The Archives Collection, a Laboratory for the Future

By Segala, Amos | UNESCO Courier, May 1989 | Go to article overview

The Archives Collection, a Laboratory for the Future


Segala, Amos, UNESCO Courier


FIFTEEN years ago, the Guatemalan writer and poet Miguel Angel Asturias (1899-1974), winner of the 1967 Nobel Prize for Literature, donated his manuscripts and archives to the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, so that they could be preserved there and used in the preparation of an international edition of his work using modern methods of textual analysis and criticism.

The results have been highly instructive. In the first place, despite the expressed wish of the author, many of his manuscripts were not made available to the Bibliotheque Nationale, and other documents essential to the understanding of his work were dispersed and perhaps lost for ever. Secondly, where documentation was available, as in the case of the novels El senor presidente (The President, 1963) and Hombres de maiz (Men of Maize, 1975), methods of textual analysis have evolved so radically that the establishment of a critical edition led to a complete reassessment of the work.

We made sure that we had learned all we could from this initial experiment before recommending its extension to the works of other Latin American writers, and eventually to the literatures of other parts of the developing world.

At the World Conference on Cultural Policies organized by Unesco and held in Mexico City in 1982, Leopold Sedar Senghor called on Unesco member states to take international action for the preservation, evaluation and study of twentieth-century manuscripts. At the time, Mr. Senghor was president of ALLCA, the Latin American, Caribbean and African 20th-century Literary Archives Association, which had grown out of the Friends of Miguel Angel Asturias.

In 1983 and 1984 international meetings were held in several countries to discuss these issues. The gatherings were organized by the National Centre for Scientific Research and the Bibliotheque Nationale in France; by the Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerce (CNR) in Italy; and by the Instituto de Cultura e Lingua Portuguesa (ICALP) in Portugal. Specialists in philology, linguistics, history, Latin American literature and comparative literature took part in interdisciplinary workshops, and a "Multilateral Agreement on Archival Research and Co-Publications" was drafted and then signed in September 1984 at Buenos Aires Argentina) by four European countries-France, Italy, Portugal and Spain-and four Latin American countries-Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico. An international agreement

The aims of this Archives Agreement" are to promote:

I philological and linguistic analysis of texts on the basis of manuscript or published versions approved by the author, and the transcription and study of variants, i.e. the establishment of a reliable, authentic text and the history of its creation;

the compilation of dossiers on each author, his or her writings, and the problems they raise;

* textual and contextual analyses by critics from the same country or region as the author or from elsewhere;

* the systematic examination of texts from an international and interdisciplinary viewpoint; this approach is not intrinsically new but it is innovatory in the case of the Archives Agreement because of its scope and long-term nature.

As a result of the Archives Agreement, a number of literary works began to be published in a series known as the Archives Collection Coleccion Archivos") in several cities of Latin America. …

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