Anne Pérotin-Dumon and Manuel Gárate
Historizar el pasado vivo en América Latina (Historicizing the living past in Latin America) is an edited digital publication composed of thirty-four studies. Available online since 2006, it was the first extensive effort to examine the region’s new contemporary history after the return to democratic rule following dictatorships or internal armed conflicts. Historizar el pasado vivo en América Latina remains to this day the most systematic undertaking in Spanish and digital format to explore this historia reciente (or historia del tiempo presente)—“addressing recent events that remain in the memories of many, by historians that lived through them, in a time in which their dramatic character has made them an enduring moral problem for the national conscience.” More broadly, the publication aims to convey to professional historians and Latin Americanists in other disciplines the breadth and quality of this exciting intellectual development.
The editor’s substantial introduction, “Verdad y memoria: escribir la historia de nuestro tiempo,” analyzes the central issue of Latin America’s historia reciente (viz., to develop a historical critique close to events that have often affected historians themselves); its distinctively Latin American character (viz., as history written in an age framed by a culture of human rights); and how this work compares to European precedents (viz., as an interdisciplinary field drawing from the testimony of witnesses—oral history—but with more problematic access to archival collections).
This digital publication has a geographic focus on Argentina, Chile, and Peru but also presents various genres of history writing and retains a balance between case studies, more conceptual pieces, review essays, etc. A digital format is particularly apt for the publication’s most likely users—Latin American and Spanish faculty, teachers, and students drawn to the field of recent history or already working in it. A final section of the article assesses the contribution of Historizar el pasado vivo en América Latina to the field and surveys related online materials that have appeared since 2006.
Danielle B. Barefoot
The 21st century brought with it a mass digitization of archival materials that rapidly changed preservation, research, and pedagogy practices. Chilean digital databases, archives, and humanities projects have grown steadily since the late 1990s. These resources developed with the central goals of democratizing access to sources and removing obstructive barriers including accessibility and physical distance. Remote access capabilities coupled with open access of collections encourages greater interaction with repositories including libraries, museums, and archives and materials such as historical documents, newspapers, paper ephemera, music and audio recordings, and photography.
While not exhaustive, these sites demonstrate the extensive range of digitized sources available that span from the pre-Columbian through modern periods. Researchers, teachers, and students seeking primary sources will find a multitude of themes including indigenous peoples, culture, science and technology, history, politics, environment, and human rights. Some sites, such as Memoria Chilena and the National Security Archive, feature a fully digitized collection with articles and downloadable PDF material. Others, such as Museo de la Memoria y Derechos Humanos, and the Biblioteca Nacional Digital, have non-digitized holdings that call for an in-person visit. Lastly, the Dirección de Bibliotecas Archivos y Museos and Biblioteca Digital del Patrimonio Iberoamericano serve as digital source aggregates that collect and allow users to search across affiliated sites. Aggregation is the newest step in the digital revolution. This newer process permits the archiving of entire archives, which will transform how scholars understand source collection, non-immersive “fieldwork,” and research methodologies.
Digital resources drastically improve the accessibility of sources concerning Chile. At the individual level, user skill may affect the browsing experience, especially when searching for sources. Many digital resources allow for truncated and Boolean logic queries. Users can customize their browsing experience by implementing these tools to expand or narrow the search. At the website level, these resources incorporate open access coupled with universal design practices to democratize the individual browsing experience. Open access allows users to access content free of charge. Universal design ensures access equity through coding and website design. However, in terms of accessibility, room for improvement exists. Users employing screen readers and captioning technologies will have vastly different experiences within each of these resources based on the device and software utilized. Organizations who have undertaken the digitization process must ensure they continue cultivating equitable digital spaces that all users may enjoy.
Matthew Butler and David A. Bliss
The Hijuelas project is a multi-domain international collaboration that makes available in digital form a large and valuable source on nineteenth-century indigenous history––the so-called libros de hijuelas or deed books recording the statewide privatization of indigenous lands in Michoacán, Mexico. These deed books, 194 in total, have been digitized and described over a two-year period by a team of History students from Michoacán’s state university, the Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolás Hidalgo (UMSNH), trained by and working under the supervision of archivists of the Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies-Benson Latin American Collection of (LLILAS Benson) of the University of Texas at Austin. Additional logistical support has been provided by the Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social (CIESAS) as a partner institution in Mexico of the University of Texas at Austin and by the state government of Michoacán via the Archivo General e Histórico del Poder Ejecutivo de Michoacán (AGHPEM), which is custodian of the hijuelas books. The project was generously funded by the British Library through its Endangered Archives Programme (EAP 931, “Conserving Indigenous Memories of Land Privatization in Mexico: Michoacán’s Libros de Hijuelas, 1719–1929”).
The project seeks to be innovative in two ways. As a post-custodial archiving project, first and foremost, it uses digital methods to make easily accessible to historians, anthropologists, and indigenous communities the only consolidated state-level record of the land privatizations (reparto de tierras) affecting Mexican indigenous communities in the 19th century. It therefore projects digitally a key source for historians and one that possesses clear identitarian and agrarian importance for indigenous communities. It also makes widely available a source that is becoming physically unstable and inaccessible because of the difficult public security conditions affecting Michoacán. As a collaboration involving diverse institutional actors, furthermore, the project brings together institutions from three different countries and is an example of what may be achieved through equitable international collaborations.
The early 19th century was a period of intense turmoil and chaos in the Spanish-speaking world: The Napoleonic Wars and French occupation of the Peninsula in the 1800s, independence movements in the Americas, the liberal constitution of Cádiz, Napoleon’s defeat, and the reinstallation of the Bourbons in the 1810s, and finally, the second constitutional period, the iron fist of restoration, and the eventual loss of most American possessions between 1821 and 1825. The least affected areas in the midst of this turmoil were the loyalist islands of Cuba and Puerto Rico, metaphorically the “eye of the hurricane.” It is within this context that a corpus of some dozen letters, preserved in the Spanish National Archive, were written. They were produced in the circum-Caribbean region—most in Puerto Rico—and addressed mainly to relatives and business partners on the other side of the Atlantic. The letters in question were archived without accompanying documentation, probably seized by authorities loyal to the restoration of the Ancien Régime. As a central element, this digital resource—“En el Ojo del Huracán”—displays these primary sources in an online presentation.
Beyond the historiographic value of the sources, the project explores the differences between traditional and digital edition standards (TEI) for digital letter editions with the aim of showcasing the benefits of implementing the digital paradigm and for different visualizations, functionalities, analysis and incorporation in larger infrastructures.
Celeste González de Bustamante and Verónica Reyes-Escudero
The Documented Border: An Open Access Digital Archive combines creative and research strategies to contribute to the digital humanities. Officially launched in October 2014, the project advances understanding about the borderlands between the United States and Mexico and their peoples during a period of unprecedented change. As a repository and interactive tool, the open-access archive is useful for faculty and student research, journalists, and the community at large.
Currently, the archive divides into two parts. The first part focuses on journalists and human rights activists, and it includes the oral histories of journalists who cover northern Mexico from both sides of the border and human rights activists who are working to improve freedom of expression in Mexico. More than a hundred journalists in Mexico have been murdered since 2000. The oral histories help to illuminate the complex environment in which journalists must work as they negotiate between political and economic forces and the need to inform the public. The second part of the archive features the inner workings of US immigration policies through the documentation (artists’ illustrations) of Operation Streamline, a “streamlined” federal-court proceeding in which a judge determines the status of migrants who are detained by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.
A unique aspect of the Documented Border is its living-archive status. As archives in general struggle to close the gap in the representation of underrepresented communities in the historical record, the Documented Border Digital Archive has gotten in front of current research and primary-source documentation. The archive not only presents the documentation being created by interdisciplinary researchers in digital form but also donates it to the institution to ensure long-term preservation and access. The project forms part of the Borderlands Collection of the University of Arizona Libraries Special Collections.
Digital Resources: Power of Attorney, A Digital Spatial History of Indigenous Legal Culture in Colonial Oaxaca, Mexico
“Power of Attorney in Oaxaca, Mexico: Native People, Legal Culture, and Social Networks” is an ongoing digital research project that constructs a geography of indigenous legal culture through digital maps and visualizations. The
“Power of Attorney in Oaxaca, Mexico: Native People, Legal Culture, and Social Networks” is an ongoing digital research project that constructs a geography of indigenous legal culture through digital maps and visualizations. The Power of Attorney (
The multiscalar narrative of the Power of Attorney project speaks to multiple audiences, and the digital multimedia format allows visitors to further tailor their interactions with information. The site operates on many levels. It provides maps and visualizations based on original research, data culled from primary sources that can be used as a research tool, historical and geographical background information, information about how to read letters of attorney, and microhistorical narratives of power of attorney relationships. For undergraduates learning about the relationship between Spanish administration and pueblos de indios, the maps and visualizations provide an at-a-glance overview of the spatial and social connections among Indian towns, ecclesiastical and viceregal courts, and the court of the king in Madrid from the perspective of an indigenous region rather than a top-down perspective. Graduate students and scholars interested in the production of notarial records in native jurisdictions, social history and ethnohistorical methodology and the relationship between local and transatlantic processes can explore the maps, visualizations, and data in greater detail. An educated general audience interested in the history of Oaxaca’s native peoples can find a general introduction to the region, its history and geography, and the long-standing relationship between Mexico’s native people and the law.
This research project investigates women’s involvement in the struggles to achieve political independence in Spanish America and Brazil during the first half of the 19th century. The project is hosted at the University of Nottingham, Department of Spanish, Portuguese, and Latin American Studies, School of Cultures, Languages, and Area Studies; it was funded by the University of Nottingham and the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) between 2001 and 2014. The online searchable database was a core output of the first of these AHRC-funded projects (2001–2006): “Gendering Latin American Independence: Women’s Political Culture and the Textual Construction of Gender 1790–1850.” It was enhanced in stages with an AHRC Pilot Dissemination Award (2006–2007) and Follow-on Funding (2012) for the crowd-sourcing project “
The aim of the follow-on-funding awards was to stimulate widespread public debate, preferably in collaboration with partners (national and international). This was of particular importance with respect to the involvement of Latin American women in the independence wars against Spain and Portugal, an aspect of women’s history that had been much neglected. Since 2006, a lively public debate has emerged about women’s involvement in the wars of independence, especially in Latin America. The debate has focused on women’s exclusion from mainstream nationalist historiography and their problematic position in postindependence politics and public culture. The unprecedented surge of interest in women’s history and the founding discourses of the Spanish American republics has been triggered by the bicentenary celebrations of Spanish American political independence, which began in 2010 and will continue into the 2020s, and the recent rise to political prominence of women in Latin America (women presidents in Brazil, Costa Rica, Chile, and Argentina).
The research project of 2001–2006 focused more specifically on the constructions of gender categories in the culture of the independence period and the impact of war and conflict on women’s lives, social relationships, and cultural production. The research emphasized the significance of women in the independence process and explored the reasons for their subsequent exclusion from political culture until recently. Independence was examined in terms of gender: (a) the study of women’s political culture, (b) women’s activities and writings, and (c) the textual construction of gender in political discourse. Questions were posed: Did the wars of independence change traditional ways of thinking about women, and change women’s views of themselves? How was the category “woman” produced historically and politically in Spanish America at the time? In what ways were those identified as women constructed ambiguously as subjects and objects in political discourse? What were women’s responses to the republican discourse of individual rights that equated individuality with masculinity? Why, after political independence, were political rights still denied to over half the population according to the criterion of sexual difference?
Barbara E. Mundy and Dana Leibsohn
Across the last 25 years, digital projects on the visual culture of Latin America have begun to shape, ever more fundamentally, both research and teaching environments. To be sure, books and journal essays remain the dominant mode of publishing (and significantly so), but digital projects—made possible in part because of increasingly accessible databases and less expensive editing platforms—are becoming widely recognized as key elements in the visual and intellectual landscape. The visual culture of Spanish America (also known as colonial visual culture or viceregal visual culture) extends across three centuries, dating from roughly 1520 to 1820. Yet its history, which embraces both the physical traces of everyday life and ephemeral experiences, is arguably the least familiar of Latin America’s artistic and material legacies, especially outside Latin American Studies. Nonetheless, the period has inspired a suite of projects that, considered together, highlight the current potentials (and limits) of digital work, provide useful models for future research, and open onto debates relevant across the digital humanities (as they are currently called).
If this is the basic landscape, then what are the important issues when it comes to the intersections of digital technologies and colonial visual culture? This question is considered here along three avenues. First, what can be achieved with existing software, particularly imaging software, and the inherent epistemological assumptions imbedded in software commonly used? This topic receives the most attention because future research depends so heavily upon our perceptions and understandings of present technological capabilities. The second theme considered is accessibility. Given that institution-driven projects, most often online ventures sponsored by a museum or a library, have opened certain collections to an online public, what are the implications of the accessibility they offer, and how might such databases shape the parameters of research—both in the data they provide and in the kinds of questions their technologies make it possible to pose and answer? Finally, consideration is given to the possibilities and potentials for collaboration that the online environment offers in the study of visual culture of Latin America.
To set a framework for discussion, this article begins with a broad view, “The Object(s) of Visual Culture,” and then turns to examples of scholar-driven projects currently online. Typically, these are generated by scholars working at universities and dependent upon both internal and external funding. The sections “Seeing Images, Knowing Landscapes” and “Epistemological Assumptions” not only describe examples, but also explore the modes of interpretation that digital environments enable and the habits of viewing that are produced as a result. Because scholar-driven projects do not exist in isolation, the article turns to institution-driven projects, represented primarily by digitized museum collections and archives, which have become central components of the research environment. Many projects in this vein are well-described elsewhere—our focus therefore rests on the effects on the larger research landscape, in a section called “Accessibility, Canonicity, Finance.” Lastly, issues related to collaboration are dealt with, in order to both address ideas that are being explored through digital work in other fields, but which have not yet surfaced with much force in the field of colonial visual culture, and to ask why.
María C. Gaztambide
Documents of 20th-century Latin American and Latino Art: A Digital Archive and Publications Project is a multiyear initiative at the International Center for the Arts of the Americas (ICAA) of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston that seeks to consolidate Latin American and Latino art as a field of study and to place it on equal footing with other established aesthetic traditions. It encompasses the recovery, translation into English, and publication of primary texts by Latin American and Latino artists, critics, and curators who have played a fundamental role in the development of modern and contemporary art in countries or communities throughout the Americas. The ICAA makes these essential bibliographic materials available free of charge through a digital archive and a series of fully annotated book anthologies published in English. It is facilitating new historical scholarship on 20th-century Latin American and Latino art through a framework of thirteen open-ended editorial categories that center on thematic rather than more traditional chronological guidelines. This approach broadens the discourse on the modern and contemporary art produced along this cultural axis. A discussion and contextualization of a selection of recovered documents that relate to the editorial category of “Resisting Categories: Latin American and/or Latino?” supports this central argument. These and other little-known or previously inaccessible primary source and critical materials will ultimately encourage interdisciplinary and transnational (re)readings of how aesthetics, social issues, and artistic tendencies have been contested and developed in the region.