College of Liberal Arts

LLILAS Benson Receives Mellon Grant to Pioneer Archival Projects in Latin America

Mon, Apr 24, 2017
LLILAS Benson director Virginia Gerrard will serve as the project director.
LLILAS Benson director Virginia Gerrard will serve as the project director.

A $700,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation will fund a project that will help preserve vulnerable human rights documentation from Latin America and create a digitally accessible archive within LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections at The University of Texas at Austin. 

The project is titled “Cultivating a Latin American Post-Custodial Archival Praxis” and builds on a previous Mellon Foundation project through which LLILAS Benson and the UT Libraries collaborated with three archives in Central America.

These partnerships led to the creation of Latin American Digital Initiatives (LADI), a digital repository that hosts unique archival collections, with an emphasis on human rights and cultural agency in the region. LADI archives include historical newspapers from Bluefields, Nicaragua; solidarity and propaganda materials documenting the Salvadoran civil war; and news clippings documenting political violence in Guatemala during the armed internal conflict.

The new grant will support similar post-custodial initiatives with partners in Brazil, Colombia and Mexico, with an emphasis on documenting underrepresented communities. As practiced by the Benson Latin American Collection and the UT Libraries, post-custodial archiving enables the preservation of vulnerable archives in the places they are created, while facilitating global online access to the collections. Land and cultural rights of indigenous and Afrodescendant communities are among the themes that will be addressed by the new project. 

Professor Virginia Garrard, director of LLILAS Benson, will serve as the project director, and post-custodial archivist Theresa Polk will serve as co-director. 

“LLILAS Benson’s post-custodial work is rooted in fostering strong, horizontal, mutually beneficial relationships between archivists, community partners and scholars,” said Garrard. “We are committed to sharing the theory and methods developed through this project with partners and peer institutions in the archival field throughout the United States, Latin America and globally. We are confident that this comprehensive approach will place The University of Texas at Austin at the forefront of post-custodial praxis.” 

Grant activities will be broadly collaborative, engaging scholars and librarians alongside community partners to work collectively, with a focus on respecting community insights and being responsive to the cultural and political sensitivities within the materials. Expanded digital scholarship initiatives will encourage scholars to interact with the collections to generate new insights in Latin American studies and integration of digital resources into classroom teaching.

The grant, which will fund work from July 2017 through December 2019, will be administered through the University of Texas Libraries. UT Libraries staff will also provide technical expertise and support for the project, including development and management of the digital repository system, guidance on descriptive practices, and consultation on digital preservation plans.

“The Mellon Foundation has again stepped forward to support innovation in libraries and archives with this generous award, recognizing the global impact of pioneering archival practices being developed by LLILAS Benson in tandem with international partners and researchers,” said Lorraine Haricombe, vice provost and director of UT Libraries. “We are grateful for the Foundation’s continued promotion of work by dedicated experts tackling new frontiers at the University of Texas Libraries.”

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