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MEAP Community Conversations

Since launching our grant making in 2019, the Modern Endangered Archives Program at UCLA Library has awarded nearly a third of its funding to preservation projects in South America. On September 12, 2023, we gathered project leads from three projects to share collection highlights and project insights related to MEAP grants in Brazil, Peru, and Uruguay. We also sought to better understand the impact of each project in the field of Latin American History and the new opportunities these materials have opened up to reconsider how we understand the 20th century in South America.

Projects and Speakers featured at the event:

Ibicaba Project

  • Bruno Witzel de Souza | Visiting Assistant Professor at UCLA and Associate Researcher at the University of Tübingen

Alonso Collection

  • Felipe Bellocq | Filmmaker, Professor at Catholic University of Uruguay, and Cine Casero Member

Peruvian Peasant Confederation Archive (CCP)

  • Ruth Borja | Professor at San Marcos University, Archivist at National Archives of Peru (AGN
  • Charles Walker | Professor of History at UC Davis

“I believe this is a big treasure for the academic community…but we also have some new information and sources for local history and genealogical research.”

Bruno Witzel de Sousa

On September 12, 2023, Bruno Witzel de Souza, Felipe Bellocq, Ruth Borja, and Charles Walker met online to share insights from their MEAP projects - all of which are now completed. Each of our speakers illuminated what they see as the value of making archival materials accessible and how the work of digitization opened up new ways of knowing the collections, identifying individuals, places, and historical change that had not been named before. The speakers also found links between their different kinds of collections, recognizing how financial ledgers, moving image, and organizational papers can all speak to the process of modernization in the region and, specifically, to the experiences and histories of rural life.

Some key ideas and highlights:

At-risk materials are a precious resource not just for international scholars, but the local communities where they originate

As the Principal Investigator for the Ibicaba Project, Bruno Witzel de Souza worked with a team to digitize financial and managerial ledgers from the Ibicaba Plantation (São Paulo, Brazil). Ibicaba is renowned as the first plantation to have experimented systematically with non-captive laborers during the Brazilian transition from slavery.

The team cleaned and restored 75,000 pages of material documenting the lives and livelihoods of migrant and slave laborers by hand before digitizing the content with high-frequency metadata. As Witzel pointed out during the event, the collection was preserved and digitized in the same place that the materials first originated, drawing a close connection to the local community whose heritage they help preserve.

“This was an important part of our project to preserve locally local memory and at the same time to make the data available for an international audience interested in academic research,” Witzel said. “This is new material for pedagogical tools…to connect local history, the local history of Ibicaba, with the global history of slavery, immigration, and the coffee economy of the nineteenth century.”

Similarly, Felipe Bellocq witnessed the power of local communities seeing themselves reflected in the Alonso Collection, a film archive from Carlos Alonso, a pioneer of Uruguayan filmmaking. This collection of 40+ rolls of nitrate film provides new views of the Uruguayan countryside in the 1930s-1940s and serves as a unique source for studying the transformation of space and livelihoods in Uruguayan provinces.

Using an approach he called “collective cataloging,” Felipe and his team showed film stills to local community members who helped identify people and places from this long lost footage. Community members were able to help catalog the film and watch the preserved footage together in their community.

“It’s really nice to see the connections to the community,” Felipe said.

MEAP projects serve as a model for other preservation efforts in their local communities and countries of origin

Chuck Walker, CCP Archive

“This isn’t just going to promote studies and interest in peasant archives,” Charles Walker told the audience, “Very different organizations can build from this and learn from us.”

Walker and Ruth Borja lead a team of archivists in Peru to digitize and document the Peruvian Peasant Confederation Archive (CCP), an invaluable collection that documents the history and international resonance of the CCP organization. Now, the CCP project team is offering expertise and insights into how other organizations in Peru can organize, clean and follow a similar process to preserve other collections, such as the CCP Collections Reference available on our site.

“We know so many places where this needs to be done,” Walker added. “There are so many CCP-like collections that are on the verge of being trashed… Even a very different institution could use this methodology and that’s what we want to do.”

Felipe Bellocq agreed. The process his Cine Casero team developed to preserve the delicate, volatile nitrate prints of the Alonso Collection can similarly serve as a model for other archivists in Uruguay. “We made a protocol for work that we hope can inspire other groups or other archives to spread their collections so they’re not forgotten.”

Similarly, Bruno Witzel de Souza saw how the Ibicaba Farm project inspired other archives in Brazil to seek out ways to preserve their material. “We did not know about the existence of the archive in the beginning. And once [Ibicaba] was uncovered, actually a number of local archives just opened up and said, ‘Hey, we exist, and we would like to have this story documented, as well.’”

There are more at-risk collections that are in urgent need of preservation

Soon after the Ibicaba Farm collection was published on the UCLA Library Digital Library, an exhibit was hosted in rural Brazil using material available online. This led to new discoveries of previously unknown records being kept on other plantations in the region that the project team didn’t know about.

“While people heard about our project…and actually realized there was information about their families and their local communities in this new archive, suddenly new material just started appearing…from all the plantations that actually kept their own records,” Witzel de Sousa told the audience. These are new collections that are in need of support and resources to help preserve.

Collections in Peru face similar – and added challenges. A conservative government is threatening to shut down museums in Peru dedicated to showcasing collections like the CCP. “Right now, people are really worried about freedom of expression and closing of these sorts of spaces in Peru.”

And in Uruguay, lack of funding is threatening precious materials like the nitrate collection his team recently preserved. The museum where the Alonso Collection is still stored doesn’t have a director to guide preservation efforts. “We don’t have an institution protecting [our heritage] or working with standard procedures for preserving the material,” said Felipe Bellocq.

“One thing we believe very strongly…is that there are things that we actually don’t know that are out there,” Witzel de Sousa added. “I find that the most interesting part of the post project.”

We thank our speakers for taking the time to share their insights with the many archivists and scholars who joined us for the event. See the featured collections for more information below or to browse materials from the featured projects first-hand.