Conference on Latin American History 20
Historical research depends on sources, written and otherwise. When confronted with lack of evidence, historians usually refrain from pursuing a given topic and look for other, better documented historical issues to tackle. But "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 times, 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 official policies of record preservation, other economic priorities, or intentional attacks 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 this tragic loss, there is an ongoing effort by various academic institutions and collaboratives to digitally preserve what remains of endangered archives and to make those precious materials available to researchers around the world via the web. Such projects are making it possible to research even the least powerful and least visible members of communities, such as enslaved Africans, and produce innovative history. The proposed sessions seek first to explore, in two panels, selected cases of partial or total destruction of archives and libraries in Latin America and the implications they have had for the writing of historical narratives, the shaping of collective memories, and the outcome of social and political conflicts. A third panel will discuss ongoing digital preservation projects and the unique historical materials they are making available for the first time, as well as some of the current research findings from those projects.
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