Tag Archives: Guatemala

Documentos en el Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional (AHPN). Foto: AHPN.

Seminario en Guatemala Conmemora la Colaboración en Archivos y Derechos Humanos

Documentos en el Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional (AHPN). Foto: AHPN.
Documentos en el Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional (AHPN). Foto: AHPN.

POR HANNAH ALPERT-ABRAMS

Nota editorial: Citamos un reportaje del Archivo de Seguridad Nacional (National Security Archive) de George Washington University: “El renombrado Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional de Guatemala (AHPN) se encuentra en crisis después de que su director, Gustavo Meoño Brenner, fue despedido de manera súbita, resultado de una serie de acciones orquestradas por el gobierno guatemalteco y una oficina de las Naciones Unidas. Estas mismas acciones dejaron el personal del archivo, más de 50 personas, bajo contrato provisional, y transfirió la responsabilidad por el archivo al Ministerio de Cultura y Deportes, quitándola del archivo nacional, donde ha residido desde el 2009.”

Esta situación materializó el 3 de agosto, una semana después de un seminario patrocinado por LLILAS Benson Colecciones y Estudios Latinoamericanos y el Centro Rapoport para los Derechos Humanos y la Justicia, que tuvo lugar en AHPN. Bajo el título “Archivos y derechos humanos: experiencia de colaboración entre el AHPN y la Universidad de Texas,” el seminario ofreció la oportunidad de reflexionar sobre los siete años de colaboración entre la Universidad de Texas y el AHPN.

 Dado las novedades inquietantes sobre el AHPN, la Dra. Virginia Garrard, directora de LLILAS Benson, dijo, “LLILAS Benson afirma su compromiso a AHPN y su apoyo por la preservación de esta colección histórica, la cual es fundamental para la búsqueda de la justicia, el rescate de la memoria histórica en Guatemala y al resguardo de la historia nacional guatemalteca desde el siglo XIX.”

Read this article in English.

El personal de LLILAS Benson Colecciones y Latinoamericanos y el Centro Rapoport para los Derechos Humanos y la Justicia viajó a la Ciudad de Guatemala para participar en un seminario sobre la alianza entre la Universidad de Texas y varias instituciones guatemaltecas que trabajan con archivos.

El evento tuvo como título “Archivos y derechos humanos: experiencia de colaboración entre el AHPN y la Universidad de Texas,” y se realizó el 27 de julio en el Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional (AHPN), que se ubica en un hospital inacabado en donde, en 2005, se descubrieron más de ochenta millones de archivos pertenecientes a la Policía Nacional, bastantes de ellos encontrados en estado precario. Durante más de diez años, un equipo de archiveros guatemaltecos ha trabajado intensivamente para preservar, organizar y dar acceso a esta colección en riesgo.

Gustavo Meoño, director del AHPN, habla. Sentados, desde la izquierda: Virginia Garrard, Dan Brinks y Theresa Polk.
Gustavo Meoño, director del AHPN, habla. Sentados, desde la izquierda: Virginia Garrard, Dan Brinks y Theresa Polk.

Durante el seminario, los participantes reflejaron sobre la alianza de más de siete años entre el AHPN y la Universidad de Texas. Esta alianza ha permitido la fundación de colaboraciones digitales, académicas y pedagógicas, incluyendo la introducción, en 2011, de un acervo digital alojado por el sistema de bibliotecas de la Universidad de Texas.

Los anfitriones del seminario fueron Gustavo Meoño, director del AHPN, y Anna Carla Ericastilla, directora del Archivo General de Centroamérica. Virginia Garrard, la directora de LLILAS Benson; Dan Brinks, el co-director del Centro Rapoport; y Theresa Polk, la directora del programa de materiales digitales de LLILAS Benson; y fueron quienes expusieron sobre la historia de la alianza internacional y su importancia para la recuperación de la memoria histórica y la búsqueda de democracia y justicia transicional en Centroamérica.

Brinks (izq.) del Centro Rapoport, con Garrard (LLILAS Benson) y Meoño (AHPN). Foto: H. Alpert-Abrams.
Brinks (izq.) del Centro Rapoport, con Garrard (LLILAS Benson) y Meoño (AHPN). Foto: H. Alpert-Abrams.

Giovanni Batz, Brenda Xum, María Aguilar, and Hannah Alpert-Abrams—todos ex-alumnos y ex-alumnas de LLILAS Benson—hablaron sobre el impacto del archivo tanto en sus carreras como en su entendimiento de la historia de Guatemala. Especialmente conmovedores fueron los comentarios de ex alumnos guatemaltecos de la Universidad de Texas cuya comprensión de su patrimonio cultural fue moldeada por el estudio del AHPN. Como comentó Brenda Xum, “los archivos cuentan una historia humana.”

Brenda Xum, ex-alumna de LLILAS Benson. Foto: H. Alpert-Abrams.
Brenda Xum, ex-alumna de LLILAS Benson. Foto: H. Alpert-Abrams.

Dos socias del archivo, Enmy Morán y Tamy Guberek, ofrecieron una visión para el futuro de AHPN, incluyendo nuevas técnicas en la preservación de los archivos y nuevos métodos cuantitativos para descubrir las historias contenidas en ellos.

Alrededor de 75 investigadores, archivistas, estudiantes y miembros de la comunidad asistieron al evento, que fue abierto al público. Estos participantes tuvieron la oportunidad de hacer preguntas. Entre ellas, hubo preguntas sobre los desafíos de la preservación digital, la dificultad de acceder la información archivística y las cuestiones éticas implícitas en publicar información delicada en línea.

Durante una tarde bastante cálida, los participantes comentaron sobre la manera en que la conferencia reanimó su interés en las investigaciones archivísticas y la historia guatemalteca. Al final, una participante se paró de pié para felicitar a las personas miembras del panel durante el evento. “Antes, realmente no conocía este archivo,” dijo. “Tampoco sabía sobre su importancia en la historia de mi país.”

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El seminario “Archivos y derechos humanos: experiencia de colaboración entre AHPN y UT Austin” fue patrocinado por el Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional (AHPN), LLILAS Benson Colecciones y Estudios Latinoamericanos y el Centro Rapoport para los Derechos Humanos y la Justicia.

Hannah Alpert-Abrams, PhD, es becaria posdoctoral CLIR en LLILAS Benson Colecciones y Estudios Latinoamericanos. Traducido del inglés por Hannah Alpert-Abrams y Susanna Sharpe.

 

Documentos en el Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional (AHPN). Foto: AHPN.

Seminar Commemorates Collaboration with Guatemala on Archives and Human Rights

Documents at the Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional (AHPN, Guatemalan National Police Historic Archive). Photo: AHPN.
Documents at the Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional (AHPN, Guatemalan National Police Historic Archive). Photo: AHPN.

BY HANNAH ALPERT-ABRAMS

Lea en español.

Editor’s note: From the National Security Archive at George Washington University: “Guatemala’s renowned Historical Archive of the National Police (AHPN) is in crisis after its director, Gustavo Meoño Brenner, was abruptly removed in one of a series of recent actions orchestrated by the Guatemalan government and a United Nations office. The actions also placed the AHPN’s remaining staff of more than fifty people on temporary contract, and transferred oversight for the repository from the country’s national archives, where it had functioned since 2009, to the Ministry of Culture and Sports.” (See Guatemala Police Archive Under Threat.)

These actions took place on August 3, a week after LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections joined UT’s Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice in Guatemala City to host “Archives and Human Rights: A History of Collaboration between the University of Texas and the Historic Archive of the National Police.” The one-day seminar was an opportunity to reflect on seven years of partnership between the University of Texas and the AHPN, which preserves records documenting over one hundred years of police activity in Guatemala.

Given the recent alarming developments at AHPN, Virginia Garrard, director of LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections at The University of Texas at Austin, stated, “LLILAS Benson affirms its commitment to supporting the preservation of this historic collection, which is so fundamental to the pursuit of justice, the recovery of historical memory in Guatemala, and to the preservation of Guatemala’s national history dating back all the way to the nineteenth century.”

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Representatives from LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections and the Bernard and Audre Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice visited Guatemala City on July 27 for a seminar on archival partnerships between the University of Texas and Guatemalan institutions.

The event, “Archives and Human Rights: A History of Collaboration between the AHPN and the University of Texas” was held at the Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional (Guatemala National Police Archive, or AHPN). The AHPN is located in the unfinished hospital building where over 80 million pages of archival materials were found, in various states of preservation, in 2005. For over ten years, Guatemalan archivists have been working to preserve, organize, and provide access to this vulnerable collection.

Gustavo Meoño, director of the AHPN, addresses the seminar. Seated (l-r) are Virginia Garrard, Daniel Brinks, and Theresa Polk. Photo: Hannah Alpert-Abrams.
Gustavo Meoño, director of the AHPN, addresses the seminar. Seated (l-r) are Virginia Garrard, Daniel Brinks, and Theresa Polk. Photo: Hannah Alpert-Abrams.

During the seminar, speakers reflected on the seven-year partnership between the AHPN and the University of Texas, which has featured scholarly, pedagogical, and digital collaborations, including the 2011 launch of the UT-hosted digital portal to the AHPN.

The one-day event was hosted by the director of the AHPN, Gustavo Meoño, and by Anna Carla Ericastilla, the director of the Archivo General de Centroamérica. Virginia Garrard, director of LLILAS Benson; Dan Brinks, co-director of the Rapoport Center; and Theresa Polk, director of digital initiatives for LLILAS Benson, spoke about the history of the partnership and its importance for reconstructing historical memory and the pursuit of democracy and transitional justice in Central America.

Daniel Brinks (l), co-director of the Rapoport Center; Virginia Garrard, director of LLILAS Benson; and Gustavo Meoño, director of AHPN. Photo: Hannah Alpert-Abrams.
Daniel Brinks (l), co-director of the Rapoport Center; Virginia Garrard, director of LLILAS Benson; and Gustavo Meoño, director of AHPN. Photo: Hannah Alpert-Abrams.

LLILAS Benson alumni Giovanni Batz, Brenda Xum, María Aguilar, and Hannah Alpert-Abrams discussed the impact of teaching and learning with the archive on their professional careers and their personal understanding of Guatemalan history. Especially moving were personal stories from former UT students whose understanding of their cultural heritage was shaped by studying the AHPN. As Brenda Xum remarked: “los archivos cuentan una historia humana” (“the archives tell a human story”).

LLILAS alumna Brenda Xum. Photo: Hannah Alpert-Abrams.
LLILAS alumna Brenda Xum. Photo: Hannah Alpert-Abrams.

Longtime AHPN affiliates Enmy Morán and Tamy Guberek offered visions of the future of research with the AHPN, including new approaches to archival practice and new quantitative methods for uncovering archival histories.

About seventy-five scholars, archivists, students, and community members attended the conference, which was open to the public. Among the topics addressed in audience questions were the challenges of digital preservation, the difficulties of accessing archival information, and the ethics of publishing sensitive information online.

Throughout the very warm afternoon, participants commented on the ways that the conference had reinvigorated their interest in archival research and Guatemalan history. At the end of the day, one audience member stood to congratulate the panelists on a successful event. “Before this event I didn’t really know about this archive,” she said, “and I didn’t know about its importance to my country’s history.”

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The seminar “Archivos y derechos humanos: experiencia de colaboración entre AHPN y UT Austin” was co-sponsored by Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional (AHPN), LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections, and the Bernard and Audre Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice.

Hannah Alpert-Abrams, PhD, is the CLIR postdoctoral fellow in data curation at LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections.

Working with documents at the AHPN. Photo courtesy Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional, Guatemala.

21 Years of Peace, 21 Million Documents: Revisiting the Digital Portal to the Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional

Working with documents at the AHPN. Photo courtesy Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional, Guatemala.
Working with documents at the AHPN. Photo courtesy Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional, Guatemala.

BY HANNAH ALPERT-ABRAMS

How can we process 80 million pages of historical documents?

The question is a philosophical one, about the ability of our minds to conceive of such a large number of documents. The Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional (Guatemalan National Police Historical Archive, AHPN) in Guatemala City contains about eighty million documents, or about 135 years of records from the National Police of Guatemala.

According to one estimate, that means the collection requires about three-quarters of a mile worth of shelf space. In comparison, the Gabriel García Márquez collection at the Harry Ransom Center takes up about 33.18 feet of shelf space. The Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa Papers at the Benson Latin American Collection take up about 125 feet.

The question is also a technical one, about the difficulty of gathering, organizing, and providing access to an inconceivably large collection. For over a decade, archivists at the AHPN have been racing to clean, organize, and catalogue these historical records. In 2010, the University of Texas at Austin partnered with the AHPN to build an online portal to a digital version of the archive.

Photo courtesy Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional, Guatemala.
Photo courtesy Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional, Guatemala.

As the CLIR Postdoctoral Fellow in data curation and Latin American studies at LLILAS Benson, I have been tasked with the challenge of figuring out how best to support this ongoing partnership.

I visited the AHPN last November, just before Guatemala celebrated the twenty-first anniversary of the signing of the peace accords that ended the country’s decades-long armed conflict (1960–1996). Together with Theresa Polk, the post-custodial archivist at LLILAS Benson, I went to Guatemala to learn about the digitization efforts at the AHPN, and to celebrate a major milestone: when we arrived, the archive had just finished digitizing 21 million documents.

Many of the documents in the archive are in fragile condition. Photo courtesy Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional, Guatemala.
Many of the documents in the archive are in fragile condition. Photo courtesy Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional, Guatemala.

Digital Access to Historical Memory

The AHPN hard drives may fit in a carry-on, but hosting and providing access to the 21 million digital documents they contain is not a trivial task. When the University of Texas launched the digital portal to the archive in 2011, it was a bare-bones service with minimal browsing or search capabilities. Since then, the collection has doubled in size and grown exponentially in complexity. Our challenge—and the reason we were in Guatemala City—is to figure out how to represent that complexity online.

According to the web analytics, the majority of visitors to the website are based in Guatemala. These users are largely looking for two kinds of information. Some are members of human rights organizations conducting research related to police violence spanning over three decades of internal conflict in Guatemala. The rest are people trying to find out what happened to their loved ones, victims of violence during that same period. That’s why the anniversary of the peace accords matters to the collection. Organizing these records and making them available to the public has been one of the many ways that Guatemalans are reckoning with their country’s past.

There is an urgency to serving these research communities, and our top priority is to provide easy access to information. Easy searching of the archive, however, remains elusive. The archival documents are organized according to the baroque structure of the police bureaucracy. To find documents requires an intimate knowledge of that organizational structure.

Searching would be easier with richer descriptive metadata. If we could extract names, locations, and dates from the archival materials, it would make it easier for a person to search for their loved one, or a researcher to learn about specific neighborhoods or historical events. But extracting information from 21 million documents is a resource-intensive task, and the technologies for automating those processes remain imperfect.

Photo courtesy Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional, Guatemala.
Photo courtesy Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional, Guatemala.

Search is not our only priority, however. As I learned firsthand, to visit the AHPN is to be immersed in the context of its construction and its size. The dark, narrow corridors, concrete walls, and grated windows are a testament to the building’s history as a police prison. The violence of the archive is always close at hand, despite the hope it represents. One of our challenges is to recreate that experience for users of the digital archive.

Furthermore, as I learned from talking to the head of the Access to Information unit, the process of searching for information at the AHPN has been designed in a way that allows the archivists to bear witness to the memories of the researchers. Each visit begins with a question: Tell us what happened to your loved one.

The question has a practical purpose. It allows the archivists to glean the information that will make it possible to locate the necessary records from among the millions of files. But in answering this question, families are also sharing an intimate story with an archivist, an act of strength and also, often, of courage. Can a digital archive create similar opportunities for those who are unable to make the visit in person?

Imagining Digital Futures

The partnership between the University of Texas and the AHPN is an extraordinary opportunity for our institution to create new paths to historical research, and to support the international preservation of historical records. It allows us to honor and support the vital work of the archivists at the AHPN, while working at the forefront of digital collecting.

A scanned document appears on the screen as part of the digitization process. Photo courtesy Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional, Guatemala.
A scanned document appears on the screen as part of the digitization process. Photo courtesy Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional, Guatemala.

This partnership has also encouraged us to rethink our assumptions about digital archives. We often imagine a digital archive as a simple reflection of a material collection. But 21 million digital pages have very different infrastructure and support requirements than their material counterparts. The needs and expectations of online users are different, too.

In many ways, in imagining the future of the AHPN portal, we are imagining the future for digital collections at the University of Texas more broadly. The size and complexity of collections like the AHPN push the limits of our understanding of the role of libraries, and librarianship, in the digital age. They draw us into a future where scholarship, community-building, and access to information are inextricably linked.

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Hannah Alpert-Abrams is a CLIR postdoctoral fellow in data curation at LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections at The University of Texas at Austin.