Presentation covered a general overview of Post-Custodialism as it is applied in the archival field. Presentation discussed initial framing of the Post-Custodial practices as well as local application of the concept in a Latin American context. Presenter also shared a few takeaways from the positive potential opportunities of applying Post-Custodial methods for archival projects.
Gerald Ham, 1981
● Late 20th century revolution in information processing is inexorably
changing the world and the work of archivists.
● These changes Ham argued pushes archivists into a new period he
called post-custodial archival history.
● Earlier period meant record quantities were relatively small; the
technology of records creation, storage, and retrieval fairly simple; and
archivists assumed a passive role in shaping the documentary record.
● Previous custodial ethos made archivists excessively proprietary
toward archival holdings
● New period brings many changes including computer processing of
information allowed people to collect, preserve, and manipulate vast
quantities of social and economic data.
● Now archivists can make a large portion of their holdings as available
as printed books, but this requires changes in outmoded ideas about
where and by whom resources are used.
Post-Custodialism in a International Context
During a project called the HRDI, collaborating partners
(UTL/LLILAs Benson) had to confront many atypical practical
acquisition and access conditions (distance, ethical
considerations, evolving nature of records). Also a result of
traditional repositories trying to preserve living records (meaning
those still in use by creators)
Jeannette Bastian studies the definition of custodialism in the
case study of the records of a former Danish colony now known as
the United States Virgin Islands.
● Both governmental entities split and retrieve records leaving
no physical onsite records for Virgin Islanders
This study focused more on the aspect of how managing the
records also means managing access to the records.
Some Post-Custodialism Principles
● Creators must take on record manager roles
● Decentralization of holdings
● Utilize the benefits of modern technology to provide easy and centralized
● Coherent and comprehensive acquisition program
● Better use of limited resources available for archival work
● Encourage inter-institutional cooperation
● Archival service center providing traditional services to smaller institutions
such as purchasing supplies, providing records survey, etc.
● Provide needed short- term vocational assistance as well as consultations on
project planning and administration
● (re)balances power between.. colonizer/colonized, global South/Global North,
● (re)defines archival practice and expectations between different parties
● (re)locates the archival enterprise responsibilities
● Diversify and democratize the historical record.
“ While many of LLILAS Benson’s
digital archival projects are
described as Post-Custodial or at
times noncustodial, the actual
Post-Custodial approaches differ
Slightly from project to project.
- Itza Carbajal
Latin American Digital Initiatives (LADI)
Began with a planning grant awarded by the Andrew W. Mellon for
the project “Post-Custodial Archival Development and Digital
Scholarship: Learning from Latin America”
● partners in Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua
Continues today with a 2017 Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant
award allowing LLILAS Benson to continue the development of the
institution’s Latin American Post-Custodial work and
● partners in Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico
A collaboration to preserve and provide access to unique archival
documentation from Latin America, with an emphasis on collections
documenting human rights, race, ethnicity, and social exclusion in
LLILAS Benson website: www.ladi.lib.utexas.edu
2018 Post-Custodial Team
at LLILAS Benson
Senior Software Developer/Analyst
Post-Custodial Archivist /
Head of Digital Initiatives
Latin American Metadata Librarian
Digital Processing Archivist
LADI Post-Custodial Partners
Centro de Investigaciones
Centro de Investigación
y Documentación de la
El Museo de la Palabra y la
Fondo Real de Cholula
Tribunal Superior de
Justicia del Estado de
Proceso de Comunidades
Equipe de Articulação e Assessoria
às Comunidades Negras do Vale
Human Rights Documentation Project (HRDI)
Initial brainstorming occured in at a 2007 conference titled “Human
Rights Archives and Documentation: Meeting the Needs of Research,
Teaching, Advocacy, and Social Justice” co-sponsored by UT Libraries,
Center for Research Libraries, and Columbia University.
First proposed project was a collaboration with Kigali Genocide
Memorial Center in Rwanda with final project launched in 2008.
HRDI is committed to the long-term preservation of fragile and
vulnerable records of human rights struggles worldwide, the promotion
and secure usage of human rights archival materials, and the
advancement of human rights research and advocacy around the
LLILAS Benson HRDI website: http://legacy.lib.utexas.edu/hrdi
Human Rights Documentation Project Partners
Genocide Archive of Rwanda
A digital archive that aggregates digital copies
of materials related to the Genocide for
educational and research purposes.
Free Burma Rangers
A multi-ethnic humanitarian service
movement working in the war zones of Burma
An international nonprofit organization that
uses the power of video and storytelling to
open the eyes of the world to human rights
Texas After Violence Project
A human rights and restorative justice project
that studies the effects of interpersonal and
state violence on individuals, families, and
Archivo Histórico de la Policia Nacional (AHPN)
In 2005 Guatemalan human rights office governmental
representatives during an on-site investigation of abandoned
barracks in Guatemala City stumbled almost literally into a room
full of deteriorating documents.
Includes more than 7 thousand nine hundred linear meters of
packets of folios (~60 million folios). Records date from the late
nineteenth century (1882) and extend to 1997. Types vary from
official correspondence, register of investigated people,
registration cards, arrest records, etc)
LLILAS Benson Website: https://ahpn.lib.utexas.edu/
AHPN Guatemala Website: http://archivohistoricopn.org/
Funnel Funding to Other Organizations
Changing the outcome of funding landscape to
funnel financials resources to new and/or
smaller groups and provide access to funds.
Traditional archival institutions utilize perceived
standing with funders, governments, and other
Diversify Collections & Historical Narratives
Collaboration with nontraditional archival
institutions introduces a wider selection of
Transmission of Skills
Archivists provide trainings and insights on tools
relevant to archival practice to non-archivists or
archivists from a variety of archival settings
Disrupt Divisions of Expertise
Archivists shift to consultants whose aim is to build
local knowledge and expertise on archival
processes. Traditional archival institutions
distribute claim to specialized knowledge.
Shift Responsibilities and Authority
Consulting role requires that archivists plan
alongside local practitioners and may even
relinquish decision-making powers to local
Reform Metadata Practices
A further shift away from a field specialists
approach, these metadata practices take into
account local parties’ expertise and proximity to
record topics and subjects. Archivist is no longer
the authority on the context and content.
Comments or questions?
Email me at i.carbajal [at] austin [dot] utexas [dot] edu
tweet me! @archiviststan
□ Bastian, Jeannette. "A Question of Custody: The Colonial Archives of the United States Virgin Islands." The
American Archivist 64, no. 1 (2001): 96-114. doi:10.17723/aarc.64.1.h6k872252u2gr377.
□ From Custody to Collaboration: The Post Custodial Archival Model at the University
of Texas Libraries. (2013). https://library.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/Univ%20of%20Texas.pdf
□ Ham, F. "Archival Strategies for the Post-Custodial Era." The American Archivist 44, no. 3 (Summer 1981):
□ Kelleher, Christian. "Archives Without Archives: (Re)Locating and (Re)Defining the Archive Through
Post-Custodial Praxis." Journal of Critical Library and Information Studies 1, no. 2 (2017).
□ LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections Receives Mellon Foundation Grant." University of
Texas Libraries. Accessed November 05, 2018. https://legacy.lib.utexas.edu/about/news/llilas-
□ Polk, T. Archiving Human Rights Documentation: The Promise of the Post-Custodial Approach in Latin
America. (2016). https://llilasbensonmagazine.org/2016/08/05/archiving-human-
□ Shein, C. and Lapworth, E. Say Yes to Digital Surrogates: Strengthening the Archival Record in the
Postcustodial Era. Journal of Western Archives [online] 7(1), (2016)