A Digital Platform to Rescue Venezuela’s Lost Memory

A group of academics launched a digital platform to recover historical documents, and a first project on slavery archives

One pretext turned into a cliche says that “Venezuela is a country with no memory.” Some say this is because the republic is too young; others blame political personalism, which creates the illusion that every new ruler restarts our history. When you see the poor state of our libraries, museums, archives and the education system in general, you may conclude that the bleak outlook is true and definitive. However, we must remember that times like this, as Mariano Picón Salas would say, are part of that “tormented and contradictory” country of ours, still in the process of finding itself. And precisely to contribute to that self discovery is that we must tell the story of what happened to the physical and spiritual territory where we have built our society. That is, to keep our memory alive, with all its constituting elements. 

With this goal in mind, Red Historia was created in 2021. This organization’s mission is to preserve papers that are relevant to understanding our country, and making them available to the public through digitalization.

Digital humanities have exploded in the last two decades, by intersecting technology and human sciences to increase a complex understanding of culture and history—taking advantage of the increased data and readings available to us today—and giving them tools to access the knowledge accumulated through centuries.

However, Venezuela lacks a public policy that allows the preservation and dissemination of historical documents, closing the doors to the general public and to researchers. This is why the three of us decided to do something: Guillermo Guzmán Mirabal, doctor in History at UCAB, specialized in Venezuelan foreign policy of the 1970s; Marcus Golding, PhD candidate at University of Texas; and myself, PhD candidate in History at Sorbonne Nouvelle in Paris. 

We realized we were doing the same work on parallel roads. After many hours of phone calls, we learned that many people share the same concern over the preservation of Venezuelan memory. Red Historia Venezuela is not only a project based on recovering documents, but also it’s meant to be a meeting point for everyone who, like us, is working to restore visions of our past and needs to share experiences and, well, get a boost on the spirit. 

Collaboration has been the core of our activities since our first project, an alliance with Academia Nacional de la Historia, supported by the German foundation Gerda Henkel, to recover and scan the collection Civil-Esclavos (1700-1858), which holds fundamental information about slavery in Venezuela, since the Hispanic period to the birth of the republic. We formed a multidisciplinary team and got advice from the US Conservation Center, setting up a framework for our organization and all others who expect to use digital humanities to preserve Venezuelan historical materials.

Thanks to work by Jesús Luces, Gloria Márquez, Diego Madriz, Zully Chacón, Andrés Burgo and Kristo Ramírez, we could prepare and scan 381 tomes and 23 boxes of unarchived material. In six months we were able to recover 123,800 pages by performing 61.900 captures, using the index on slaves and slavery (1997) by Carmen Torres Pantin and Marianela Ponce. Now we have metadata and descriptors for our project, enriching the previous archives.

All those documents are currently available to everyone at our digital platform www.archivo.redhistoriave.org. The idea is that researchers (and curious citizens) can get a glimpse of what our recovered and digitized memory can look like.

Our plan is to cover not only the 18th and 19th centuries, but also the 20th and more contemporary archives from political, business and cultural key actors. We also want to recover Venezuelan press issues, institutional archives and, eventually, going from digitizing paper to other formats. We have many challenges ahead, because Venezuelan memory is so rich, diverse and plural, so we must start to work on this, even if the conditions are far from ideal. This is the time.

Do you want to help? We need donations to run our platform. You can also write to [email protected] if you’d like to discuss new projects and goals in this Venezuelan adventure that is just beginning.