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Researchers in major Mexico City archives in the early 1970s had access to very few finding aids for historical documents and record sets.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.
Mexican History/Historia Mexicana (MH/HM) is a Facebook page dedicated to bringing together the world’s academic and popular masses in their interest of Mexican history. As of 2016, there are over 1300 members of the page, and posts garner one to three hundred views, though some posts or posted links have reached three to five thousand unique views.
The Facebook page grew out of the frustration of this author with the slow and censored listserv system that serves as the main forum for scholars of Mexican history. In addition, there was a desire to reach private scholars and members of the public who are generally excluded from the listserv systems. In December 2011, the author and another scholar joined together in creating a Facebook page that would, in the words of the page description, serve as “a forum for the free exchange of information on the history and related culture and events of Mexico.” In late 2012 a third scholar joined them as operators, managers, and editors of the page.
Material is selected in Spanish and English (and occasionally indigenous Mexican languages) related to Mexican history or events of historical importance. Generally, the goals of the page are to provide items of interest to the general public, resources to professional researchers that they may not know about, and well-known resources for new researchers. Information is provided on events or presentations related to the preservation of Mexican History, important new research works, and items of curiosity that simply pique theinterest of the operators. There is no systematic approach to content; instead, information is posted as a free-form collective, free of censorship. Members of the community are also welcome to post materials or queries and to comment and discuss topics on history and related items of culture and current events.
Since 1982 there have been at least 2,000 massacres in Colombia committed by different illegal groups and by members of the Colombian army and police. The development of the conflict in Colombia has a direct relation with the causes and consequences of these crimes, perpetrated in most cases by paramilitary armies, associated to varying degrees with the cocaine trade. Paramilitary groups were a counterinsurgency force organized by the State, or independent, and supported economically by drug cartels and some landowners and businessmen.
Although guerrilla armies, insurgency, and communist groups created mostly in the 1960s perpetrated several massacres, these crimes were systematically used primarily by paramilitary groups to terrorize people in places where they had a particular interest, such as drug trafficking or vying for political power. In its book ¡Basta ya!, the Centro Nacional de Memoria Histórica has documented that 59% of the massacres were committed by paramilitary groups and 17% by guerrillas.
Rutas del Conflicto is a project created by journalists that marks the evolution of these groups through more than 30 years of war. Using mapping and timeline tools developed especially for the project, it has documented more than 700 of these crimes, displaying the degree to which the tragedy has affected the lives of millions of people in Colombia.
Digital Resources: LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections, University of Texas at Austin
LLILAS Benson maintains one of the world’s largest collections of digital assets designed to support Latin American studies. These vast digital holdings, all of which reside on open-source platforms and are freely available to a global audience via the Internet, trace their roots back to the early 1990s, before the advent of the World Wide Web. Since that time, LLILAS Benson has forged partnerships with a broad array of researchers and content producers throughout the Americas in order to bring vital Latin American studies content online while at the same time helping to build local capacity in areas such as digitization, metadata, and preservation throughout the region. These digital collections include materials useful to scholars in a broad array of disciplines, particularly in the humanities and social sciences.
One of the main strengths of the collections is in the area of archival and historical sources, with extensive digitized materials spanning more than five centuries and all countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. The digital collections are particularly strong in terms of Mexican history. Major holdings in the digital collections that include material of interest to those conducting historical research are the following:
• PLA—The Primeros Libros de las Américas project brings together twenty-one libraries and archives in a collaborative initiative that seeks to digitize all surviving copies of books printed in the New World prior to 1601.
• AHPN—The Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional contains more than twelve million pages of digitized Guatemalan police records from the late 19th century through 1996.
• AILLA—The Archive of the Indigenous Languages of Latin America is a digital archive of recordings and texts in and about the indigenous languages of Latin America.
• Archivo de Lucas Alamán is a digital archive of more than 350 manuscripts from the personal papers of this influential Mexican statesman. The papers cover the period 1589–1853.
• Archivo de José María Luis Mora—This digital archive contains scanned copies of more than 600 documents, both manuscripts and printed works from the first half of the 19th century, as well as an exhaustive guide describing the collections.
• LANIC—The Latin American Network Information Center is a collection of subject- and country-based resource guides containing more than ten thousand links to Web-based Latin American studies content.
• HRDI—The Human Rights Documentation Initiative is committed to the long-term preservation of fragile and vulnerable records of human rights struggles worldwide and includes important partnerships in Latin America.
• Web archives that are of use to historians include the Latin American Government Documents Archive, or LAGDA, which contains copies of the Websites of more than 250 governmental ministries since 2005, and a collection of human rights–related Websites curated under the auspices of the HRDI, among others.
Collectively, the LLILAS Benson portfolio of digital initiatives includes more than ten million pages of digitized archival records; several hundred thousand pages of digitized full text and images, including monographs, journals, scholarly papers, manuscripts, ephemera, and so on; thousands of hours of digital audio and video recordings; and more than a hundred million Web-archived files. The collection of curated resource guides for Latin American studies contains more than ten thousand outbound links. Taken as a whole, the Websites holding these digital assets generate more than three million pageviews per year. The vast majority of the digital holdings consist of unique items, thus filling an important void for scholarship left by mass digitization efforts, such as Google Books and the Internet Archive’s Million Books Project.
LLILAS Benson is committed to promoting open access to scholarly resources. In contrast to the unique digitized materials hosted by database vendors and aggregators, such as Gale’s “World Scholar Archive: Latin America and the Caribbean” or EBSCO’s “Academic Search Complete,” nearly all the digital content that LLILAS Benson hosts is on the open Internet, available to any and all users regardless of location or affiliation, and without any type of registration. The one exception is AILLA, where no-cost registration is required to open or download media files.
The Getty Research Institute (GRI) has an extensive collection of online digital resources, with two portals that focus on Mexico. The first portal discussed in this article is A Nation Emerges: Sixty-five Years of Photography in Mexico, and the second portal discussed is Obsidian Mirror-Travels: Refracting Mexican Art and Archaeology. These portals are the online versions of GRI exhibitions. Viewers of A Nation Emerges: Sixty-five Years of Photography in Mexico will find numerous primary sources, mostly photographs, related to major historical events from 1857 to 1923. This will serve as a useful resource for scholars and students interested in photohistory. The online exhibition Obsidian Mirror-Travels: Refracting Mexican Art and Archaeology offers a wealth of online digitized images related to Aztec art, culture, and archaeology.
Although A Nation Emerges: Sixty-five Years of Photography in Mexico contains superb resources, the site is difficult to navigate and can result in viewers missing much of what it offers. Therefore, this article provides a road map of sorts with the goal of helping scholars and students save valuable time during the research process. This guide will greatly streamline the user experience for those navigating A Nation Emerges: Sixty-five Years of Photography in Mexico. In fact, readers may want to consider having access to this article while they are navigating the particular portal.
On the other hand, viewers will find Obsidian Mirror-Travels: Refracting Mexican Art and Archaeology much easier to navigate. As such, a general overview, rather than a detailed guide is provided for this portal to allow users to direct their research with efficiency and accuracy when navigating the site.
The article concludes with a brief discussion in the “Digitized Resources” section, of the literature, methodology, and historiography of photohistory.