Preservation

2nd January 2008

I just finished reading “The Atrocity Files: Deciphering the Archives of Guatemala’s Dirty War” (subscriber-only link), an amazing article in Dec. 2007 Harpers. It’s about how investigators in Guatemala stumbled across five buildings of decaying records about people who were “disappeared” by the government during Guatemala’s civil war.

Here’s the original posting from the National Security Archive’s Guatemala Documentation Project. Please go look at the photos, they’ll make your brain swim. You can see the scope of the project to preserve these documents, and to get information to families of those who were murdered by police. Many of the records were left lying in heaps exposed to the weather and vermin.

All those people inside the files remind me of the fictional house in Everything is Illuminated that contains the belongings of a town decimated by the Nazis. Dusty boxes full of keys, and pocket squares, and baby teeth. It must be a peculiar sensation to begin preservation work, to feel so much loss and possibility in the same room.

9 thoughts on “Preservation

  1. Jan

    I’m an information/data/records manager and those photos just knock me out. I did notice, in photo 6, that the guy holding the FBI bulletin is apparently going through all that stuff with no gloves or protection of any kind. ::shudder::

    You said a mouthful when you said, “so much loss and possibility in the same room”. Are you sure you’re not a closet archivist?

    Thanks for the links.

  2. Meg

    Jesus Christ. That’s like “Of Love and Shadows” come to life. Thank you for the heads up. I studied this for years in school, and hadn’t realized this was going on. I’m off to get the Harpers.

  3. Jessica

    A friend of mine from Argentina had her father disappear. It really was just as sudden as it sounds…one day he was there, the next he wasn’t. Thanks for the article, I don’t know if she has seen it.

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