The fire that devastated Brazil’s National Museum in September 2018 destroyed a vast trove of cultural and scientific treasures on an almost unimaginable scale. The catastrophe in Rio de Janeiro triggered questions around the world: How could this have happened? What is the scope of the loss? How can we better protect irreplaceable cultural and historical heritage?
These questions are both urgent and well known to the stewards of museums and libraries—protectors of collections large and small. For most of the past decade, LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections at The University of Texas at Austin has partnered with Latin American organizations that house vulnerable archival collections to seek collaborative solutions to these questions.
Through the practice of “post-custodial archiving,” LLILAS Benson has established relationships with partner organizations in the region, sharing expertise and resources to support local goals of preservation and improved access to vulnerable archival materials via digitization. Thus, the archives remain in their home, in the communities that created them, and they are digitized and described so that they can be shared via open-access sites available for viewing by anyone with access to a computer.
LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections recently was awarded a grant of $700,000 from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation that will fund work with Latin American partner organizations, supporting their ability to preserve and provide access to vulnerable archives in situ, without removing them from their original context of creation.
In addition, LLILAS Benson’s project, “Cultivating a Latin American Post-Custodial Archival Community,” will support the institutionalization of post-custodial archival praxis at LLILAS Benson and the University of Texas Libraries. This expansion of the university’s capacity in the area of digital humanities has global impact and will facilitate preservation, access, teaching, and research in ways that serve the scholarly research community worldwide, as well as individuals and communities working to protect and support cultural agency, social justice and human rights.
The grant will allow LLILAS Benson to continue to develop and deepen work collaborations with a network of Latin American partner organizations, including:*
- Archivo Judicial del Estado de Puebla and Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla (Puebla, Mexico);
- Centro de Investigaciones Regionales de Mesoamérica (CIRMA, Antigua, Guatemala);
- Equipe de Articulação e Assessoria às Comunidades Negras do Vale do Ribeira (EAACONE) and Instituto Socioambiental (ISA) (Eldorado, Brazil);
- Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen (MUPI, San Salvador, El Salvador);
- Proceso de Comunidades Negras (PCN, Buenaventura, Colombia); and
- Centro de la Memoria Monseñor Gerardi de la Oficina de Derechos Humanos del Arzobispado de Guatemala (ODHAG, Guatemala City, Guatemala).
These partnerships are rooted in a shared commitment to the preservation of and access to vulnerable Latin American archival collections. The current partners were identified by UT faculty members and doctoral students who had developed close research and working relationships with these organizations over time, as well as through an earlier Mellon planning grant received in 2014. The current grant will be overseen by principal investigator Virginia Garrard, director of LLILAS Benson and professor of history and religious studies; and managed by members of the LLILAS Benson Digital Initiatives team, including Latin American Metadata Librarian Itza Carbajal; Digital Processing Archivist David Bliss; Digital Scholarship Coordinator Albert Palacios; and Head of Digital Initiatives Theresa Polk.
“The Mellon award brings together perfectly the synergies of digital scholarship, collaborative archiving, and the strong, horizontal relationships with our partners that makes LLILAS Benson’s innovative partnerships in post-custodial archiving possible,” Garrard said.
For more information, please contact Susanna Sharpe.
*English-language names of partner institutions are as follows: Judicial Archive of the State of Puebla and Benemérita Autonomous University of Puebla (Puebla, Mexico); Center for Mesoamerican Regional Research (CIRMA, Antigua, Guatemala); Team for Articulation and Assessment of Black Communities of the Ribeira Valley (EAACONE) and Socioenvironmental Institute (ISA) (Eldorado, Brazil); Museum of the Word and the Image (MUPI, San Salvador, El Salvador); Process of Black Communities (PCN, Buenaventura, Colombia); and Monseñor Gerardi Center of Memory of the Human Rights Office of the Archbishop of Guatemala (ODHAG, Guatemala City, Guatemala).