Historians to Digitize Endangered Peruvian Archive

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For years, the historical papers of a Peruvian peasants’ rights group sat heaped in piles on the floor of a house in downtown Lima — threatened by pests, political foes, thieves and natural disasters, but largely off limits to scholars and the public.

A new project led by UC Davis historian Charles Walker will digitize documents of the Peruvian Peasant Confederation (Confederación Campesina del Perú, or CCP) and make them accessible online.

Walker recently was awarded a $50,000 grant from the UCLA Library’s Modern Endangered Archives Program, or MEAD, to buy imaging and other equipment, and pay part-time salaries of a team of Peruvian archivists who began organizing and creating an inventory of the papers in 2015.

doorway
Records behind closed doors of the Peruvian Peasant Confederation (Confederación Campesina del Perú, or CCP) will be made  accessible online. (Charles Walker/UC Davis)

The project is among 22 worldwide that were selected in August for MEAD’s second round of funding. MEAD was set up in 2018 with support from Arcadia, a charitable trust of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin, to digitize and document 20th- and 21st-century community activism and cultural heritage.

Filling a gap in history

A poster from a 1988 women’s congress is among documents in the CCP archive.

The CCP has played an important role in Peruvian politics since its founding in 1947, said Walker, a professor of Latin American history and director of the UC Davis Hemispheric Institute on the Americas.

Documents in the archive could change our understanding of modern Peruvian history, Walker said.

“It constitutes the richest archive collection in Peru focused on rural and Indigenous people in the 20th century.” — Charles Walker

Among its contents are documents about its organization, national congresses, efforts to incorporate women’s groups, correspondence with foreign human rights organizations and political parties, and a collection of rights violation denunciations by rural people. It also includes fliers, posters, magazines, books and audiovisual material.

UC DavisArtifacts as they were before the archiving and organization.
UC DavisItems after the organization.

A window to the Shining Path conflict

“Particularly noteworthy are the correspondence and pleas for help from the period of the Shining Path (1980-92) and the Dirty War,” Walker wrote in the grant proposal. “The extreme danger in this period (the conflict left 70,000 dead according to the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission) meant that journalists and scholars conducted rural research at great risk.”

The archive could help fill that information gap, providing documentation on how peasant communities responded to the conflict and how the CCP and other organizations sought to aid them.

But the archive is “in terrible shape, in danger,” Walker said. Already, source materials from the CCP’s first three decades have been lost — some in a police raid in 1977 and others during a move in the early 1980s.

publication
Materials like this CCP publication could provide new insights into how rural and Indigenous communities responded to the 1980-92 conflict between Shining Path guerillas and Peruvian armed forces.

Collaboration with Peruvian experts

The digitization project, scheduled to begin in December and take about eight months, will focus on the most historically important source materials, Walker said.

Fully searchable digital files will be given to the UCLA Library as well as to Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú and Peru’s ombudsman. These libraries provide open access to the files.

The team in Peru includes Ruth Borja Santa Cruz, a professor of history at National University of San Marcos who oversaw the creation of the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s archive; María Karina Fernández Gonzales, head archivist for Peru’s ombudsman now in charge of the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission archive; and Maria Rodríguez Jaime, of the Casa de Literatura library and archive.

The CCP physical archives will remain in Peru, along with the digitizing equipment bought with the grant. “The team is fantastic,” Walker said. “They already have more projects in mind.”

— Kathleen Holder, content strategist, College of Letters and Science

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