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encourages greater interaction with repositories including libraries, museums, and archives and materials such as historical documents, newspapers, paper ephemera, music and audio recordings, and photography.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.
Gallica, the digital library of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, was launched in 1997. The library contains almost five million documents (manuscripts, books, journals, newspapers, maps, iconographic documents, and recordings), many of which are connected to Latin America, offering rich perspectives on the relationships between France and Latin American countries across the centuries. The many travel narratives, testimonies, essays, photographs, and maps available provide rich insight into French perception of Latin America from the early 16th century to the mid-20th century. Although Gallica’s collection of manuscripts on Latin America is not plentiful, one of its main goals is to provide easy access to rare French books printed centuries ago, of which not many copies are available today and which are rarely present in other digital libraries. The richest collection is probably on Brazil, since Gallica has organized a special collection titled “France-Brésil” which provides access to the rich personal collection of books and manuscripts of the first French historian of Brazil, Ferdinand Denis (1798–1890), among other treasures. Gallica has undeniable value for researchers specialized in Latin American history, although working on its collections requires at least reading proficiency in French as the vast majority of the accessible resources are in French.