Meg Phillips is the External Affairs Liaison for the National Archives and Records Administration and recently attended the ICA Meeting in Mexico City. This is a shortened version of the report she provided for her NARA colleagues:
The International Council on Archives held a joint meeting with the Association of Latin American Archivists (ALA) in Mexico City from November 27 to 29. I attended for NARA. I sit on the ICA’s Programme Commission (PCOM), support the ICA New Professionals program, and act as the Programme Commission’s liaison to the ICA Expert Group on Managing Digital and Physical Records.
Getting to attend ICA meetings for NARA is one of the highlights of my role as NARA’s External Affairs Liaison. NARA is well-respected among the archives of the world and I feel that it is important that we are represented there. There are always many questions and conversations about what NARA is doing, and opportunities to connect archivists from other countries to their counterparts at NARA. And afterwards, I can bring back to NARA some highlights of the things I learned from our international peers.
In the interests of keeping this reasonably short, I’ll provide a top-ten list of tidbits that archivists might find interesting.
Archives and Human Rights
1) As one of the PCOM members who supports the ICA New Professionals program, I got to talk to enthusiastic and interesting newcomers to archives from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, Australia, and the United States. (The representative from the US was Mexican-American and passionate about community archiving among Mexican immigrant farm workers in his native California.) One of the most memorable conversations I had was with the new professional from Argentina, who shared how the focus on using records to support human rights there is in tension with professional archival practice. Funding opportunities, jobs, and institutional priorities are all going to records that document human rights violations or could be used to support human rights. She explained that it is difficult to run a balanced, professional archival program that preserves history in general and conforms to best practices (keeping human rights records within their fonds) in that environment.
2) Former NARA Deputy and Acting Archivist Trudy Peterson helped run a workshop on behalf of the Human Rights Working Group, which ran an exercise where participants took turns reading articles from the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and then the next person provided examples of archives or records that might be relevant to protecting – or proving a violation of – that right. I found this exercise very effective. I’d never spent so much time with the Declaration before, and I understand it and the human rights relevance of archives better now. (The workshop did this in a combination of Spanish and English, muddling through with great good will.)
3) There were several presentations from Canada related to the system of Indian residential schools, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission work with which Library and Archives Canada has been involved to try to address the damage done to native Canadian cultures. I shared some of the information NARA staff had compiled on BIA and (in particular) the Carlisle Indian School (Dickinson College) with Director of Library and Archives of Canada, Guy Berthiaume, who was interested to learn about the parallels in the US. Carlisle Indian School (Dickinson College) was in the news this past year as the Army disinterred and returned the bodies of several children who died there.
4) Dagmar Hovestadt from the Stasi Archives in the former East Germany gave a great presentation about the role of the records of surveillance. She said that, in addition to providing authentic evidence of what happened in the former regime,
“The archive itself has become a monument of surveillance. It embodies in itself REPRESSION, REAPPRAISAL, and REVOLUTION.”
Digital Archives – and Digital Archivists
5) The Director of the Archives in the United Arab Emirates, which is particularly digitally oriented under a mobile-enabled government policy, has a Master’s Degree in cybersecurity.
6) Erick Cardoso, the Director of IT at the Archivo General de la Nacion (Mexico) and also in charge of digital preservation, has an IT background but is now pursuing an MA in archives from the University of North Texas. One of my matchmaking missions was to find the people doing this work in Latin America, so I set up an email connection between him and our own Leslie Johnston.
7) I was a little starstruck to meet Bert de Vries, the Director of the Amsterdam City Archives, responsible for awesome map projects.
8) The 2017 hurricane season revealed some unfortunate side-effects of ICA’s regional “branch” structure. NARA is part of NAANICA – the North American Regional Branch of ICA – along with other US and Canadian archives. In contrast to other regions of the world where there are many more countries and far fewer strong professional associations for archivists, NAANICA really only has two countries, and both of those countries are well-served by our own archives associations.
– In contrast, CARBICA, which serves the countries of the Caribbean, is quite active. CARBICA leapt into action after Hurricanes Irma and Maria tore through the region, reaching out to contact the archivists on the affected islands, organizing a survey of damage and needs, and negotiating with ICA for disaster recovery resources from the parent organization.
– Even though Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands are in the Caribbean, NARA has not traditionally been part of CARBICA. Now I realize that communication about the status of the US islands would have been much easier if we had been plugged into that organization. In fact, there is some discussion within ICA of finding ways of tying NAANICA, CARBICA, and the Association of Latin American Archivists (ALA) together more tightly so communication among all of us in the Americas could be smoother, especially in times of emergency.
9) Emilie Gagnet Leumas, the chair of the ICA Expert Group on Emergency Management Disaster Preparedness, who is from the Archdiocese of New Orleans and earned her disaster recovery chops during Katrina, was whisked away by UNESCO to assess earthquake damage to historic libraries and archives in Puebla, Mexico after the ICA meeting. Emilie was a little nervous about this last minute arrangement and not sure what kind of damage the team would find. In fact, she fell in love with the city (“stunningly beautiful”) and reported that scaffolding stabilizing buildings was the major evidence of the earthquake’s destruction. I emailed to make sure she was ok once I got home, and she wrote back:
“Puebla was nothing of what I expected. We never saw “damage” and piles of rubble like I expected. Everything was cleared and clean. There was some scaffolding holding up buildings and scaffolding in the Cathedral while men fixed the dome. Puebla is a stunningly beautiful, old colonial Spanish town. We spent time at the library and Archives surveying rare books and giving advice…. Puebla is on my list to return for a long weekend vacation. It was that beautiful.”
10) The Archivo General de la Nacion in Mexico CIty consists of a modern new building built inside an old panopticon prison. Although they did not have major damage during the earthquake, apparently it did cause a crack in the walls of the left wing of the old part of the building, so they didn’t come out completely unscathed, either. The old prison has been beautifully remodeled and the center of the “eye” in the panopticon is a dramatic vaulted exhibit space. Mexico City is a great city, full of amazing food, history, art, music, parks, and friendly people. (Also traffic. Lots of traffic.) It hadn’t been on my radar as a destination, but if I ever get a chance to go back, I will definitely go.
the ICA’s New Professionals Programme just posted its invitation to apply for bursaries for the 2018 ICA meeting in Yaounde. This will be an archives adventure of the first order for a small group of new archivists, a guaranteed opportunity to meet the ICA leadership (which is extremely supportive of the New Professionals programme) and many other interesting archivists from all over the world, and also a chance to help the host archives, the National Archives of Cameroon, kick-start a new era of government support for archives and archives associations in Africa.