the safe keeping, conservation and restoration of the archival material; he was responsible for advances in classification and cataloguing; he drew up model inventories. Lastly, he restored and carried out the binding of thousands of volumes and files.
In 1844, preparations began on the Archives of the Crown of Aragon’s Collection of Unpublished Documents. Previous to this, Bofarull had proposed such a project in 1821 to the Parliament in its capacity as guardian of the sovereignty of the nation. A royal decree dated 28 March 1846 ordered “a series of publications that will reveal how very many documents worthy of wider dissemination are held within the archive. This important task will be entrusted to V.S. [that is to say Bofarull] as the person best fitted to direct and bring such a project to a successful conclusion.” A mere one year later he presented the original of the first volume. He decided to begin with the Compromise of Caspe, which was very much an issue of the moment. This historical compromise had resolved the issue of the succession to the throne of Aragon following the interregnum of 1410-1412. The second Carlist war broke out in 1846 and this same question of succession was Spain’s most significant political issue in the mid-19th century. Próspero de Bofarull managed to publish 17 further volumes of this Collection or CODOIN, which became a veritable historical monument to European scholarship. Borafull’s work was continued by his son Manuel and the Collection reached its 40th volume in 1876. The most recent volume, which bears the reference LII, dates from 2003.