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Memoirs of the National Archives of Chile (1962-1975): academic and political sources

This project was awarded funding to hire a researcher assistant to gather sixteen institutional memoirs of the National Archives of Chile between 1962 and 1975. I expect that readers can perceive this work as an example of remote, collaborative, and interdisciplinary research between archivists and historians based in Chile and the UK (Liverpool). Hence, I would like to strongly encourage other Latin American Postgraduate students to evaluate using this mode of work in future applications to this grant.


I am deeply grateful to SLAS (Society of Latin American Studies) as this project will serve to immensely advance in my PhD thesis "The National Archives of Chile and the State, 1962-1975". This study seeks to understand the obstacles to archival development in Chile by analysing three administrations, using a comparative perspective: Juan Eyzaguirre (1962-1971), Claudio Vidal (1971-1973) and Patricio Estellé (1973-1975). All of them intended to modernize the service during their term in office, identifying the same problems and proposing slightly similar reforms such as the construction of a new archival building, the creation of Regional Archives and, finally, the preparation of up-to-date legislation. Despite their efforts and enthusiasm, they all ultimately failed in their attempts.


The focus of the research is on the interactions between the directors and multiple state institutions to implement those measures. Exploring the official communication between the National Archives and the Chilean State allows us to track the procedures and arguments used by the archival managers to seek state support for their projects, and the types and content of the State’s responses. In this way, it is possible to analyse how each director tried to tackle these three reforms individually and, secondly, to build a chronological history of how these same problems and demands have been shaped historically since 1962, even up to the present day.


In this context, memoirs are the cornerstone piece to reconstruct the history of Latin American National Archives – and any archival institution globally. As an internal evaluation from the director’s perspective, these texts contain the achievements and needs for the archival institution to carry out their legal, administrative goals. In addition, some directors used them as a tool to demand improvements and communicate problems to the state authorities. In this sense, memoirs are crucial sources to understand obstacles and challenges in the archival management, and how and under what circumstances the directors’ pressures became –or not– an archival policy supported by the Central Administration.

Front page of the 1967 memoir of the National Archives of Chile Author: Ana Bravo Jara Copyright: Archivo Nacional de Chile [National Archives of Chile]

The challenging, time-consuming task of collecting these groups of records fell to the Chilean professional Ana Bravo Jara, diploma in Archival Science and a master’s student in Gender Studies at the University of Chile. The decision was oriented by two powerful reasons: her intimate knowledge of a wide variety of archival collections, and her remarkable experience working with state-produced, administrative sources in Chile.


Overall, the institutional memoirs are a 5-to-15 pages annual account that directors of the National Archives of Chile were legally obliged to remit to the Directorate of the Archives, Libraries and Museums (DIBAM) of the Ministry of Education, the state organism which the archival organisation depended on from 1929 to 2017. As records that circulated within the Public Administration, locating and collecting them requires a review of both the office from which they were dispatched and the administrative-bureaucratic place in which they were received.


For that reason, Ana visited two archives in Santiago de Chile from July to December 2023: first, the Archivo Nacional Histórico  (National Historical Archive, AHN) and, second, the Archivo Nacional de la Administración (National Archives of the Administration, ARNAD). The former preserves the records of the DIBAM, while the latter safeguards the National Archive Fund, which contains administrative and financial records produced by the archival institution from this foundation in 1927.


Volume 111 of the DIBAM Fund which contains memories sent to that institution between 1954 and 1955 at the Archivo Histórico Nacional   Author: Claudio Ogass Bilbao Copyright: Archivo Nacional de Chile [National Archives of Chile]

Ana’s work consisted fundamentally of reviewing two documentary series: (1) the director’s correspondence at the ARNAD and (2) the memoirs that educational and cultural institutions dispatched to the DIBAM at the AHN. In December 2023, I travelled to Chile and collaborated in her archival work at the final stage. Working together, we collected and photographed 31 institutional memoirs from 1946 and 1976, missing only the years 1964 and 1975. These gaps are a result of different, inconsistent recordkeeping practices among Chilean state authorities and represent archival silences which invite archivists and historians to use new and creative methodologic approaches to get the most of them as sources.


A day of collaborative archival work at ARNAD in December 2023 Author/Copyright: David Padilla Morales

Ana’s archival work, commitment and professionalism far exceeded my expectations as well as the objectives set out in the project. For one semester, she was –metaphorically speaking– my “eyes” in the Chilean archives. Hence, to successfully meet our goals, we co-created a mutually agreed methodology of work to oversee and coordinate the progression of the archival work, which included virtual meetings, reports, and shared cloud documents. Additionally, we both undertook ecological practices to reduce our carbon footprint such as biking to the Archives to prevent using public transport or cars, and wearing our own cotton gloves rather than nitrile, disposable ones. That way, this project focused on sustainability following the SLAS Climate Action Plan.


Archival work at ARNAD following the SLAS Climate Action Plan Author/Copyright: David Padilla Morales

Though memoirs have academic value, few Latin American archivists have fully exploited their richness as historical, and political sources. One of the reasons for this situation is the difficulty to find them easily and individually. For that, we are planning to transcribe and publish these records in the future. In the Chilean context, so far, only the historian Ricardo Donoso, director of the National Archive between 1927 and 1954, has published the memoirs of the archival institution from 1927 to 1945. In that sense, a publication of this kind could represent a chance for future researchers to appreciate changes and continuities between different administrations of the institution over a wide time span of nearly five decades: 1927 to 1975. It would also serve to promote and diversify archival history as a line of research, particularly in Chile and Latin America.


Front page of the 1971 memoir of the National Archives of Chile Author: Ana Bravo Jara Copyright: Archivo Nacional de Chile [National Archives of Chile]

I extend my personal gratitude to all the Chilean National Archives’ staff and archivists who facilitated this project and gave permission to take and use photographs. Finally, a last acknowledgement to Ana, whose contributions to my thesis and this project are unquantifiable. Future researchers on Chilean issues who want to use this modality of distance work will find a magnificent work partner in her. Please, do not hesitate to contact me if you are interested in receiving more information about this:


Claudio Ogass Bilbao

PhD Student on Archive Studies

University of Liverpool

LUCAS (Liverpool University Centre for Archive Studies)

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