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 “Women and Independence in Latin America: A New Multimedia Community–Contributed, Community-Driven Online Resource” in collaboration with the Horizon Digital Economy Institute, University of Nottingham.
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.
The John D. Wheelan Collection primarily contains photographs taken along the Texas-Mexico border in the areas of El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez, México. The processed collection, housed at Texas A&M University’s Cushing Memorial Library and Archives, comprises nearly 700 photographs documenting the Mexican Revolution and the war’s spillover into the United States, during a span of 1912 to 1919. Other portions of the image collection document American soldiers stationed in New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming. The images have been digitized as JP2 files and can be viewed at the library’s institutional repository as well as downloaded. While most of the photographs derive from the film stock shot for The Life of General Villa, there are also portraits, scenes of daily life, and landscapes produced by El Paso studio photographers, photo postcards, and postcards. With the exception of some postcards, nearly all the images are black and white. The photos themselves vary in their measurements, though 3.5" x 5" and 5" x 7" predominate; each image’s dimensions is included in the accompanying metadata found in the repository.
John Wheelan, already active in the fledging Texan motion picture industry, was one of numerous reporters and photographers who covered the Mexican Revolution. He probably arrived in northern Mexico early in the winter of 1913–1914, when General Francisco “Pancho” Villa held Ciudad Juárez. Villa was considered the most able military commander among the Constitutionalists, a loose coalition of revolutionaries against General Victoriano Huerta’s provisional government. In February 1913, Huerta had conspired in the overthrow of the constitutionally elected government of President Francisco Madero. Villa, an ardent supporter of Madero, was one of several leaders in northern Mexico who were fighting for both the restoration of constitutional government and revolutionary agrarian land reforms.
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.
Fabián Herrera León
Historical research on the phenomena of the multilateral interaction and transnationalization of institutional structures and norms centered on the international organisms of the interwar period, with the League of Nations as the central axis, have benefited enormously from the creation and development of several digital resources in first decades of the 21st century. One challenge for this period involves efforts to reconstruct the trajectories, collaboration, and interaction of Latin American members in relation to those international organizations, but these have been increasingly favored by these resources because of the information they concentrate or make available, and because they combat the omissions and imperceptibility to which this region has often been subjected. International histories centered on Geneva that radiate out toward Latin America could represent a new area of development for websites that specialize in consolidating such digital resources as the United Nations Office at Geneva (library and archives), the League of Nations Photo Archive, the League of Nations Search Engine (LONSEA), and the History of the League of Nations.
Researchers in major Mexico City archives in the early 1970s had access to very few finding aids for historical documents and record sets. Since then, archivists and researchers have worked diligently to organize record sets and create catalogues for an untold number of documents. Since the early twenty-first century, researchers in the Archivo General de la Nación, the Archivo Histórico de la Ciudad de México, the Archivo Histórico del Arzobispado de México, the Archivo Histórico de la Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional, and the Archivo General de Notarías have been able to access databases, searchable PDF catalogues, and a small array of digital collections.
Work toward inventorying and cataloguing record sets began long before the development of technologies available today. Typescript catalogues for record sets in the Archivo Histórico de la Ciudad de México date from the 1920s. Work on inventories, card catalogues, typescripts, and published catalogues for record sets in the Archivo General de la Nación and the Archivo Histórico de la Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional began during the 1930s and 1940s. Work on cataloguing the documents in the Archivo General de Notarías and the Archivo Histórico del Arzobispado de México began during the 1980s and 1990s. Since the early twenty-first century researchers have been able to access databases, searchable PDF catalogues, and a limited number of digitized documents for all these major archives.
New technologies began to make digitization possible, and thus Mexican libraries, along with archives, began to digitize primary and secondary sources. Some of those projects involve digitizing microfilm; others involve digitizing complete record sets and printed books. Still others involve transcriptions of historical documents. While the scope and quality of those projects vary from institution to institution, all create heretofore unimaginable access to historical documents.
Between 1942 and 1964 millions of Mexicans came to the United States as guest workers, authorized by a set of bilateral agreements. Beginning in late 2005, a coalition of academic scholars and public historians from Brown University’s Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America, the Institute of Oral History at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History (NMAH), and the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media (RRCHNM) at George Mason University came together to launch an effort to gather the stories of those workers. This unprecedented project resulted in the collection of oral histories, documents, and images over the course of five years. It involved not only scholars but also a host of local community groups that enabled the partners to surface previously hidden materials that were unlikely to make it into traditional archival collections. The collection and dissemination process was facilitated by the creation of the , an open-access website that allowed the project partners to simultaneously build the collections from widely dispersed locations as they worked to document the lives and experiences of those workers.
The Bracero History Archive serves as the primary repository for the stories, documents, and artifacts associated with the migrant laborers from Mexico who came to the United States under the auspices of the more than 4.6 million contracts issued during the years of the Mexican Farm Labor Program. As such, it is an important complement to the established scholarship on the program. At the same time, the site serves as a model of how to undertake and complete a distributed collecting project that builds upon important community relationships. This combination of scholarly value and methodological innovation was essential to ensuring the funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities Division of Preservation and Access that made the project possible. In recent years, the project has proven important for contemporary work on the Mexican Farm Labor Program, and it has contributed to enhancing our understanding of migration, citizenship, nationalism, agriculture, labor practices, race relations, gender, sexuality, the family, visual culture, and the Cold War era.
Mesoamerica is a culture zone that stretches geographically from approximately north-central Mexico into the northwestern half of Central America. Human occupation of this region dates back thousands of years. The end of the Post-Classic Period (c. 1519) is marked by the invasion of the region by Europeans, who were looking to extract goods, services, and taxes from the Mesoamerican peoples. Spanish occupation stretched into the early 19th century. Neocolonial Mesoamerica, of the 19th and 20th centuries, came to experience increasing influences from the United States, Britain, Germany, and other external powers. The past two centuries have also been marked by a continuing local control by a minority, Euro-originating elite over a majority, indigenous population, even as what we once knew as Mesoamerica faded from view. The division between these ethnicities has grown somewhat less clear as a result of the increasing mixed-heritage mestizo or ladino population across the region. Authoritarian regimes marked much of the 20th century, and civilian rule (still without much or any indigenous participation) came at the end of that century, continuing up to the present. But police and military authorities remain present, concerned with internal dissent and unrest at least as much as external threats.
For the present purposes, Digital Mesoamerica has as its focus the region’s indigenous cultures and their histories. Shared cultural traits in the pre-contact era—such as the calendars, glyphic writing, the ball court, human sacrifice, certain legends and religious beliefs, agricultural methods, art, and technologies—set off the many peoples of Mesoamerica from other parts of the Americas. The history of the culture zone is rich for exploring the rise of civilizations, social, economic, and political systems, gender ideologies and practices, religions, land tenure and agricultural systems, medicine, mathematics, astronomy, calendrics, and language diversity (among many other themes). Colonization and its dimensions—such as the impact of epidemic disease, the nature of hybrid religions, evolving tribute and labor systems, struggles over land, efforts to defend some measure of local autonomy, and more—is another arena of great scholarly interest. Contemporary studies are marked by human rights and cultural survival issues, ethnography, mining and other environmental crises, and fair trade, among many other topics.
The most popular and numerous digital resources supporting research and teaching related to Mesoamerican cultures and their histories tend to center on indigenous-authored manuscripts and maps, some of them pre-contact and most of them colonial. These sources are located primarily in Mexican, Guatemalan, U.S., and European repositories, where institutional funds are supporting the creation of open-access digital collections of such materials, along with audio demonstrating language use, videos of all kinds, educational units, and photographs of three-dimensional cultural heritage materials. We are also witnessing moves toward the aggregation of digital content across multiple repositories, such as we see with the World Digital Library, the Internet Archive, and the Getty Research Portal, among others, which increasingly represent Mesoamerica along with other regions of the world. Individuals are also submitting their full-text publications to such aggregators as Academia.edu, announcing their public talks and publications on listservs, Twitter, and Facebook pages, or creating their own robust, one-of-a-kind Web-based projects (with funding from host institutions or national endowments).
Launched in 1997, FAMSI.org established itself as the leading digital platform for the promotion and dissemination of Mesoamerican scholarship to the widest possible audience. The online arm of the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, Inc., a nonprofit pledged to foster increased understanding of ancient Mesoamerican cultures, FAMSI.org crosscut disciplinary divisions and facilitated communication between scholars in the United States and those in Latin America. The eight-member Board of Directors and its advisory committee ensured that the foundation would harness the spirit of generosity and creativity that characterized the early days of the Internet for the benefit of a likewise emergent discipline. As the Website developed, FAMSI sought partnerships with and contributions from institutions around the world in order to make educational resources publicly available. The Website hosts a remarkable amount of primary research material, including image databases, contemporary and historical indigenous-language dictionaries, ethnographic videos, maps, and an up-to-date, searchable subject-specific bibliography, all of which are available in both English and Spanish and accessible at no cost to visitors.
Between 1997 and 2006, the Website grew exponentially, but like many of its early counterparts, the site’s utility and navigability ultimately suffered as a result of the rapid development of new software and the obsolescence of existing digital platforms; searches became sluggish and unwieldy. While visitorship remained high for an academic site—over a million unique visitors a year—a 2012 survey indicated that scholars frequented only known parts of the site while novice users spent as little as a few minutes on the site. The global economic crisis of 2008 destabilized FAMSI’s funding, and in 2010 the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) assumed stewardship of the foundation as well as the Website. The museum began to maintain and review FAMSI.org, ultimately deciding to update and transform the Website into a new platform, AncientAmericas.org, which broadens the scope beyond that of Mesoamerica. FAMSI, with its dedication to research and online collaboration, became the principal resource for the research of ancient American cultures for both a scholarly and general audience beginning in the mid-1990s. Its enduring legacy is the spirit of interdisciplinary and international cooperation and generosity that it fostered.
Felipe Morales Leal and Lourdes Roca
The Laboratorio Audiovisual de Investigación Social (Social Research Audiovisual Lab, or LAIS) at the Instituto Mora in Mexico has worked in both audiovisual production and the study of the visual world in which we live today. Constructing research sources from photographic images and audiovisual materials constitutes its fundamental purpose. Research methodologies that incorporate images are its plan of action and reflection, and along with the ongoing construction of alternatives, they are put into practice in diverse types of products that result in human resource training with specialized courses and workshops.
With the ultimate goal of promoting research that uses and disseminates images and audiovisual materials, LAIS has numerous research documentaries in its collection, a Website with photographic libraries, projects with an array of public interest products, publications in both digital and print format, and information technology development for the online publication of research tools, as well as specialized workshops and courses on the subject. An important reference at the Latin American level for years, the Instituto Mora’s Social Research Audiovisual Lab drives the expansion of each of these resources.