From the Ashes of History: Loss and Recovery of Archives and Libraries in Modern Latin America

From the Ashes of History: Loss and Recovery of Archives and Libraries in Modern Latin America

From the Ashes of History: Loss and Recovery of Archives and Libraries in Modern Latin America

From the Ashes of History: Loss and Recovery of Archives and Libraries in Modern Latin America

Synopsis

The formation, organization, and accessibility of archives and libraries are critical for the production of historical narratives. They contain the materials with which historians and others reconstruct past events. Archives and libraries, however, not only help produce history, but also have a history of their own. From the early colonial projects to the formation of nation states in Latin America, archives and libraries had been at the center of power struggles and conflicting ideas over patrimony and document preservation that demand historical scrutiny. Much of their collections have been lost on account of accidents or sheer negligence, but there are also cases of recovery and reconstruction that have opened new windows to the past. The essays in this volume explore several fascinating cases of destruction and recovery of archives and libraries and illuminate the ways in which those episodes help shape the writing of historical narratives and the making of collective memories.

Excerpt

Carlos Aguirre University of Oregon

Javier Villa-Flores University of Illinois at Chicago

Historical research depends on sources, written and otherwise. When confronted with a lack of evidence, historians usually refrain from pursuing a given topic and either look for other, better-documented historical issues to tackle, or try to approach the same topic from a different angle. Sources (or their absence), as we all know, shape our research projects in ways that are at times unpredictable but always important. But a “lack of sources” usually contains an interesting and quite important story in itself, since it is generally the result of specific power struggles that stem from political, social, cultural, and institutional tensions. Often the lack of historical evidence is the consequence of the partial or total destruction of archives and libraries due to the cumulative effect of negligence or shortsightedness on the part of the state or private institutions; the absence of effective official policies of record preservation; the prevalence of other economic priorities; or intentional acts of destruction by insurrectional movements, competing forces in internal and foreign wars, or social agents trying to cover up their crimes (such as military forces intentionally destroying records of human rights violations). Accidents and “natural” disasters are also to blame for the loss of valuable archival and library collections. in recognition of the real possibility of confronting tragic losses, there is an ongoing effort by various academic institutions and collaborative groups to digitally preserve what remains of endangered ar-

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