Category Archives: Human Rights Resources

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.


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:

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.

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

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.

Human Rights Day 2009

In 1950, the United Nations General Assembly declared December 10 to be International Human Rights Day.  Sixty-one years later, human rights advocates, lawyers, and everyday people continue to fight for a just world, as we saw over the past year with protests against coups in Honduras and Guinea, student protests in Iran and California, and continued action as new evidence emerges to hold accountable those responsible for disappearances in Guatemala and Argentina.

In honor of Human Rights Day, the HRDI is highlighting human rights stories and resources that are particularly relevant to the work we are doing at the Human Rights Documentation Initiative.  Starting in January 2010, this will be a regular feature on our blog, HRDI Updates.

Smithsonian Institution Collections Search Center
The Smithsonian Institution recently launched the Collections Search Center that allows users to conduct a federated search across their vast collection holdings, including images, audiovisual materials, electronic journals, and their library and archival collections.  A search for “human rights” yields a number of books, photographs, and articles related to human rights.

Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission
On August 18, 2009, Texas Governor Rick Perry signed SB 482 which created the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission that will assist in efforts to preserve information related to the Holocaust and other genocides as well as work with museums, survivors, and organizations to ensure that learning materials about these atrocities are available to Texas educators.

The Commission offers a promising avenue for archival repositories with genocide and human rights related materials to introduce primary source materials into the educational curriculum for a younger audience.  Typically, primary resources are not introduced to students until the college level and thus many students are often unaware of the existence and importance of archives.  The incorporation of human rights-related archival materials into the curricula would not only introduce students to archives, but also enrich the history they are learning and perhaps encourage critical thinking about current events.

Currently, twelve other states have similar councils or commissions.

UNESCO Courier: Memory and History
The latest issue of UNESCO’s online publication, Courier, features several articles on archives and human rights, such as an UNESCO worker who found the Paraguayan police’s Archives of Terror from the 1970s, the Dominican Republic recovering archives from two successive dictatorships (1930-1996), and the Khmer Rouge archives (1970s) currently being used as evidence in the ongoing Khmer Rouge trials.

Related materials at UT
Horman papers on the death of U.S. journalist, Charles Horman, under the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile and subsequent lawsuit against Henry Kissinger

Letelier vs. Republic of Chile briefs investigating the assassination of Orlando Letelier, Chilean diplomat and opponent of the Pinochet dictatorship

Survivor testimony transcripts from trials of 9 Argentine military commanders for crimes commited during the Dirty War

Operation Sofia: Documenting Genocide in Guatemala
Operation Sofia: Documenting Genocide in Guatemala,” one of the National Security Archive’s latest reports, demonstrates how documentation has been used to prosecute genocide perpetrators.  The “Operation Sofia,” a 359-page document, details how the military executed its genocide of the indigenous Mayan communities in Guatemala.

Related materials at UT
Inside El Salvador
photos that document the country’s civil war and its aftermath

Central America Newspak that documented human rights violations in Central America