More than Just Documents

What do 165 years of documents, Simón Bolívar and a slew of young Americans have in common?

A trip to the Bolivian congressional archives.

Yesterday, we visited the historic archive and library at the vice presidency’s office for a lesson on content analysis, preservation and history.

Our contact, archivist Don René Merida, gave us a tour around the building, which formerly had been a bank. Although the building had been repurposed for governmental use, much of the bank’s original features were still visible. For instance, the door down to the archives was the old bank vault. Inside, the actual documents were stored within the built-in safes on the walls. The archivists had set their offices behind barred sections of the vault.

It was so interesting to see how the space was utilized because everything was so cleverly repurposed.

While visiting this section, Don Merida showed us many historical pieces such as Che Guevara’s diary, letters from Antonio José de Sucre and Andrés de Santa Cruz, the first Bolivian constitution and the only document where Simón Bolívar included his title of “Libertador” with his signature. First, it was incredible that documents from almost 200 years ago had been preserved in pristine condition. (La Paz’s dry climate provides for great preservation work.) Second, it was incredible that I could get so close to such influential pieces. Never in the United States have I had a similar opportunity.

Next, we were given free rein of the periodical archive. This was a journalist’s paradise: hallways full of every newspaper ever published in Bolivia. For an assignment, we each compared coverage of one event in three different newspapers.

While completing my assignment, I began chatting with Don Merida about my background in journalism and how much I was enjoying visiting the archives. About half-way through our conversation, he out of the blue asked me my opinion on Donald Trump. At first, I was taken back by the question, falling back into my American mentality that small talk does not involve politics. However, this is Bolivia.

While I won’t divulge my political opinions here, I will admit that I had already been asked my opinion regarding Trump many times before in La Paz. Politics does not seem to be as taboo to discuss as it is in the United States. When I brought this up with one of my professors, she explained that talking about politics can be seen as a way of sharing information and connecting intellectually. I would totally agree with this because when it came to my conversation with Don Merida, his question about politics actually segwayed perfectly into talking about the assignment I was working on. I was looking at how Bolivian newspapers covered the 2008 election with Barack Obama securing the presidency. From there, we were able to go into a much deeper conversation about politics and media more generally.

Now, this was all made possible by the relationship my professors have with Don Merida. Not many other places would let a bunch of young Americans peruse their most valuable documents.

 

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One thought on “More than Just Documents

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  1. Yes, that archive is spectacular. And it’s even more interesting that so much of the material had been discarded and later found. How did that happen? What does that suggest about the political realities of such a place?

    I’m also always amazed at how close we are allowed to these relics. It’s interesting that while they are revered in much the same way as such documents might be in the US, they aren’t hidden away from sight. How does that reflect different cultural ideas about reverence of history?

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