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Mario H. Ramírez

Never Neutral: Archives and Archivists in Post-Conflict States

The preservation of human rights documentation holds the powerful and profound potential for transparency, accountability, community empowerment and restoration of the historical record. Yet, the preservation of the human rights record often remains in a precarious state due to environmental and/or political threats, lack of resources or expertise, and obscurity through the passage of time. As preservation professionals and custodians of history, the archivist is well-poised to play a pivotal role in preserving human rights’ documentation. This panel aims to examine the role and responsibilities of the archivist entrusted with human rights documentation, particularly in post-conflict states, and their subsequent influence on identity formation, as well as propose a model for the ethical preservation of and access to human rights documentation.

Mario H. Ramirez’s paper, “Archives and Post-Conflict Identity Formation in Latin America,” examines the impact of archives on the building of national identities that seek to reconcile histories of violence and repression with emerging needs for social and cultural cohesion, justice and reconciliation in Latin America. Moreover, it interrogates the place of archivists in this equation, what has informed their record keeping practices during and after repressive regimes and their subsequent influence on the shaping of narratives of identity.

T-Kay Sangwand’s presentation proposes the post-custodial archival model in human rights contexts as an ethical and functional alternative to the traditional theory and practice of acquisition based on physical custody of records which often removes documentation from its context, creators and communities of stakeholders; the presentation also examines the shifting role of the archivist from custodian to consultant within the post-custodial model. Drawing upon concrete examples from the work of the University of Texas Libraries Human Rights Documentation Initiative (HRDI,, Norsworthy and Sangwand will discuss how the post-custodial approach to archiving addresses the collection, preservation, and access challenges for human rights documentation; builds archival capacity in post-conflict societies; secures valuable scholarly resources for institutional stakeholders and the global community; fosters deep collaborative relationships with campus faculty and academic units; and closely aligns with the strategic institutional priorities. While we have primarily deployed the post-custodial archive model in our work with the HRDI, including projects such as the Guatemalan National Police Historical Archive (AHPN,, this presentation will also provide examples of how the post-custodial model can be utilized for other digital collection development efforts outside the domain of human rights.


More about Mario H. Ramírez 

Mario H. Ramírez is a graduate student in the Department of Information Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. Previously, he worked as a Project Archivist in the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley and the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College, City University of New York. His research interests include the role of states of repression in the creation of documentary evidence, the archiving of human rights violations in Latin America and the construction of memory and national identities in post-conflict societies and their Diasporas. He is author of “Witness to Brutality: Documenting Torture and Truth in Post-Civil War El Salvador” in Archiefkunde, “The Task of the Latino/a Archivist: On Archiving Identity and Community” in Interactions: UCLA Journal of Education and Information Studies, and co-author, with Laurence Lepetit and Patrizia Lapiscopia, of “The Role of Social Media and Web 2.0 Technologies in the Protection of Cultural Heritage.” He is a founding member of the U.S. Chapter of Archivists without Borders, co-chair of the Displaced Archives Project, a steering committee member of the Manuscript Repositories Section of the Society of American Archivists and a member of the Academy of Certified Archivists.