The Documentalist

Documenting Documentation Practices in Mexico

Posted in Uncategorized by Sarah on February 10, 2010

As part of the Human Rights Electronic Evidence Study, CRL plans to conduct brief field work in Mexico, Russia, and Rwanda.  The goal of these trips is to actually see documentation practices in action and better understand why and how a variety of human rights groups collect and save (or not) the materials they need for their work. The first of these trips will begin this Sunday February 14, when I, as  CRL’s Project Coordinator in Human Rights, will be in Mexico for nine days collecting as much qualitative and quantitative data as possible about the documentation practices of a variety of human rights organizations.

The first five days of the trip (February 14-20), I will be in San Cristóbal de las Casas, in the state of Chiapas.  There I will visit in the neighborhood of 8 to 10 organizations all focused on indigenous rights for Maya Chiapans.  Some organizations engage in video advocacy while others document issues and abuses through publishing academic articles or engaging in judicial advocacy.  In all cases, a wealth of materials is being collected for  important human rights endeavors.  My task will be to learn what materials are being collected and why, as well as what goals activists and organizations have for their materials. I will also be keeping an eye open for “downstream” uses of these materials–whether for scholarship, legal work, or further advocacy–and mapping how documentation moves from the moment of creation through some sort of archiving process to be adopted for new human rights purposes.  I will therefore be paying attention to metadata protocols, archiving conditions, legal issues surrounding access, and how this whole chain of action works.  And in those instances when it doesn’t work, I will try to pinpoint why.

To accomplish all of this, I will be investigating the extent of the archiving practices that exist at each organization and imagine that I will run into a wide range–from no organized archive at all to highly organized and protected materials.  I will also have the privilege of visiting two indigenous communities–Acteal and Ocosingo–where I will see two video advocacy projects in process.  All of this work is made possible by the generous support of Promedios, whose director, Paco, will spend the week introducing me to the groups I will be meeting and educating me about the human rights issues that the communities of Chiapas face in their daily lives.

At the end of my week in San Cristóbal, I will return to Mexico City, where I will visit Canal Seis de Julio–an independent non-profit organization that distributes human rights news that the Mexican government tends to try to quash.  The organization also produces documentaries of human rights cases and maintains an extensive archive of the materials they have collected since their inception in 1988.

I look forward to returning to Chicago at the end of this trip and beginning to process the field notes, field recordings, and photographs that I will collect.  As I work through these materials, I will post observations and organizations profiles here on The Documentalist.


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