HRDI Shares Best Practices

Photo: “Memory and Documentation” sign from Ibuka archive, Rwanda. Taken on 2009 HRDI trip.

(Cross-posted at Tex Libris)

In September, UT Libraries Human Rights Documentation Initiative representatives Christian Kelleher and T-Kay Sangwand traveled to Columbia University to participate in an advisory group meeting for theCenter for Research Libraries (CRL) MacArthur Foundation funded project, Human Rights Electronic Evidence Study.  The Human Rights Electronic Evidence Study aims to understand the human rights documentation landscape – technologies, documentation creators and end users – and to identify tools and practices for improving documentation’s uses for advocacy and scholarship.

In addition to Kelleher and Sangwand, the advisory group consisted of librarians and archivists from Columbia University, Duke University and human rights organization, WITNESS, as well as practicing lawyers and professors from the University of Texas School of Law. During this day-long meeting, the group discussed how human rights documentation is used from the point of creation by an organization/activist to how it ends up in an archive for educational purposes and a courtroom for legal purposes. Based on their experience of establishing digital preservation partnerships with organizations that create human right documentation, Kelleher and Sangwand shared some of the challenges that can prevent such documentation from ever arriving to the archive (namely, trust and ownership disputes) as well as the HRDI’s approach to overcoming this challenge – the use of the post custodial archival model that allows organizations to maintain physical and intellectual ownership of their materials while depositing digital copies at UT for long-term preservation. Through presentations by legal experts (including the Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice  Co-Director, Dan Brinks) on how human rights documentation may be used in U.S. and international courts, the HRDI was proud to learn that its metadata and preservation standards meet and even surpass the general recommended criteria for documentation authentication in a court of law.

The meeting’s discussion on the creation, preservation, and use of human rights documentation will be synthesized with the study’s findings in CRL’s final report due out in late 2011/early 2012.

Introducing an Online Tutorial for Archival Research on Human Rights at UT-Austin

The papers of author and activist Gloria Anzaldúa.
The papers of author and activist Gloria Anzaldúa.
(Image courtesy of the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection, University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin)

The Human Rights Documentation Initiative is excited to introduce the online Tutorial for Archival Research on Women’s Human Rights, a new tool created by a UT iSchool student, Amelia Koford.  While the tutorial is geared towards students and faculty who are researching women’s human rights rights at UT, the tutorial can be useful to anyone who is unfamiliar with the archival research process and questions of ethical engagement with archival material. The link to the tutorial is given below. You can also find a link to it from the UT Collections page on the HRDI website.

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By: Amelia Koford

The archives at the University of Texas at Austin are invaluable resources for scholars, students, and activists interested in human rights. It can be challenging, however, for people unfamiliar with archives to locate, access, and interpret these resources. This semester, as a project for my dual master’s degree in Information Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies, I created an online tutorial to help people conduct archival research.

The tutorial focuses on research topics related to women’s human rights.  However, it can useful for anyone conducting archival research at UT-Austin.  I invite you to explore the tutorial here: http://www.utexas.edu/cola/centers/cwgs/womens-rights/Archival-Research-Tutorial

Background
The idea for this resource came from a conversation with Dr. Kristen Hogan, Project Director of the Embrey Women’s Human Rights Initiative in the UT-Austin Center for Women’s and Gender Studies.  I wanted to find a project that would let me use my skills as an information professional to support feminist scholarship and activism.  I sat down for a brainstorming meeting with Dr. Hogan, who explained that the Embrey Women’s Human Rights Initiative was funding the development of several new Signature Courses on women, gender, and human rights.

Signature Courses at UT-Austin are interdisciplinary classes designed to introduce undergraduate students to college work. The newly developed courses would promote student and faculty engagement with women’s human rights frameworks. One of the innovative components of these courses would be the incorporation of research using the archives at UT-Austin. However, for many students and faculty, archival research would be an unfamiliar and potentially daunting undertaking. Perhaps, Dr. Hogan and I thought, an online tutorial could help them bridge this information gap.

I was drawn to this idea because I know what it’s like to feel overwhelmed as a first-time archives user.  During my first year in the School of Information, I learned the particularities of archival research through trial and error.  “I can’t bring my backpack into the reading room?”  “I need to look at something called a finding aid?”  “I should have done some background research before I came?”  I learned the answers to these questions piecemeal, from kind and patient staff members at the archives.  By creating an online tutorial for archival research, I sought to answer some of these questions up front and demystify the archives experience.

Writing and developing the tutorial was extremely rewarding. It gave me the opportunity to learn about information literacy, human rights education, and archival theory and practice. I was able to connect with inspirational archivists, librarians, scholars, and activists who helped me edit the content and gather images to illustrate the website.

Applications
The tutorial helps researchers find and use both the physical archives on campus and the digital archives preserved by the Human Rights Documentation Initiative.  It offers tips for conducting background research, analyzing and interpreting archival material, and considering emotional and ethical questions.

Although the tutorial was designed to support Signature Courses on women, gender, and human rights, it is useful for anyone conducting archival research at UT-Austin.  Some potential uses for the tutorial are:

  • As an assigned reading for undergraduate or graduate students before they begin an archival research project.
  • As a guide for individual students choosing to use archives as sources for class assignments.
  • As a resource for professors seeking to incorporate archival research on women’s human rights into their courses.
  • As a teaching tool in the classroom.
  • By students, staff, and faculty at UT-Austin and neighboring colleges.
  • By activists and other community members not affiliated with UT-Austin.

I hope the tutorial will increase the visibility and accessibility of UT-Austin’s human rights archives and facilitate human rights research, teaching, and advocacy.

Amelia Koford is a second-year graduate student pursuing dual master’s degrees in Information Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies at UT-Austin.  She works at the Perry-Castañeda Library and has also worked at the Seminary of the Southwest Booher Library.  Previously, she served as an AmeriCorps*VISTA member at College Forward, interned at the West African Women’s Association in Senegal, and studied English and French at Grinnell College.

The HRDI and Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen (El Salvador) pay homage to Monseñor Romero

Photo of Monseñor Romero tribute mural in El Salvador International Airport“If they kill me, I will be reborn in the Salvadoran people.”
– Monseñor Romero

Photo of Monseñor Romero tribute mural in El Salvador International Airport
Credit: T-Kay Sangwand

Today, March 24, 2011, marks the 31st anniversary of the assassination of Monseñor Oscar Arnulfo Romero. Romero, originally conservative in his outlook, developed a strong human rights conscience as he witnessed the government’s violent and repressive actions against the Salvadoran people as well as the assassinations of his fellow priests who stood in solidarity with them. Romero, too, became an outspoken critic of the government and urged members of the army to follow God’s higher orders and cease their brutal violence against the people. On the orders of the Salvadoran Army, Romero was assassinated on March 24, 1980 while giving Mass. Soon thereafter, El Salvador launched into a civil war that lasted twelve years. Thirty-one years after his death, the memory and legacy of Monseñor Romero and his commitment to social justice remains strong.

Tejiendo la Memoria Histórica
In honor of this 31st anniversary, the HRDI has posted three short radio programs on Monseñor Romero, produced by our partner, the Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen (MUPI, Museum of the Word and Image) in El Salvador. MUPI produces a weekly program “Tejiendo la Memoria” (Weaving Memory) that explores an aspect of Salvadoran social, political, or cultural history using the museum’s extensive archival holdings as the basis of each program. Today we are excited to debut three programs that have previously only been heard on the radio waves of El Salvador.

Links to Audio (Note: All audio is in Spanish.)
Monseñor Romero: La Voz de los Sin Voz
(Monseñor Romero: Voice of the Voiceless)
Monseñor Romero Vive! (Monseñor Romero Lives!)
Monseñor Romero y la Amistad (Monseñor Romero’s Friendship)

Each program incorporates audio from Monseñor Romero’s sermons, including material from the day of his assassination. The programs, although a short 5-7 minutes, contain rich insight into the life and work of Romero as told through interviews with his close friends and fellow clergy. “Monseñor Romero y la Amistad” contains an interview with Romero’s close friend Mrs. Santos Delmi Campos who tells us that just a few months before Romero’s death, he entrusted a box of 400 photos of his life to her for safekeeping. Thirty years later, Mrs. Campos donated the photos to MUPI, which formed the basis of the exhibit “Monseñor Vive!

In El Salvador, MUPI conducts the invaluable work of preserving the tangible remains of historical memory and teaching the country’s history to new generations through its exhibits and active outreach to students and youth. The HRDI is proud to aid in MUPI’s educational mission by making its materials available online for the Salvadoran diaspora and beyond.

For more information
Monseñor Romero’s collection of photos at MUPI
El Faro
‘s interview with Alvaro Saravia, a Salvadoran Army Officer, involved in the assassination of Monseñor Romero

The H(uman)R(ights)DI Guide to SXSW

It’s that time of year when the South by Southwest Festival consumes Austin with a plethora of activity around new media/technology, music, and film. There’s something for everyone, including archivists and activists. Here are some highlights to look out for. We’ll be updating this as SXSW progresses, so check back often! (Last updated: Tuesday, March 15)

Also, Colorlines dropped the HRDI a mention in their guide to SXSW! See their list for more recommendations.

Tuesday, March 15
Interactive

Film

  • 6:00pm: Fambul Tok, the Book (truth and reconciliation in Sierra Leone) book signing at Resistencia Books (1801 S. 1st St.)

Music

  • 8:00pm: Benefit: Mama Said Knock You Out: A Night of Women in Hip Hop at the Historic Victory Grill (1104 E. 11th St.)
    Lineup includes: Las Krudas (queer feminist hip hop from Cuba), Invincible (Detroit), hosted by Tiger Lily (Riders Against the Storm), dj t-kay (dublab / KOOP 91.7 fm). Funds raised will train 20 women of color to become DONA-certified Birth Companions (Doulas).  The four-day training will be made available free of charge to participants in exchange for a commitment to make their services as birth companions available at no cost to other poor women of color in our community.  The Birth Companion Project is one piece of MOCR’s broader campaign to increase access to birthing options for poor women of color in the greater Austin area.
  • 11:00pm: Bituaya at Speakeasy (412 Congress Ave. #D)
    “Bituaya is a result of the socio-political and cultural merges experienced by Venezuela today. All the rhythms of the Afrocaribbean come together to embody the urbanity of Caracan hip-hop, mixed with electronica elements…Having a nexus with Revolutionary Latin America, the world-wide Hip-Hop phenomena, and Venezuela’s own Afro-caribbean influences, Bituaya’s music is a completely unique experience.”

Wednesday, March 16
Film

  • 12:00pm: Fambul Tok at State Theatre (719 Congress Ave.)
    “Victims and perpetrators of Sierra Leone’s brutal civil war come together for the first time in an unprecedented program of tradition-based truth-telling and forgiveness ceremonies. Through reviving their ancient practice of fambul tok (family talk), Sierra Leoneans are building sustainable peace at the grass-roots level — succeeding where the international community’s post-conflict efforts failed. Filled with lessons for the West, this film explores the depths of a culture that believes that true justice lies in redemption and healing for individuals — and that forgiveness is the surest path to restoring dignity and building strong communities.”

Music

Thursday, March 17
Film

  • 12:00pm: Incendiary: The Willingham Case at Rollins Theatre (701 W. Riverside Dr.)
    “In 1991, Cameron Todd Willingham’s three daughters died in a Corsicana, Texas house fire. Tried and convicted for their arson murders, Willingham was executed in February 2004 despite overwhelming expert criticism of the prosecution’s arson evidence. Today, Willingham’s name has become a call for reform in the field of forensics and a rallying cry for the anti-death penalty movement; yet he remains an indisputable “monster” in the eyes of Texas Governor Rick Perry, who ignored the science that could have saved Willingham’s life. Equal parts murder mystery, forensic investigation and political drama, INCENDIARY documents the haunted legacy of a prosecution built on ‘folklore.'”
  • 5:00pm: Fambul Tok at Alamo Drafthouse (1120 S. Lamar Blvd.)
    “Victims and perpetrators of Sierra Leone’s brutal civil war come together for the first time in an unprecedented program of tradition-based truth-telling and forgiveness ceremonies. Through reviving their ancient practice of fambul tok (family talk), Sierra Leoneans are building sustainable peace at the grass-roots level — succeeding where the international community’s post-conflict efforts failed. Filled with lessons for the West, this film explores the depths of a culture that believes that true justice lies in redemption and healing for individuals — and that forgiveness is the surest path to restoring dignity and building strong communities.”
  • 6:15pm: Who Took the Bomp? Le Tigre on Tour at State Theater (719 Congress Ave.)
    ““WHO TOOK THE BOMP? LE TIGRE ON TOUR” is a concert film that follows the infamous feminist electronic band on their international farewell tour. Covering 20 live performances, the film celebrates Le Tigre’s infectious political dance music while examining the sexism and homophobia of the contemporary pop machine.”
  • 7:00pm: END: CIV at MonkeyWrench Books (110 E. North Loop)
    END:CIV examines our culture’s addiction to systematic violence and environmental exploitation, and probes the resulting epidemic of poisoned landscapes and shell-shocked nations.”

Music

  • 1:00-5:00pm: The People’s Party / Fiesta Popular at MonkeyWrench Books (110 E. North Loop)
    Two day festival featuring hip hop and music that speaks of resistance. Lineup includes: Rebel Diaz, Las Krudas, Riders Against the Storm, One Be Lo, Gabi, The Cipher, and more.

Friday, March 18
Film

  • 7:00pm: END: CIV at Resistencia Books (1801 S. 1st St.)
    END:CIV examines our culture’s addiction to systematic violence and environmental exploitation, and probes the resulting epidemic of poisoned landscapes and shell-shocked nations.”

Music

  • 1:00-6:00pm: Books and Bands at MonkeyWrench Books (110 E. North Loop)
    Lineup includes Matt Bauer, Dana Falconberry, Redding Hunter, and more. RSVP on Facebook.

Saturday, March 19
Film

  • 2:30pm: Who Took the Bomp? Le Tigre on Tour at Vimeo Theater (501 E. 4th St.)
    ““WHO TOOK THE BOMP? LE TIGRE ON TOUR” is a concert film that follows the infamous feminist electronic band on their international farewell tour. Covering 20 live performances, the film celebrates Le Tigre’s infectious political dance music while examining the sexism and homophobia of the contemporary pop machine.”
  • 5:30pm: Incendiary: The Willingham Case at Rollins Theatre (701 W. Riverside Dr.)
    “In 1991, Cameron Todd Willingham’s three daughters died in a Corsicana, Texas house fire. Tried and convicted for their arson murders, Willingham was executed in February 2004 despite overwhelming expert criticism of the prosecution’s arson evidence. Today, Willingham’s name has become a call for reform in the field of forensics and a rallying cry for the anti-death penalty movement; yet he remains an indisputable “monster” in the eyes of Texas Governor Rick Perry, who ignored the science that could have saved Willingham’s life. Equal parts murder mystery, forensic investigation and political drama, INCENDIARY documents the haunted legacy of a prosecution built on ‘folklore.'”

Music

  • 12:00am: Bituaya at Copa (217 Congress Ave.)
    “Bituaya is a result of the socio-political and cultural merges experienced by Venezuela today. All the rhythms of the Afrocaribbean come together to embody the urbanity of Caracan hip-hop, mixed with electronica elements…Having a nexus with Revolutionary Latin America, the world-wide Hip-Hop phenomena, and Venezuela’s own Afro-caribbean influences, Bituaya’s music is a completely unique experience.”

Sunday, March 20
Music

  • 12:00-4:00pm: Benefit: Fire for the People at Workers Defense Project (5604 Manor Rd.)
    Line up includes Rebel Diaz, YC the Cynic, C Rays Walz, The Reminders, Scheme, and more. Funds raised will go towards Workers Defense Project programming which helps win back wages, pushes for better safety conditions for workers, and creates systemic change that empowers the whole community.

Past

Friday, March 11
Interactive

Saturday, March 12
Interactive

Sunday, March 13
Interactive

Film

  • 6:00pm: Party to launch funding for ACT UP! (Aids Coalition to Unleash Power) documentary with directors Scott Robbe, Ellen Spiro and Executive Producer Gus Van Sant

Monday, March 14
Interactive

Film

  • 1:15pm: Fambul Tok at Alamo Ritz (320 E. 6th St.)
    “Victims and perpetrators of Sierra Leone’s brutal civil war come together for the first time in an unprecedented program of tradition-based truth-telling and forgiveness ceremonies. Through reviving their ancient practice of fambul tok (family talk), Sierra Leoneans are building sustainable peace at the grass-roots level — succeeding where the international community’s post-conflict efforts failed. Filled with lessons for the West, this film explores the depths of a culture that believes that true justice lies in redemption and healing for individuals — and that forgiveness is the surest path to restoring dignity and building strong communities.”

Preserving the Video Archive of the Free Burma Rangers

FBR Videographer, Monkey (From Prayer for Peace)FBR Videographer, Monkey (From Prayer for Peace)

By: Mark Cooper

HRDI’s launch of the Free Burma Rangers Collection introduces the small, public face of a much larger partnership between the HRDI and the Free Burma Rangers (FBR). The twelve short videos on the site, ranging from five to ten minutes with two half-hour documentaries, total less than two hours of content. But this small selection represents the HRDI’s work over the past two years to ensure the long-term preservation and accessibility of the over 1,000 hours (and growing) of video documentation created by FBR during the past decade of their operations in Burma.

The partnership between the HRDI and FBR began in 2009 with the goal of digitally preserving FBR’s archival records and documentation, in particular their video materials. FBR trains, equips and supports humanitarian relief teams whose members come from many of the diverse ethnic groups within Burma. Since 1997, over 130 teams have conducted 400 relief missions into areas under attack by the Burma Army, providing aid to internally displaced peoples (IDPs) who have been driven out of their villages by the Burma Army.

Along with medical aid, clothing and educational supplies, each FBR team carries a small, handheld video camera for the purpose of recording the team’s operations, the living conditions of the IDPs, and evidence of human rights violations committed by the Burma Army. With so many teams operating concurrently, FBR produces an enormous wealth of video. To date, they hold over 1,200 MiniDV tapes, most of which contain a full hour of field documentation; few of these tapes have been backed up or digitally copied.

Digital Video Preservation: From Burma to the Archive
The task of digitally preserving FBR’s videos began with working through the quirks of capturing digital information encoded on physical tape media. I experienced this first-hand when I joined the HRDI team in July 2010 as a Graduate Research Assistant, continuing the work begun by my predecessor Nicholas Rejack (Read about his experiences on the project). In July, I traveled to the FBR offices in Southeast Asia, where I worked capturing video and inventorying the collection at my small desk crowded with three MacBook Pros, a tape deck, cameras, stacks of hard drives, and piles of MiniDV tapes to be captured, sorted or cataloged. Over the course of my six weeks on site I captured over 400 MiniDV tapes, totaling 5 terabytes of video.

Even under the best of conditions, MiniDV can be a finicky format. Capturing the same tape on the same equipment can result in often slight, but occasionally large, variations in quality. The challenges grow exponentially when the tapes have been carried through the extreme field conditions in the jungles of Burma, with each new tape seeming to present a new difficulty to resolve.  However, though the format presents its challenges, the preservation process is aided by metadata embedded within every frame of the DV video. Using programs like DV Analyzer from Audiovisual Preservation Solutions, error correction information can be extracted and analyzed to potentially identify whether errors stem from defects on the original tapes or from problems with the playback device. This can inform when performing a new capture could improve video quality, ensuring the best possible copy is preserved. In addition, every frame includes an embedded date and time stamp marking when it was originally shot, allowing for precise creation date metadata and for verifying and narrowing the date ranges written on tape labels.

Though the HRDI team has digitally captured a significant portion of FBR’s video archive, over 750 hours thus far, the challenges of long-term digital preservation do not end after a tape has been captured. Digital preservation is an ongoing process that aims to ensure the preservation of both the files themselves and the ability to read and interpret the information they contain. In this case, it involves not just maintaining the 1s and 0s of the video files but making sure they will continue to be readable in the future. The preservation process encompasses not just storage systems with significant redundancy and error checking, but also the maintenance of detailed technical metadata and ongoing monitoring of format obsolescence and evolution. Anyone who has struggled to find a working floppy drive to open an old document file, only to find the file format is no longer supported by current programs, understands the effect of a break in the preservation lifecycle.

The FBR Collection Online: A Look into the Archive
The online videos, each edited from raw FBR mission footage, provide glimpses into FBR’s video archive. Prayer of Peace: Relief and Resistance in Burma’s War Zones follows FBR teams operating in Karen State, Burma. The half-hour documentary is told through the personal stories of FBR team members and IDPs, including a medic, a team videographer and a father attempting to get medical care for his sick daughter. In Hiding: A Year of Survival Under the Burma Army (contains graphic content) depicts the lives of IDPs in the Karen, Karenni, Shan and Arakan States over the course of 2004-2005. It features documentation of villagers fleeing their homes and living in hiding, the devastating effects of Burma Army landmines, and testimonies from IDPs. The extensive preparation of FBR teams is detailed in Steps to Freedom (contains graphic content), which follows the teams as they train and enter attack areas across Burma.

The preservation of FBR’s complete archival record will be an ongoing project for the HRDI, as FBR continues to generate documentation on a massive scale. Advances in technology, such as FBR moving from MiniDV to file-based video recording, will present new challenges and preservation concerns. However, through this partnership, the FBR video archive will remain secure and provide one means through which the people of Burma tell their own stories, in their own voices. The videos will remain under restricted access to protect the safety of those depicted and not compromise FBR operations. They will be opened to researchers and documentarians at FBR’s discretion, and will be preserved for use by FBR and its partners to bring attention to the situation in Burma.

In Prayer of Peace, the FBR team videographer known as Monkey describes why he wanted to use a video camera. He says, “I started this work in 1998. At that time the Burma Army came and the villagers fled into the jungle. As they fled I took photos with a still camera. When people looked at the photos I couldn’t explain. I wanted the photos to open their hearts. I tried but the photos were not enough. I thought, if I had a video camera it would be better. Instead of me speaking for them they speak themselves.”

Mark Cooper is a second year master’s student at the UT School of Information. He is specializing in digital moving image preservation and recently interned at the Texas Archive of the Moving Image. Previously, Mark worked as a Producer / Director at Penn State Public Broadcasting, where his projects included feature documentaries on water infrastructure and domestic violence broadcast nationally on PBS.

Exhumation and Representation: Reflections on Records of Violence and the Genocide Archive of Rwanda

large gravesite in Rwanda

By: Martha Tenney

The launch of the Genocide Archive of Rwanda marks a significant milestone in the long collaboration between staff in Kigali, Rwanda and here in Austin at HRDI to document the 1994 Genocide. I come to this project decidedly late in the game; I’ve only worked as a Graduate Research Assistant at the HRDI for a little over three months. By the time I started here,  the majority of the work of collecting materials and documenting survivor testimonies in Rwanda was finished, and staff at HRDI had been collaborating with staff at Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre for over two years to digitize, describe, and transfer the videos, photos, publications, and documents that make up the archive. I am staggered by the magnitude of the efforts undertaken by the staff in Kigali: the breadth and depth of the materials they’ve compiled is remarkable, and more is being added all the time.

During my short time here, however, I’ve learned so much, not only about the Genocide itself, but also about the particular responsibilities and challenges of working with records of violence. Most of my involvement with the project focuses on structuring the online archive and figuring out how to best provide access to these resources. As a first-year master’s student at the School of Information at UT, I am studying digital archiving and preservation, cataloging, multimedia collection management, and website usability, all valuable skills for my work at HRDI. But when I first encountered the materials, I was flummoxed: How could I organize the archive in a way that would be meaningful to Rwandans and others hoping to utilize it, when my own understanding of the genocide was so circumscribed? Aside from representations in American media and entertainment—which depict the genocide as an ethnic conflict trope, as the result of the American government failing to intervene, or as the heroism of a few individuals in the face of senseless violence—my knowledge of the genocide was limited.

I was concerned by such limited representations of the genocide, in Rwanda and the rest of the world, and by the responsibility that I felt to represent it in the archive for diverse and divergent audiences. What are the ethics of preserving and providing access to these horrific stories and images? What is the image of Rwandans conveyed by these materials? Are they reduced to the neat categories of victims, survivors, and perpetrators, all inextricably bound to the violence of 1994? I recently re-read Susan Sontag’s last book, Regarding the Pain of Others, in which she discusses photographic representations of violence. Of photographs of “postcolonial Africa,” including photographs of the Rwandan genocide, she says that they typically communicate a “double message”:

They show a suffering that is outrageous, unjust, and should be repaired. They confirm that this is the sort of thing which happens in that place. The ubiquity of those photographs, and those horrors, cannot help but nourish belief in the inevitability of tragedy in the benighted or backward—that is, poor—parts of the world (p. 71).

While the materials in the archive are far more nuanced and complexly described than the photographs that Sontag mentions, I wanted to be conscious of the message that they sent and its possible interpretations.

As I started to listen to the testimonies and follow current events in Rwanda more closely, I also came to understand how providing access to these histories has complex political and practical implications for Rwandans. In their testimonies, survivors cite the threat of retributive violence, and Rwanda’s tenuous political situation has become all the more tense and repressive of dissent since the revelation of the current government’s involvement in the killing of Hutu refugees in the Congo. These very real, very current issues underscore the fact that these archives are far from inert. The stories and records in the archives address issues that continue to impact Rwandans, issues that remain painful and unresolved.

Overwhelmed by these larger concerns, I turned to the quickly multiplying practical matters of filling and organizing the archive: using the wiki structure of the website to categorize and create hierarchies in the archive, laying out pages to make them easier to navigate, editing descriptions, organizing all the material on UT’s servers, and copying the pages from Kigali’s local version of the site, accessible only at KGM to the online public site. These tasks occupied most of my time, and as soon as one challenge had been addressed another always popped up. The staff in Kigali worked at a breakneck pace, adding materials to the archive all the time. And despite technical hitches, an eight-hour time difference, and language barriers, the KGM archivists and staff always graciously answered my many questions.

As the launch date approached, the work intensified. In about two days, I copied all of the photo pages from the local site to the online site, which required that I look at each of the nearly 600 photos currently in the online archive. Seeing all those images in succession was intense. I hadn’t looked this closely at the materials since I’d begun working at HRDI. One photograph in particular almost made me break down. Although there are many grisly photos in the archives, there is something so jarringly violent about this one: the implied violence of the killing coupled with the inadvertent violence done to the bodies even in death. Would the archive perform an analogous second violence on the records of the genocide, digging up old pain and potentially creating new issues for Rwandans?

I continued to copy the pages, though, and the first photo took its place in the broader context of others depicting re-interment and memorial ceremonies, such as photos like the one above, the title of which is “Redonner leur dignité a vos morts est un imperatif pour tout être humain” (restoring dignity to your dead is essential for all human beings). The process of commemoration and dignified burial could not happen without the exhumation of those remains. Likewise, the process of reconciliation and healing could not occur without open access to these records of the genocide. The archives constitute an exhumation of the violence of 1994 that, while painful, ultimately honors the dead and affirms ongoing struggle of Rwandans to make peace with their past.

Martha Tenney is a first year master’s student at the UT School of Information. Prior to coming to UT, Martha completed archival internships at the progressive news program, Democracy Now!, and Franklin Furnace, an avant-garde art space in New York. She has also organized with the Prisoner Solidarity Project at Wesleyan University and studied environmental justice and green business practices in Senegal.

NPR, BBC, CNN, Guardian UK cover the Genocide Archive of Rwanda launch

Thanks to the coverage of several international news outlets, HRDI’s collaborative project with the Kigali Genocide Memorial, the Genocide Archive of Rwanda, received over 4,000 virtual visits over the weekend! I encourage you to check out the site if you haven’t already and to share it with friends, colleagues, students, and anyone with an interest in human rights. We hope that the Archive can be a resource in the classroom as well as in multiple communities.

If you are interested in seeing what others have to say about the project, here are some links to recent coverage.

HRDI team members, Christian Kelleher and Ladd Hanson, traveled to Rwanda for the launch. We will have pictures and an update from them soon. We will also soon post an entry from Martha Tenney, our diligent Graduate Research Assistant from the UT School of Information, who worked with Kigali Genocide Memorial staff to put all the materials online.

In the meantime, you can view photos from the HRDI’s past trips to Rwanda on our Flickr page.

The Genocide Archive of Rwanda launches with the help of the HRDI on Human Rights Day 2010

Skulls on UNHCR tarp in Kibuye
We know there’s been a long silence on our end, but it hasn’t been without good reason. Today, on Human Rights Day 2010, the HRDI is proud to announce the launch of the Genocide Archive of Rwanda, a collaborative project of the Kigali Genocide Memorial, Aegis Trust, and Rwanda’s National Commission for the Fight Against Genocide.

From April to July 1994, the Hutu government, with military and civilian participation and French military support, murdered approximately one million Tutsis, moderate Hutus, and Twa people in Rwanda.  Although the United Nations and western governments, such as that of the U.S., were aware of the Genocide, they did little to prevent it. In July 1994, the Rwandan Patriotic Front defeated the Rwandan army and effectively ended the Genocide.

The interactive online digital archive contains a wealth of rich materials that document the development, lived experiences, and aftermath of the 1994 Genocide. The site features video testimonies from Genocide survivors and rescuers, perpetrator testimonies from the gacaca court proceedings, footage from annual remembrance ceremonies, archival photographs, colonial documents, maps, and propaganda publications, such as the infamous Kangura, that incited violence against Tutsis. All testimonies are given in the Kinyarwanda language; some videos have English subtitles as well as English and French transcripts.

This is the only project of its kind in Rwanda and allows previously inaccessible material to be consulted for education and research purposes. The physical materials have been contributed by the Kigali Genocide Memorial, Ibuka, Iwacu, and individuals.

The HRDI is very proud to be a part of this project! We hope you take the time to visit the site and learn from it.

Some press we’ve received so far:
University of Texas official press release
Guardian UK
BBC
Rwanda News Agency
Tex Libris blog

I interviewed with NPR’s Weekend Edition; the segment will air this Sunday (December 12). Check your local NPR affiliate schedule to see exact times. The Genocide Archive of Rwanda will also be featured on the NPR Picture Show blog. I’ll post direct links when I have them.

–T-Kay Sangwand, HRDI Archivist

Reflections on ‘Abriendo Brecha,’ activist scholarship, and questions of responsibility and privilege

In February 2010, UT Austin hosted its seventh annual ‘Abriendo Brecha‘ conference which featured the activist scholarship of students as well as a diverse selection of keynote speakers from all over the country.  This post focuses on the ‘Extractive Industries and Indigenous Communities in Latin America’ panel which featured HRDI Graduate Research Assistant, Emily Joiner.  In this post, Emily shares her thoughts on the role of the Abriendo Brecha conference, the HRDI, and the challenges of activist scholarship.  

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By: Emily Joiner

From February 18-20, 2010, UT’s Division of Diversity and Community Engagement and campus centers for regional, ethnic and gender studies co-sponsored the seventh annual Abriendo Brecha conference on activist scholarship. This year the three-day event included key note presentations by distinguished guests, such as Iris Morales (Young Lord’s Party), Omi Osun Olomo/Joni Jones (Warfield Center for African & African American Studies at UT-Austin), Eli Efi (Brazilian rap group DMN) and DJ Laylo (producer of Estilo Hip Hop), and Adrienne Pine (Dept. of Anthropology, American University). Abriendo Brecha, or “Breaking Ground”, uses a working definition of activist scholarship as “research and creative intellectual work in alignment with communities, organizations, movements and networks working for social justice.” This breadth of scope supports the conference’s overarching purpose of bringing together scholars, activists and community organizers to address critical questions on the significance of their work’s intersections and divergences and how they can be leveraged in the struggle for social justice.

My personal involvement in the conference included speaking on a panel of graduate students who have undertaken field research on the impacts of extractive industries (oil, gas or mining) on indigenous populations in Latin America. As I listened to my co-presenters recount their work in Colombia, Guatemala, and Argentina, I became fascinated by the many dimensions of social and environmental impacts indigenous communities face as a result of these projects. As in my own work with Shipibo communities in the Peruvian Amazon, these other communities also face contaminated water supplies, changes to their agricultural resources and practices, physical displacement and a variety of health problems caused by environmental contamination. In some cases, these problems are even more acute than they appear at first glance because a community may not be fully integrated into the cash economy where they would have access to other supplies of water or healthcare. Distance from urban centers and scarce financial resources thereby become further obstacles to overcoming environmental impacts. Just as troubling, the discrimination and occasional physical violence that indigenous peoples face in many Latin American countries make it all the more difficult for them to express their experiences, propose changes, and achieve improvements in their circumstances. As important as discussing these impacts with consumers and other activists may be, ultimately our panel failed to stretch deeper than this rich recounting of experience. To my disappointment, the underlying questions about how our work fit into the community’s own advocacy, the way in which students begin to study communities – with or without an invitation, and the diverse strategies for balancing pragmatic goals with academic requirements remained unanswered.

Perhaps my self-conscious recognition of these oversights speaks explicitly to the vital purpose that a conference like Abriendo Brecha serves on an academic campus. Our panel of students explained the factual bases for our conscientious concern and interest in the struggles of these communities. The physical and emotional experience of having seeing the damages alongside affected individuals brought out an activist’s tone and fervor in our work. Yet, our failure to articulate our research more explicitly with broader advocacy became painfully obvious to us and to our audience. In this way, Abriendo Brecha forced us to confront the incompleteness of our work up to this point and consider ways that we can move forward. However, it also served as a reminder that a single conference cannot be the only place on campus where activist-scholarship is questioned, analyzed and challenged to be taken out of the academy and placed back into the context of community-level advocacy.

The core Abriendo Brecha questions apply directly to the HRDI as well. Our community partners in Rwanda, Southeast Asia and Central Texas engage on a daily basis with the struggle to overcome obstacles to respect for human dignity and human rights. However, the role of the HRDI faces ambiguity. As a project within a large research institution, where is the line between our archival work and activism? Does there need to be a division? How should we balance the priorities of local community organizations with the demands of funders, institutional resource constraints and UT Libraries’ mission to support the research and information preservation needs of the University? Just as Abriendo Brecha challenges scholar-activists, the HRDI should strive to dynamically engage the tension inherent to its work at the intersection of scholarship and activism and recognize the privileges and responsibilities that it brings.

Emily Joiner is a master’s student in Global Policy Studies at UT Austin’s Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs.  In addition to conducting research in the Peruvian Amazon, she participated in the Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice’s 2009 fact-finding delegation on Afro-descendant property rights in Ecuador and is a Research Fellow for the International Accountability Project.  She has worked as a Graduate Research Assistant for the HRDI since 2009.