Science & Research

Archival project sheds light on Brazil-U.S. relations

Students from Brown, Brazil collaborate to digitize 10,000 previously classified documents

By
Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Researchers and students all over the world can now access thousands of U.S. State Department documents about Brazil at the click of a button. On the 50th anniversary of the Brazilian military coup, members of the University’s Brazil Initiative have released over 10,000 documents online containing information about the country from 1963 to 1973, when a military dictatorship ruled.

The “Opening the Archives Project” was organized in partnership with the Universidade Estadual de Maringá in Paraná, Brazil, said James Green, professor of history and Brazilian studies and a leader of the project. The newly digitized documents contain information about Brazilian political and diplomatic proceedings, including day-to-day operations of the U.S. Embassy in Brazil and even information about dinner-party conversations, Green added.

“There are generally no smoking guns of dramatic information that has been revealed,” he said. “It’s more to understand the logic and practice of diplomacy between the two countries.”

Making the historical documents widely available will spur Brazilian and U.S. researchers and students to undertake new projects to learn more about this decade of Brazilian history, Green said.

Before the Opening the Archives Project began, scholars interested in the documents had to travel to the National Archives at College Park, Md., and pay for a hotel, he said. But now they can access them anywhere.

“We’re hoping that our successful model will be copied by other universities in other countries on other topics,” he added.

There is much to be learned from the relationship between Brazil and the United States, wrote Adam Waters ’15, the student coordinator for the project, in an email to The Herald.

“I hope that these documents allow the people of both countries to face together their difficult past, recognize the wrongs that have been committed, and then work toward a better future,” Waters wrote.

Some Brazilian scholars have historically been suspicious of the United States and its policymakers, said Andre Pagliarini GS, a coordinator of the project. Opening the Archives serves as an “alternative form of diplomacy” between the United States and Brazil by promoting transparency and collaboration between the countries, he added.

Pagliarini accompanied the team to the Archives last summer to enter the documents online and will lead a group to the Archives again this summer to complete the digitization of documents.

Researchers and students at Brown and Brazilian universities have already begun analyzing some of the documents, using them to study topics such as the United States’ stance on Brazilian military policies and instances of torture, Green said.

In order to transfer the State Department documents from paper to the Internet, a small group of undergraduates traveled to the National Archives, Green said. The students scanned the papers and then indexed them in an online catalog.

Digital records are the future of archiving, Waters wrote. Paper documents are not sustainable because they age and can be damaged, so digitization provides an easy-access alternative, he added.

The Brazil Initiative aims to “make Brown the best place to study Brazil outside of Brazil” and to strengthen the University as a hub of international research collaborations about the country, Green said. The University held a conference last week titled “Brazil: From Dictatorship to Democracy,” which highlighted many of the same historical events that are covered in the documents, Green said.

The Opening the Archives team plans to release another 10,000 documents in the coming year, Green said. Student participants will travel to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston and the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library and Museum in Austin, Texas, to continue to unveil the diplomatic history between the two countries.

“It’s part of preserving and indexing history,” Green said.