Social Justice, Data Curation, and Latin American & Caribbean Studies

Lorena Gauthereau (lgauthereau@uh.edu), University of Houston, United States of America y Hannah Alpert-Abrams (halperta@gmail.com), University of Texas at Austin, United States of America y Alex Galarza (agalarza@haverford.edu), Haverford College, United States of America y Mario H. Ramirez (mario.hugo.ramirez@gmail.com), Indiana University, United States of America y Crystal Andrea Felima (felima@ufl.edu), University of Florida, United States of America

Overview

The digitization of cultural heritage artifacts and historical documents offers new opportunities to preserve vulnerable records, undo archival silences, center marginalized voices, and enable the pursuit of justice for oppressed communities. In the case of records from Latin American, Caribbean, and Latinx communities, partnerships with academic institutions in the United States can help connect communities with the resources necessary to undertake large-scale digitization projects. These relationships, however, are not without questions. How can we maintain equitable partnerships in the face of the uneven distribution of resources? How can we prioritize community needs when they do not coincide with the goals of academic institutions? How do we support and promote multilingual digitization projects by way of largely Anglophone institutions and digitization workflows? And how do we ensure that our projects support social justice without creating new risks for vulnerable communities?

This panel addresses these questions by bringing together students and early career scholars whose work responds to the mandate, from institutions in the United States, to diversify the practice of data curation by building digital collections of Latin American, Caribbean, and Latinx materials. This mandate has been made explicit by the recent development of the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) postdoctoral fellowship in data curation and Latin American and Caribbean studies, but it extends across U.S. institutions. Indeed, in many cases the projects represented here have been operating largely outside the framework of the digital humanities for many years. In reflecting on the history and future of these projects, we will explore how the digital humanities can serve as a useful framework for promoting these digitization projects, and where its limitations lie.

At the heart of this panel is the question of social justice. How do we ensure that these digitization projects, and the work that they enable, are always oriented towards justice? The projects represented here consider multiple frameworks for justice. In some cases, transnational digital preservation can be a kind of social justice for extremely vulnerable communities, particularly when it is accompanied by public institutional support. Other projects foreground a post-custodial approach toward archiving that shifts the role of archivists from custodians of records in a centralized repository, to that of managers of records that are distributed at the organizations where the records are created and used. This approach is considered as both a methodology and a means of building ethical partnerships with projects that aim at social justice. As we consider questions of access, description, and representation, new questions about justice emerge. How can we open the historical record without creating new risks for vulnerable community members? How can we support the recovery of historical memory without retraumatizing users? And how can we use diverse collections to decolonize the digital humanities? In answering these questions, we recall, in the words of Wendy Duff et al., that “social justice is always a process and can never be fully achieved” (324-325). It is as an engagement with this process that we address the practical concerns of funding, digitization workflows, storage, and platforms, remaining attentive to the downstream consequences of these practices for future research in digital humanities and Latin American, Caribbean, and Latinx studies.

Eternal sunrise: digital life cycles and long-term preservation for social justice archives

Hannah Alpert-Abrams, University of Texas at Austin

When the University of Texas at Austin partnered with the Guatemalan Police Archive ( Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional, or AHPN) in 2011 to develop a digital archive, the plan was to provide secure, stable, long-term access to the collection. The AHPN contains approximately eighty million pages of records documenting the actions of the Guatemalan state police from 1882-1986, including detailed documentation of the period of the armed conflict (1960-1996). While the archive has significant value for historical research, the primary goal of the AHPN as an institution has been to facilitate the pursuit of justice through documentary evidence by providing support to court cases and by helping families to uncover the fates of their loved ones. For this reason, the AHPN is vulnerable both to physical destruction and political repression. A transnational digitization project promised to support the mission of the AHPN by protecting the documents from political or natural damage, and by creating paths to access that do not require the (sometimes dangerous) act of visiting the archive itself.

In this paper, written more than six years after the launch of the AHPN website, I reflect on how the social justice mission of the AHPN digitization project has been served or inhibited by the digital project lifecycle at the University of Texas. As at many institutions, digitization projects at UT frequently begin with urgent digitization, often timed according to an external grant cycle. This is then followed by preservation and maintenance; eventually, as needs transform, the project is sunsetted and archived. But the realities of institutional and political conditions do not always support this timeline. In the case of the AHPN, for example, political conditions in Guatemala in 2011 led the archivists to launch the website long before the collection had been fully digitized. One consequence of this urgency is that the burden of labor was shifted beyond the conclusion of the funded production period and well into the maintenance stage. As the collection has grown (doubling in the last six years alone), this has created an increasingly untenable situation for the university, resulting in significant inhibitions both to preservation and access.

This paper uses the case of the AHPN to consider how political contingencies can impact long-term maintenance and scope creep in the case of social justice archives. Given that political urgency is a normal condition for social justice work, I will argue that social justice digitization requires a shift in the way we value digitization work, including the way we design digitization timelines, distribute institutional resources, and value professional labor.

(Digital) Methodology of the Oppressed: Approaching US Latina/o Digital Humanities through Decolonialism and Affect

Lorena Gauthereau, University of Houston

Archives and Digital Humanities (DH) projects that highlight minority voices have the ability to disrupt the mainstream perception of history and literary canon through unacknowledged histories. All too often, large-scale DH projects and archives have reinforced Western epistemology and ontology. In response to this, scholars such as Alex Gil, Roopika Risam, micha cárdenas, Kara Keeling, and Syed Mustafa Ali have notably approached DH from a standpoint of thinking from the margins in order to encourage DH scholars to create and adopt methodologies that engage decolonial theory. Such methodologies consider the ways in which categories such as languages, borders, maps, Library of Congress subject headings, gender binaries, sexuality, Western religion, abled-bodies, and coding frame knowledge and knowledge-production through a colonial lens. While national archives help to structure knowledge through an authoritative national narrative, DH approached through a decolonial methodology seeks to address the gaps not only in digital scholarship, but also in the official (or “mainstream”) archive. Fields such as US Latina/o studies, Black cultural studies, African American studies, Indigenous studies, multi-ethnic studies, border and borderland studies, transnational studies, hemispheric studies, Third World feminism, queer studies, and immigration literature have already begun the work of decentering traditional notions of nation, citizenship, sexuality, gender, language, and history.

In this paper, I will focus on the emerging US Latina/o Digital Humanities initiative at the Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage project (aka “Recovery”) in order to tease out what is truly at stake and how we can move toward decolonizing the Digital Humanities. Specifically, I rely on Women of Color (WOC) theory such as Chela Sandoval’s Methodology of the Oppressed (2000) to tease out the implications of “oppositional consciousness” and Affect theory on developing a methodology for the Digital Humanities. Decoloniality lends itself to methodology in the way that it seeks to question history and hegemonic structures. One of the ways that decolonial theory approaches such a dimension is through what Emma Pérez (1999) calls the “decolonial imaginary.” It is through the decolonial imaginary that we can push back against colonial legacies that structure our lives. Coloniality insists on the preference of Western ontologies and epistemologies and attempts to erase all non-Western forms of existing and knowing. It delegitimizes non-standard and non-Western languages and tries to put people and histories into strict categories. My goal, then, is to highlight the structural (colonial) problems encountered in US Latina/o DH and to point to the decolonial methodology that is evolving and coming out of these projects in response to such problems.

Revisiting the Archivo Mesoamericano: Digitization and the Revolutionary Histories of Central America and Mexico

Mario H. Ramirez, Indiana University, Bloomington

Culled from the archives of the Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen (MUPI) in El Salvador, the Institute of the History of Nicaragua and Central America (IHNCA) and the Center for Research and Advanced Studies in Social Anthropology in Mexico, the annotated videos that constitute the Archivo Mesoamericano at Indiana University, Bloomington document the rich activist history of the region, and the fervor and desire for profound social and political change that accompanied the period between the 1980s and early 1990s. Capturing well known political activists, indigenous traditions, local demonstrations and insightful reporting, the videos provide a vibrant tableau of a collective striving for equity, autonomy and agency that would have a significant impact on the present and futures of the nations involved. A post-custodial project, whose early digitization was achieved in concert with the organizations in question, the Archivo Mesoamericano is now on the precipice of a new endeavor to make the collection more dynamic and available through the migration of current holdings onto a new format, and the rekindling of relationships with stakeholders as a means of increasing holdings, collaborations and cross-institutional projects. Demonstrating a renewed commitment on the part of the university, the Digital Collections Services Department and the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CLACS) to the pedagogical and historical import of the collection, this project exemplifies a joint interest in highlighting the seminal importance of social justice efforts in the region to contemporary understandings of Mexican and Central American societies.

This presentation will provide an overview of the Archivo Mesoamericano, its content and particularities, but moreover focus on the process that brought the collection to the university and has framed its history there. Primarily collected and donated by Professor Jeffrey Gould (a noted scholar on the region), and supported at its incipience by special collections staff, the collection has struggled to achieve the necessary research and pedagogical relevance at the university and beyond despite the rich opportunities that exist vis-à-vis CLACS, the numerous faculty members on campus that focus on Central America and Mexico, and the continued interest on the period documented in the broader research community. Ostensibly isolated in a special collections environment primarily dedicated to local Indiana history, the re-digitization of the Archivo Mesoamericano video portends a more central place at the university and its dissemination through teaching, exhibitions and research. Furthermore, with newly sparked connections between the Digital Collections Services Department and the Institute for Digital Arts and Humanities at the university, greater opportunities for the dynamic purposing of the collection in the research environment through digital humanities projects are created. But moreover, the renewal of relationships with previous institutional partners and inauguration of new collaborations with kindred organizations and repositories in Central America and Mexico has the potential to create rich opportunities for the sharing of resources and knowledge regarding the preservation and stewardship of audio-visual content, and to create new standards and venues for the featuring of the region’s deep contributions to the histories of activism and social justice.

Digitizing a Human Rights Archive in Guatemala: Data Curation, Access, and Social Justice

Alex Galarza, Haverford College

In 1984, the friends and family of Guatemalan activists who were ‘disappeared’ by state security forces formed the Grupo de Apoyo Mutuo (GAM). Members searched for loved ones during a period of Cold War violence in which Guatemala’s military and police routinely murdered anyone they considered subversive and waged a genocidal campaign against indigenous Guatemalans in the countryside. The Guatemalan Truth Commission’s 1999 report documented over 200,000 deaths during internal conflict (1960-1996) and attributed 93% of human rights violations to state security and related paramilitary forces. The GAM has spent the past three decades collecting textual, visual, and audio-materials related to ongoing human rights trials and historical memory.

My talk describes the GAM Digital Archive Project, an ongoing collaboration between the GAM and the Digital Scholarship (DS) team at Haverford College to create a digital archive. The project follows a post-custodial model in which materials will remain in Guatemala with the Haverford Libraries providing support in the digitizing, hosting, and creating online resources to share the collection. I describe how we have built a sustainable partnership between the GAM and Haverford DS team by focusing on collaboratively developing an ethical digitization and descriptive workflow. I describe the risks and stakes inherent in digitizing sensitive materials and envisioning a public platform designed to shift historical memory about state violence and impact the legal efforts to seek justice for human rights violations. I also focus on the ways the project has incorporated students into the work of building the digital archive and conducting original research on archival materials as a way of ensuring a sustainable partnership and modeling digital scholarship that can emerge from these documents.

Teaching beyond Haitian Exceptionalism: Digital Decolonization and Social Justice Pedagogy in Caribbean Studies

Crystal Andrea Felima, University of Florida

The University of Florida offers a Haitian Studies program for students to further their interests in language and culture in Haiti. In one course, “Haitian Culture and Society,” students can explore and learn about alternative narratives of Haiti. A singular narrative of Haiti assumes all Haitians are poverty-stricken and passive to the structures and powers that influence people’s life course. Therefore, it is essential to engage counter-narratives that illustrate Haitians as active agents in social change and development. The course aims to impart knowledge and participate in critical discussions on Haiti’s history, culture, and society while examining the complexity of the country’s political instability and economic under-development. Also, the class requires students to review topics of the State, neoliberalism, development, gender, class, culture, religion, disasters, and public health. Structured as a digital humanities course, students use digital tools to create a final project that centers on socio-cultural life, human agency, and self-determination in Haiti. As result, questions of exclusion and inclusion, along with silencing and advocacy, via media technologies become critical inquiries that guide the course.

In this paper, I will share reflections on the challenges and opportunities presented by teaching this Haitian Studies course as a digital decolonizing project. As a scholar and teacher of Caribbean Studies and Anthropology, my pedagogy incorporates a social justice framework to teach beyond Haitian exceptionalism. Defined as the perception or condition that something is exceptional or unique, exceptionalism continues to shape, produce, and reify singular narratives and specific interpretations of Haitian people and culture. Furthermore, the construction of Haitian exceptionalism has reproduced the idea that suffering has a totalizing effect on Haitian lives. Therefore, I will discuss my teaching methodology in how I encouraged students to go beyond their current understanding of what they may know of Haiti. Through digital scholarship and a social justice framework, I highlight how students structured their digital projects to showcase their understanding of Haiti and how that knowledge can be applied to other populations around the world. I argue that learning, conducting r esearch, and presenting findings in digital humanities, data curation, and e-scholarship offers critical engagement to decolonization and social engagement.


Appendix A

Bibliography
  1. Duff, W., A. Flinn, K. Suurtammn, and D. Wallace. (2013). “Social Justice Impact of Archives: A Preliminary Investigation.” Archival Science 13 (4): 317-48.
  2. Pérez, E. (1999). The Decolonial Imaginary: Writing Chicanas into History. (Theories of Representation and Difference). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
  3. Sandoval, C . (2000). Methodology of the Oppressed. Minneapolis, MN: Univ Of Minnesota Press.