Session 8: Archives, Records, and Human Rights

Moderator: Ciaran Trace (University of Texas Austin)
Off the Record: The Production of Silence in the Guatemalan National Police / Tamy Guberek (University of Michigan)

What happens when a new source of records – a cache of documents of one of the main perpetrators of state violence, no less – suddenly becomes available in a country where historical memory is still in formation and justice for past crimes is still pending? This study analyzes surviving police records from the Historical Archive of the National Police (in Spanish, Archivo Historico de la Policía Nacional AHPN). The AHPN holds valuable information about state surveillance and violence, and has been used for important research and trials. To complement those efforts, this research reviews individual records sub-collections, as well as analyzes a sample of the archive “population” as a whole, and asks: is there evidence of systematic denial, cover-up, dismissal, and censorship in this massive collection of surviving records?  Are there less deliberate silences, which nonetheless serve to keep aspects of history off the record? Indeed, the study finds evidence of silence in the surviving records that the PN produced using a multitude of mechanisms– internal practices of writing death reports, top-down micromanaging of the press, hiding detainees from courts and families, and use of disingenuous human rights rhetoric. In particular, it focuses on how certain police information policies and recordkeeping practices were consistent with macro political agendas and state projects. The findings of this study suggest that production of silences in records is an integral part of the historical explanation about how repression and violence in Guatemala persisted. Ultimately, this study emphasizes the need to understand what these historical records — or any source of information — hold and hide, in order to promote more valid and powerful consumption of them.

Embodying, Performing, and Moving the Record: Artistic Interventions in the Archives / Kathy Carbone (UCLA) 

In March 2013, visual artist Garrick Imatani and poet Kaia Sand were selected for the inaugural City of Portland Archives & Record Center’s (PARC) Artist-in-Residence Program in Portland, Oregon, USA, through an award of a public art project by Portland’s Regional Arts & Culture Council. The artist residency is the first in a series for this archive, with the goal of artists creating work in any media that engages and/or is a result of working with the archive’s collections and archivists. Imatani and Sand have been collaboratively engaging with, responding to, and using one of PARC’s collections, the Police Historical/Archival Investigative Files (a.k.a. The Watcher Files), a collection comprising thousands of surveillance documents collected by the Portland Police Bureau on civic and activist groups in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. A significant part of the artists’ work in this residency is acknowledging and addressing silences in the archival record and the archive. Since January 2013, I have been conducting an ethnographic study of this residency program that explores the experiences and actions of the archivists, artists, and a public arts manager involved in the residency. As well, my study examines how these individuals, and others with whom they collaborate within this particular archival and public art milieu, conceptualize and ascribe meaning(s) to archival records and processes and the archive.

This paper will first trace a life history or biography of these records, beginning with a brief discussion of the records’ creation and use within the Police Bureau, to their anonymous donation to and use by the Portland Tribune newspaper, to their acquisition and management by the archivists at PARC. Then, the paper will turn to the artists’ work, concentrating on how the artists are conceptualizing the records and the archive and transforming records into works of art and poetry. Imatani and Sand envision their work as an addendum to the records, a way to illustrate some of what is missing in the institutional record and the archive as well as investigate what is there. In collaboration with some of the individuals who were under surveillance and whose lives are caught in the records, the artists have created literary and artistic interventions in the forms of poetry objects, sculptures, and spoken word performances that combine official and personal memory, and that talk back to, annotate, and fill in some of the silences and gaps within the archival records. Throughout this discussion of the artists’ works with the records, this paper will also contemplate how archival records as works of art and poetry move and circulate through time, space, and a variety of contexts, and through this circulation and re-contextualization, bring into view what kinds of social relations can occur and histories accumulate between records, individuals, communities, and the archive.

The Impact of Accessing Records on Care-Leavers / Wendy M. Duff (Presenter), Heather MacNeil, Karolina Zuchniak, and Janel Cheng (University of Toronto)

Over the past decade “social justice” has increasingly been the object of study in a multitude of academic disciplines and professional fields of practice, including archives. Archives feature regularly in controversies over the weight and responsibility of the past and archivists suggest that records play an essential role in shaping common understanding about past injustices. However, the precise channels and depth of their impact remains poorly understood. There is a need to probe and delineate the social justice impact of archives as discussed by Duff, Flinn, Suurtamm and Wallace (2013).

Children labeled “mentally defective” and “disabled”, or deemed difficult in Scotland were often placed in residential schools and children’s homes. Though policies such as the Children Act of 1948 emphasized the need to support children’s best interests, abuse occurred within the residential establishments. As many children were never given an outlet to express their grievances at the time, claims have surfaced of corporal punishments, beatings, and force-feeding (Abrahms 1998). No national standards or requirements were in place to assess children’s welfare, and no public accountability. Starting in the mid-1980s, there has been increased public concern and debate related to the abuse of children in residential care as the Kincora and Leeways “scandals” started to focus attention on the issue (Sen et al. 2008, 414). Public concern further heightened in the 1990s by the cases of Frank Beck (Leicestershire) and the “Pin-down scandal” in Staffordshire (Corby et al. 2001). Of note is the government-commissioned Children’s Safeguards Review, which led to the publication of the Kent Report in 1997 providing evidence of different forms of abuse in residential and foster care settings. This review was followed by a number of internal and external inquiries into the issues (Sen et al. 2008, 419). Recently, in 2004, the Scottish Parliament commissioned an independent review of residential school abuse, and in 2007, the Historical Abuse Systemic Review: Residential Schools and Children’s Homes in Scotland 1950 to 1995, or the Shaw Report, was published. The Shaw Report (2007) highlighted the tragic consequences of poor recordkeeping and recommended that the government “commission a review of public records legislation which should lead to new legislation being drafter to meet records and information needs in Scotland.” (p.7). The government subsequently created relevant legislation to implement more coherent and comprehensive recordkeeping practices. It also commissioned a report entitled Time to be Heard: A Pilot Forum (2011), to test the appropriateness and effectiveness of a confidential forum in giving survivors an opportunity to recount their experiences.

This paper will discuss the impact of poor recordkeeping on the ability of survivors to learn about their past and seek legal redress. It would draw on various literatures that discuss the impact of records on care leavers as well as interviews with professionals who support care leavers in their search for records in Scotland, Scottish archivists working in this area, and Individuals who supported the work of the two commissioned reports.