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The website that I chose for this analysis is: Documents of 20th-century Latin American and Latino Art: A Digital Archive and Publications Project At the Museum of Fine Arts, Huston http://icaadocs.mfah.org/icaadocs/en-us/home.aspx. As its title suggests, the organization behind this website is the Museum of Fine Arts Huston, under its International Center for Arts of the Americas, whose director is Mari Carmen Ramirez Ph.D, also curator of Latin American Art at the MFSH. The museum’s Documents Project is run by Ramirez, María C, Gazrambide, and an editorial board of sixteen members.

The main purpose of this project is to “provide access to primary sources and critical documents tracing the development of twentieth-century art in Latin American and among Latino populations in the United States.” [1] This website aims for a “multilayer” and comprehensive digital archive of key documents recovered from physical archives around the American Hemisphere. The first face of the project had teams of researches identifying documents in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Brazil, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Latino USA. The second face of the project, which is currently taking place, has a team in Washington DC working at the Art Museum of the Americas, Organization of the American States, archives.

The project is funded by both private and federal money. Its main funding source is The Bruce T. Halle Family Foundation, as well as some additional donors such as: The Wallace Foundation, The Getty Foundation, The Ford Foundation, The National Endowment for the Humanities, The National Endowment for the Arts, the Fullbright & Jaworsky L.L.P., and the Colección Patricia Phelps Cisneros in between others.

This website was created mainly for the use of curators and scholars, but it also serves the general public. One of the main features of this initiative is that it is free of charge, so anyone can have access to the digital archives.

The website’s designers, São Paulo-based Base7, managed to create a comprehensive site in which visitors can easily search for documents, through the use of the site’s search tools, both keyword and advanced. The user can also browse listings based on the document’s metadata: Editorial Categories, Titles, Authors, Topic Descriptors, Name Descriptors, and Geographic Descriptors. However, these listings require having previous knowledge about the subject of study; otherwise, the user will not be able to take advantage of them. The keyword search would probably be the most appropriate for non-scholar users as it allows for a general search that does not require such specific knowledge on the matter.

Users can also perform quick searches without an account and have access to a small image of the document, its metadata, synopsis and annotations. However, having an account allows users to access all the features of the digital archive and to “curate and save their own collection of documents, e-mail saved documents citations, view, share and export collections of documents, save search results in to a collection of documents.”[2] These features are very similar to the ones that ARTstore offers and are, perhaps, the most important attributes of the site.

Each document’s metadata has been carefully gathered to give the users complete citations, language of the document, type of document, tags, location of the document, and information about the researcher who wrote the synopsis and annotations. Here is an example: http://icaadocs.mfah.org/icaadocs/THEARCHIVE/FullRecord/tabid/88/doc/732252/language/en-US/Default.aspx

The documents are only available in their original language. They are not transcribed and the user only has access to its digital scan, which can sometimes be a burden because, if the document is too old, the digital version can be difficult to read. Not having the document translated into English, Spanish, and Portuguese can also limit accessibility to the information; not everybody can speak three languages.

Except for the documents, the website is available in English and Spanish, which grants researchers wider accessibility to metadata content, synopsis and annotations. However, as the site also offers a comprehensive collection of Brazilian Art documents, content should also be available in Portuguese.

Beyond the digital archive, the Documents Project also includes a series of publications based on recovered documentation. Its major publication is a series of Critical Documents of 20th-century Latin America and Latino Art, based on the Editorial Categories established by the project’s editorial board. When researchers affiliated with the project are cataloging and recovering the documents, they need to assign one or several of these categories to them. To see the scope of each category visit: http://icaadocs.mfah.org/icaadocs/en-us/about/theproject/editorialframework.aspx.

For the field of Latin American Art, the Documents Project is a unique source of information, an archive that enables the constant revision of vast primary sources of the 20th –century. For researchers, it has become the first place to look for primary sources. A part from being a member of the Washington DC team, I personally use the website constantly.          


[1] Documents of 20th-century Latin American and Latino Art: A Digital Archive and Publications Project At the Museum of Fine Arts, Huston.  http://icaadocs.mfah.org/icaadocs/en-us/home.aspx

[2] Documents of 20th-century Latin American and Latino Art: A Digital Archive and Publications Project At the Museum of Fine Arts, Huston.  http://icaadocs.mfah.org/icaadocs/en-us/home.aspx

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While reading the book The Access Principle: the Case for Open Access to Research and Scholarship by John Willinsky, I had a conversation with a friend that works at the World Bank about the importance of having open access to academic journals in institutions of higher education, in developing countries, and in institutions such as the World Blank. Organizations like these finance development projects in the developing world, which demands the ability to access up-to-date scholarly research.      

I explained to her a case example from Willisky’s book – the case of the Kenya Medical Research Institute and their lack of information on tropical diseases due to the fact that they weren’t able to afford the leading journals about the subject.1 I continued to tell her about how the book proposes a principle of open access to scholarly research, which is described as a “a commitment to the value and quality of research carried with the responsibility to extend the circulation of such work as far as possible and ideally to all who are interested in it and who might profit by it.”2

With this principle in mind, we both – as Colombians – discussed how the quality of higher education in countries like ours could be vastly improved through a greater democratization of information. Each time that one sees world university rankings, the highest ranked ones are usually (though, not always) in the United States and the United Kingdom. These schools not only produce great professionals but also a vast amount of high quality scholarly research. In the majority of the cases, these wealthy institutions are more able to afford the fees required in order to have access to the best and most current research journals. So, if knowledge is predominately produced and accessed by these select institutions, the worldwide educational disparity will only continue to grow wider. This phenomenon is why I believe open access to knowledge is vital in improving education and research on a global scale. 

What about institutions such as the World Bank? In our discussion, my friend mentioned how expensive it is for the World Bank’s to purchase access to academic journals and publications. This can be quite cumbersome for her, as she must justify the importance of the document for the project in order to gain approval to purchase the information. The justification goes to high authority that decides if the expense is worth it or not. If decision-making institutions such as the World Bank are limited in their ability to conduct thorough research because of costs, it is clearly more urgent a need to promote Willinsky’s principle as a major goal in a worldwide campaign to make knowledge democratized and at the service of people. 

 I know that this perhaps sounds idealistic, but Willinsky provides a variety of initiatives in which efforts are presently being made to promote open access. Coming from Colombia, I know how difficult it is to pursue higher education in the Sates. It is not to say that my college education was necessarily bad, but rather I know that by having open access to contemporary academic resources, my education would have been that much better and current.

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1 To see more on this case and the help that the World Health Organization gave them, see: Jonh Willinky. The Access Principle, the Case for Open Access to Research and Scholarship. Cambridge: The MIT Press. 2006 p.21

2 Willinky. The Access Principle… p. 57

While reading Free CultureHow Big Media Uses Technologies and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity by Lawrence Lassing, I remembered the polemic against Colombia’s Lleras Law in 2011.

Former Minister of the Interior and Justice, Germán Vargas Lleras, introduced new Internet copyright legislation with the goal of holding Internet providers responsible for copyright infringements made by their users. As soon as the news about this law broke out, the media as well as individuals on Facebook, Twitter and blogs reacted against the proposal. As Andres Izquierdo explained, the law “goes beyond the Agreement’s [FTA] requirements, putting in place restrictions beyond what the Agreement require, beyond what related international treaties allow.”[2]

Although the law did not go through, the fact that it was even proposed suggests the inability of Colombia’s legislators to create a balanced copyright law that defends and supports the flow of free culture. Lassing exposes this point in by saying that “the free culture that I defend in this book is a balance between anarchy and control.”[3]

Lassing’s book is full of examples in which he shows the importance of this balance in order to promote and produce culture. The Colombian case is no doubt one of them. Revista Semana, one of the most important news outlets in Colombia, explains that “what is interesting about this discussion [the discussion about the Lleras Law] is that even the critics of the law assure us that the issue is not about whether to abolish copyrights or not, but rather the way in which they are protected and how they can at the same time ensure that knowledge and culture are promoted and grow exponentially through digital media.”[4]

In Colombia, one example of a project that depends on digital media is the band DeJuepuchas (http://dejuepuchas.tumblr.com), whose music is inspired and produced based on other peoples’ and organizations’ web content. The band understands that the Internet is a never-ending repository of collective memories and knowledge.[5] The approval of the Lleras Law, would jeopardize and neglect the existence of their project because they would not be able to source others’ content from the Internet.

New technologies allow for and promote different ways to approach and access information. While copyright law is needed to some degree, lawmakers should be able to legislate in such a way that recognizes the positive impact that new technology gives society in producing and sharing information. I would choose a balanced piece of legislation that would guarantee projects like DeJuepuchas the freedom to use Internet based content to create new content.


[1] Lawrence Lessig. Free CultureHow Big Media Uses Technologies and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity. Penguin: New York. p. 83

[2] Andres Izquierdo. “Analysis on Article 13 of the Colombian Ley Lleras 2.0.” InfoJustice.org. http://infojustice.org/archives/2835. January 2013

[3] Lawrence Lessig. Free Culture. p. 15

[4] Santiago La Rotta. “La Polémica ‘Ley Lleras.” Revista Semana. http://www.elespectador.com/impreso/vivir/articulo-261793-polemica-ley-llerasApril 2011.

[5] “Nosotros/Us”. DeJuepuchas in the Nation.” http://dejuepuchas.tumblr.com/about

Richard White explains that digital history has given the discipline of history the opportunity to create new, dynamic and interactive visual tools for research. He argues digital history has allowed him and a group of researchers to develop what he calls, “spatial history,” which is a research tool that by overlapping and comparing dissimilar information and by using georeferesing systems, such as ArcGIS, researchers can better understand historical information using a new factor – space. 

These spatial and dynamic visualizations, according to White, allow researchers to appreciate movements in history through new ways of analyzing the intersections and interplays of space and location, analyzing what he callsrelational spaces where researchers are able to work with variables such as landscape, time, and costs.

White explains that spatial history functions different from the known practice of history in four ways.  First, it is a collaborative effort where scholars need to form interdisciplinary teams to analyze and evaluate the data. Second, it is less text driven, but rather a greater importance is placed on the visual interpretation of information, or visualizations, as he calls them. The third and fourth aspects are that is all about digital history and it focuses on determining spatial relationships within history.

While thinking about the concept of space in history and its relation to time, the first idea that came to my mind was the fact that White’s tools allows for a historical analysis that is not necessarily linear. Instead, visualizations allows for a relational approach to history, observing changes in time through multiple layers and variables that are not necessarily chronological.

After I read the article by Alan Lui, I more clearly understood this idea of seeing history in a non-linear way. As new technologies advance and more tools to interpret history are created, different ways to approach history continue to emerge in which the making and the reading of history will include diverse tools. It will be up to the historian and the consumers of history to choose which kind of history they want to approach and how best to explore and explain it.