Late Breaking: Archives Burning: The Fire at the National Museum in Rio de Janeiro and Beyond

AHA Session
Friday, January 4, 2019: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Continental C (Hilton Chicago, Lobby Level)
Bianca Premo, Florida International University
The Ashes of the Museu Nacional, with Images and Memories
Mariza de Carvalho Soares, Museu Nacional
Underfunded and Neglected: The State Archives in Peru
Natalia Sobrevilla Perea, University of Kent

Session Abstract

On September 2, 2018 the world watched as orange flames poured forth in the dark night in Rio de Janeiro. The National Museum, established by the Portuguese king João IV in 1816 after he’d taken up residence in Rio, was burning. It stood for over two hundred years, amassing astonishing anthropological, botanical, and art collections that dwarfed those of more celebrated repositories, such as the British Museum. And this was accomplished through a history of diverse and challenging political episodes, even if the place more recently had become, due to underfunding, a “grounded” attraction for locals who spent school days or weekends there. Thus the loss is personal, national, and global; it is a loss to science and to self. A bit like the tireless workers from the Museu, rescuing the few objects still intact, the panel assembles to see what remains. Perhaps we can carry away some lessons about preventing more loss. By thinking about how the Museu Nacional became vulnerable not through some inexorable process of neglect but because of real policies and choices, and about how those choices relate to the preservation of endangered archives of different sorts in Latin America and in global power centers, we hope to recover something from the ashes.
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