Tag Archives: Archives

December 10th: International Human Rights Day: an interview with Chris Laico, Archivist at RBML


Telford Taylor Papers, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Libraries, New York, NY: Series 15-2-1, Box 213, Folder 79

For the occasion of International Human Rights Day, which falls on December 10th every year, I sat down with Chris Laico, Archivist at RBML, who along with  Carrie Smith*, is responsible for processing human rights related collections. I asked Chris a few questions about archives, human rights, his daily work, what keeps him up at night, and what keeps him going, and here is what he said.

Q: Can you please introduce yourself, your background, and how you got into archives and librarianship? What was your trajectory like?

I came to the Archives’ world late. In college at Drew University, I majored in Political Science and minored in German. In the summers, I volunteered as an intern for my local Congressman Benjamin A. Gilman in New York and later in Washington DC. After graduation, I worked for a court reform group in New York called The Fund for Modern Courts. After a period of about two years, I went back to school at Georgetown University, and attended the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service in DC. At Georgetown, I studied international relations with a focus on German and European Studies.   All these experiences introduced me to the world of human rights.

Upon graduation, I worked as an editor in a publishing house, which was struggling financially. They kept downsizing and I decided that I must reinvent myself. One of my colleagues, a librarian, who would see me spending a lot of time in the library of the publishing house suggested that I should consider going to library school. This seemed like a good idea to me.

I enrolled in the evening sessions of the Archives Program at NYU and got certified in Archives and Historical editing. Upon my graduation, I got a job at the Diamond Law Library, Columbia Law School and worked on processing the papers of Telford Taylor. Taylor was the Special Assistant to Robert H. Jackson, U.S. Chief of Counsel at the International Military Tribunal (1945-1946), Nuremberg, Germany.  After the Nuremberg Trials, Taylor would be best known for his opposition to U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s and for his outspoken criticism of U.S. actions during the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 1970s.


Q; What types of collections have you worked on? Did you have a particular attachment to a collection? If so, which one and why?

The Telford Taylor Papers is the collection I got most attached to. Although it was hard, meticulous work, it was also a great labor of love. Taylor was an incredible writer. The papers, for example, contain documents related to his work as a lawyer, legal scholar, and historian, including: Taylor’s work as related to the  International and Nuremberg Military Tribunals, his service within departments created by the New Deal, some of his legal case files (particularly on civil liberties cases), and other professional interests that Taylor had. Although the collection dealt mostly with the Nuremberg trials, there were also memos dealing with international issues, including communism, and internal domestic issues including McCarthyism and various civil liberties cases. The papers are currently housed at RBML. I got a lot of satisfaction from working on these papers, and feel very happy that now, it is one of the most used RBML collections. The processing was completed in 2005. I then moved on to processing the Human Rights Watch, Helsinki (HRW) collection in 2006, then moved on the HRW Africa Watch, HRW Asia Watch , etc.. This was the time when Jim Neal, the University Librarian then, supported the creation of the HR Documentation and Research Center. The two major NGOs who deposited their papers with us initially were Amnesty International and HRW. The Amnesty International collection was processed initially by Catherine Carson Ricciardi and is currently being processed by Carrie Smith. I have personally processed around one mile of archival materials related to human rights.

Q: Where are you located? Can you please describe a typical day? 

I am located in room 314 in the Lehman Social Sciences Library. Room 314 is a large open space, which allows my colleague, Carrie and I the opportunity to process sizable human rights related collections.

A typical day usually revolves around delving into processing a collection. I start by setting some weekly or daily processing targets, depending on the priorities set by RBML, my supervisor and the scholarly interests and needs of our users.  After setting my goals, I work through the archival materials. If I encounter something interesting, I usually make a note of it, and go back to it, to read it, examine and undertake additional research about it on my own time. I view my work as similar to an eternal graduate student, in a good way. I learn something every day. There is a fundamental need to understand the context of an archival collection in order to do it justice, and be able to process it as neutrally and as efficiently as possible.

Q: How does the work of a human rights archivist differ from other archivists?

HR archives are different from ordinary archives, say literary or artistic or other social archives in that they sadly deal, for the most part, with human kind’s inhumanity towards each other, e.g. dark facts in our human history, including genocides, torture, forced disappearances, etc. Working on this material, on a daily basis, can be emotionally draining. 

Throughout the years, I learned to develop a strategy to be better equipped to deal with this darkness, and not allow it to overwhelm me, or to stand in the way of the main goals I would like my work to achieve. I focus on the power of archives to tell a story, to not allow someone in a power position to say: “this did not happen”. The aim is of course to raise empathy, but also to try to re-inscribe that story into the bigger narrative, to avoid erasures, silences and gaps. In order to achieve that meaningful and important goal, I try to disengage, as I seek to understand what I am reading and what I am processing, just to allow myself not to be overwhelmed,–overwhelmed by empathy, for that would stop me from achieving my goal.  I try to act like a professional doctor: focus on the goal, not the pain, nor the empathy in that moment. Even though my initial natural tendency is to delve into empathy, and risk being overwhelmed, I keep reminding myself that the best empathy I can deploy is one that will allow me to focus on the end result, and I plow along, describing the material, arranging it, hoping that I am thus supporting research and discovery.

Most archives, or I should say, most processing of archives, support a human right, a right of representation, of having, a voice, a perspective, a community inscribed in history. This is especially true for minorities, or under-represented groups. It is the politics of representation, of what and who creates a canon, a narrative, of who gets heard and who has a seat at the table. Now that’s an interesting question. And then the openness, the courage to start new curricula, new areas of study based on these primary resources, on these under-represented perspectives. That’s interesting, too.

Q: Who is your user community, and what are their research needs?

image of CHRDR website

We are open to everyone. We work with faculty, researchers, students, advocates.  Local researchers in the city visit us, as well as international researchers and advocates, even high school students use our services. Our user community is truly global. One of the most rewarding aspects of my work is when an undergraduate student gains an understanding through the archives of the value of documents for research, that she takes with her throughout her life. The saddest thing is when a student comes to us, right before graduation, only to say: “I did not know this place existed. I did not know about these documents and archives”. This is a missed opportunity, a loss.

I would say across wide range of interests, the majority of the needs I see now are for material related to contemporary issues, mostly requests for digital material, for the web archiving content from the web archiving initiative led by Pamela Graham. There is also interest in the archives and papers of the big HR NGOS. Enough time has passed since their founding that a look at their trajectory can feel beneficial to researchers.  We recently also moved beyond the foundational collections of the major NGOs. For example we hold the papers of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) African-American civil rights activist, lawyer Constance Baker Motley.

Q: What is the most challenging aspect of your work? Your review of a wonderful book, namely James Lowry’s Displaced Archives which appeared in the American Archivist begins with a powerful quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, namely: In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the prince of Denmark intones: “Ay, thou poor ghost, whiles memory holds a seat / In this distracted globe. Remember thee? / Yea, from the table of my memory / I’ll wipe away all trivial fond records, / All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past.”

Do you see your work on the human rights collections as subsumed under some notion of “displaced archives”, and if so how? 


Yes, in a big sense. To me the question of displacement centers around the notion of power. Who has the power of access? Who has access to the narrative, to the facts? Outsiders give archivists too much power: in fact, we are not gatekeepers, we are facilitators of dialogue; we are stewards. We facilitate reallocating the power to those who study the archives, to those who seek to gain an understanding of the past, so that they are better able to refine their efforts to change the minds of governments, of leaders, in order to change the future, to not repeat past mistakes, etc. The proof, the tool for change is in the archives, and all we can do is facilitate access to it.

Q: What new directions do you see the field of Human Rights archives going into? Do you see any emerging/shifting needs? New opportunities?

This is where the technology can help us, too. The work of Laila Shereen Sakr, Assistant Professor of Film and Media Studies at UCSB for example is very interesting in this context.  Ms. Sakr developed a computational method for networking sites that scout the public opinion on the ground, and then the algorithm agglomerates results obtained in this way, thus enabling new research venues and amplifying research possibilities. I think the change will come from the technology, where new tools will help us understand and amplify the impact of our archival work, in new ways. Twitter is very different from finely carved memos or letters… The technology (archiving live videos, tweets, emails, images, etc.) captured or produced “on the ground” so to speak will create a different type of archive, and a different use of the archive… The technology can bring us closer to the moment of origin, to the pulse of history. Technology will drive change within the archive and within historical writing and understanding. CUL has made a commitment to that shift. We are already seeing a hybrid human rights archive, with print, memos, reports, etc., but also with web archiving of human rights websites. As a result, we, archivists and librarians will have to multi-task. We will also need to be more judicious and thoughtful about what to keep, given the tremendous amount of material out there. Questions of curation and preservation become paramount to what records will survive and to what and to whose story will be told in the future.

Q: What keeps you up at night? And what keeps you going to work in the morning?

This brings me back to the earlier question, about power, and displaced archives. When you are exposed to our collective inhumanity, to our ability to be inhuman, on a day to day basis, you have to develop a way to overcome your own vulnerability: you cannot fall apart. You cling to the thought, the hope that you are taking a small step that will foster the exchange of ideas and will help train and enlighten human rights students, advocates, and researchers. You hope that the knowledge acquired through the archives will help them be in a better position to change the future, to open up dialogue in enlightened ways. Working with young scholars through the Human Rights program, through the Obama scholars program has been very rewarding in this sense. You can see first-hand how archives can give us a sense of rootedness. The three-dimensional aspect of the papers in this digital age comes as a surprise to many young researchers, and often, it is a transformative experience where the idea that not everything is pixels or exists in the virtual realm brings home the complex trajectory of history, of our rootedness as humans within a linkage of a multitude of stories, of histories. It is that feeling that awakens a sense of curiosity about others; the feeling that you can, through the documents, be so close to that moment of provenance, rooted in time, in a context, and that now you have access to it, through the archives. The question then becomes, what will you do with that opening, with that opportunity? Where will you take it? That keeps me up at night, and also, keeps me going through my days.

*While we are on the topic of archivists and their contributions to human rights archiving programs, it is fitting for us to acknowledge the work of Carolyn K. Smith, Archivist at the Rare Book & Manuscript Library, whose last day of work at Columbia Libraries is today.  For the better part of a decade, Carrie has worked steadily, diligently and with dedication to process human rights archival collections.  While she has worked on a variety of collections over the years, two stand out as especially meaningful for researchers of human rights:  the extensive records of Amnesty International USA and the Records of the Non-Sectarian Anti-Nazi League to Champion Human Rights, known as NSANL.  This latter group initially focused on boycotting goods made in Nazi Germany in the early 1930s, and over time began investigating and reporting on extremist hate groups, primarily in the United States. Carrie applied her knowledge of archival processing to these very large-scale collections with patience and care so that students, teachers, researchers, and advocates can explore, navigate and activate these materials–now and far into the future. Her work has been central to our mission of documenting not only the many human rights issues and challenges that exist, but how advocacy and defense of human rights have been practiced and pursued. We are very grateful for all of Carrie’s contributions and wish her the best.   Pamela Graham, Director, CHRDR.


For further inquiries about the human rights collections, please check this page: https://library.columbia.edu/libraries/chrdr/chrdrcontact.html

Contact:  chrdr@columbia.edu

To contact Pamela Graham, Director, Humanities & Global Studies Director, Center for Human Rights Documentation & Research Columbia University Libraries: graham@columbia.edu

To contact Chris Laico, Archivist, RBML: cl880@columbia.edu

Kaoukab Chebaro, Head of Global Studies: kc3287@columbia.edu


South Asia Open Archives (SAOA) Launched

SAOA logoThe South Asia Open Archives (SAOA) was launched on Friday, October 18th, in conjunction with the Annual Conference on South Asia in Madison, Wisconsin. A collaborative initiative of (currently 22) US libraries and (currently 4) partners from South Asia, SAOA is administratively hosted by the Center for Research Libraries (CRL) and available globally open access (to the extent copyright permits) in partnership with JSTOR/Ithaka. At launch, SAOA includes 6,759 items with 350,000 pages of research materials in 13 languages, in four curated collections of caste & social structure, literature, social & economic history, and women & gender. Here is a brief overview of the four collections.

Viplava serialCaste & Social Structure

Monographs, serials and pamphlets relating to caste and social structure are included. To the extent that copyright permits, they are open access. (Certain serials published in the 1930s to 1940s, such as Bāgī (Lucknow, India),  Viplava, and Viplavī ṭrekṭa (Lucknow, India) may not be fully open access). Books in this collection include Caste in India, Caste Everywhere: How to Keep or Lose an Empire by Peter the Pearker (1850); An Essay on Hindu Caste by Rev. H. Bower (1851); Evolution of Caste by R. Rama Sastri (1916); Hindoo Castes by Etienne Alexander Rodrigues (1838); On the Beneficial Effects of Caste Institutions by R. H. Elliot (1869); Treatment of Indians by the Boers, and Treatment of the Low Castes in India by Their Own Countrymen; A Speech, by G.K. Gokale; and other materials.

Appar bookLiterature

Creative works (fiction, poetry, drama), literary criticism, and reference works related to literature are included in this collection. Sample items include A compendious grammar of the current corrupt dialect of the jargon of Hindostan, (commonly called Moors) (1809); Appar : a sketch of his life and teachings (1918); Kāvyakirīṭa by Yaśavanta (Marathi); Hindustānanā devo nema itihāsa, sāhitya, ane pūjānuṃ saṅkshipta varṇana by E. Osborn Martin (1917, on Gods of India); One hundred best views of Ceylon from photographs taken by the publishers (1900); Pal̲amol̲ikaḷ/Selected Tamil proverbs for the C.M.S. examinations (1905); Siege of Chitur/चितूरगडचा वेढा by Nāgeśa Vināyaka Bāpaṭa (1899); Vicarious punishment by Bombay Track & Book Society (Urdu, 1863); स्त्रीधर्मनीति/Strīdharmanīti by Ramabai Sarasvati (Marathi, 1883, on the duties of women and the advantages of female education); and many others.

Report on Native PapersSocial & Economic History

This is an especially large collection. Highlights include census, commerce, customs, and land commerce reports, and newspapers such as The Morning Chronicle (1853, Kolkota, India) and The Star of Islam (1939-1940, Sri Lanka). An especially rich primary resource for historical research is available in the various Reports on Native Papers collected from 1874 through 1937 in various provinces of British India including Kolkata, West Bengal; Mumbai, Salsette Island, Mahārāshtra, India; and others. These reports compiled a weekly summary, often including extracts from the original article, of Indian newspapers in multiple languages (including English), with summaries and translations in English. Similar reports for other provinces include Selections from the Vernacular Newspapers Published in the Panjab, North-Western Provinces, Oudh, Central Provinces and Berar (1881-1901); and Selections from the native newspapers published in the United Provinces of Agra & Oudh (1903-1912).

The Indian Ladies' MagazineWomen & Gender

This module includes books, serials and pamphlets by and about women. Highlights contributed by Columbia University Burke Library include Our Indian Magazine (1899), The Indian Ladies’ Magazine (1916-1917), The Young Women of India (1900), and The Young Women of India and Ceylon (1908-1916). The Indian Ladies’ Magazine was the first magazine in India edited by an Indian woman, Kamala Satthianadhan.

The Muslim World Manuscript Project: A Codicology Workshop

On September 20th, sixteen students, along with a number of faculty members and librarians, gathered in the Chang Seminar Room of RBML to attend a full-day workshop on codicology led by Dr. Kelly Tuttle, the Muslim World Manuscript (MWM) Project Cataloger at UPenn. The workshop was supported by the Center for the Study of Muslim Societies (CSMS), and is a  part of a series of scholarly events and engagement activities around the ongoing MWM. (Check out the catalog of the digitized and cataloged manuscripts from the MWM project here and here.) 

The aim of the workshop was “to give students a grounding in how to describe the material aspects of Islamicate manuscripts and to prepare students to identify key bibliographic features so that they may more confidently go to repositories and study manuscripts in person.” The day was full of hushed, intense discussions, with heads moving back and forth between the beautiful slides Kelly projected on the screen and the pages of the various manuscripts put in front of the students, who often worked in pairs on the numerous hands-on exercises Kelly had prepared.

Kelly  guided the students through the various components and aspects of these manuscripts “from the very outside to the inside,” beginning with safe handling measures, and then going over covers, spines, boards, fly-leaves, the nature of support (paper or parchment, types of paper, watermarks), collation, quires, bindings, common types of scripts, decoration and layouts, including traditional locations and styles of recording authors, titles, and dates in Islamicate manuscripts. She went into detail about the various types of notes that manuscripts can include and how the layout of the page and other material features (including the different colors of ink, the use of different scripts or locations for writing, etc.) can indicate the type of discourse written down (e.g. poetry vs sharh) or the nature and goal of the inscriptions (e.g. marginalia by different authors written in different directions that indicate different sources, authors, etc.). Students could see in a clear, simple and organic way how form and content work hand in hand in material culture, to great communicative and functional effects.

Throughout, students exchanged tips, background knowledge, and questions, and one could see very clearly in their eyes how the Muslim World Manuscript collection was coming to life. Curiosity, cell phones to take photos, zoom in on any given detail, but also laughter and humor, and an increasing level of confidence and comfort marked the day.

The day wound down with an exercise in which students gathered together what they had learned, filling in a template to describe a manuscript as thoroughly as they could and applied some of the best practices and recommendations from the workshop. They then presented their findings to the group and spoke about what they found most interesting in the manuscript they were responsible for presenting, and about the learning process throughout the day.

The next day, some of the students wrote to thank Kelly, the Libraries and the Center for the Study of Muslim Societies, and to express the wish for further hands-on opportunities to familiarize themselves with the material culture of the Islamicate world, stressing how important such opportunities are for their learning and graduate studies. Navid Zarrinnal,  a fifth-year PhD candidate in the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies, currently working  on Persian and Iranian intellectual history, wrote: “Friday’s workshop prepared us for a central task of our scholarship, rarely offered in the classroom, namely the discovery and deciphering of previously unedited manuscripts. We learned to locate a manuscript in the context of its intellectual and scholarly history by deciphering key information, such as author, title, summary of contents, and genre. In anticipation of future research, the workshop also prepared us for reading hard-to-decipher manuscripts. I applaud the Muslim World Manuscript Project’s efforts and encourage similar training for the future.”

Shabbir Abbas, a graduate student at MEASAS who focuses on the development of the Shi’i Imami school of jurisprudence in his work, also stressed the interactive nature of the workshop, and how he benefited from the various exercises and discussions throughout the day: “The codicology workshop was beneficial in the sense that I was able to focus for the first time on the physical and artistic/aesthetic aspects of the manuscripts instead of my typical textual analysis. Likewise, interacting [and even debating] with other grad students and scholars coming from different perspectives on the topic of manuscripts was an invaluable experience.”

Seher Agarwala, PhD student in the South Asian Art and Architecture department, who is working on Indo-Persian manuscripts and illuminations,  also wrote to say that “workshops like this would really benefit graduate and even undergraduate history students. We usually work from secondary sources, translations or photocopies so getting a real sense of manuscripts as objects, being acquainted with their idiosyncrasies and specific features and trajectories, their uniqueness,  and getting a chance to form one’s conclusions and opinions based on that encounter is extremely beneficial, and a real eye opener. My research would have taken a completely different trajectory, had I been acquainted with manuscripts earlier on in my studies.” Seher said she was delighted to work with a manuscript of Yuusuf and Zuleikha from  Qissas al-anbiya, The Stories of the Prophets, and the image of Zuleykha seducing Yuusuf in a courtyard, rather than in an enclosed setting, as the scene is usually depicted, stands out in her mind “as something worth returning to, and studying. Had I not been part of this workshop, I am not sure I would have been aware of this variation on the story, and been enticed to  take a closer look at some of the common assumptions around this story “.

After the workshop, I sat down with Kelly and asked her a few quick questions:








How did the idea of organizing this workshop come about? What was your initial motivation in proposing it? I remember my first attempt to work directly with manuscripts. I focused so much on the text that I missed many details and aspects of the history of the material objects I was consulting and that were clearly marked all over them, but that I did not register. After I returned, I realized that not only had I pretty much ignored the materiality of the manuscripts, I also didn’t even know what exactly I should have been looking for, or taking note of, or photographing for later research. It was frustrating. I immediately tried to find a class on Islamic codicology to take, so that next time I went to do research, I’d be better prepared.

That’s exactly what I wanted for the students here: for them to feel more familiar when they go do their own primary source research with manuscripts. Since we are all working to make Columbia’s Islamicate manuscript collection better known through the CLIR-funded Muslim World Manuscripts project, it seemed like a good time to provide an introductory course. My hope is that the students who take the workshop will have a better framework to do research with Islamicate manuscripts, and to think about the manuscripts as material objects with their own stories, their own “presence” and peculiarities, and not simply as “holders of a text”, but as objects in their own right.

How did you prepare for the workshop? What resources did you consult?  When and how did you take the beautiful photos you featured on the sldies? How did you choose the items you are focusing on?

In preparing, I thought mostly about what kind of information I pull out when cataloging manuscripts. The level of descriptive detail that goes into cataloging is also very useful and relevant for research about manuscripts. When I found good examples that illustrated a feature, an aspect of manuscripts which I thought students should know about, I either took photographs myself, if the manuscript hadn’t yet been digitized for the project, or I took one of the digital images that are available on OPenn. As for the hands-on portions of the workshop, I tried to pick items that highlighted specific aspects we had focused on or introduced in my presentation. I also tried to choose items that I thought would be instructive for the students to look at holistically and in greater detail during the final hands-on session. I limited the focus of the workshop to what I thought were the essential elements for a basic understanding of a manuscript.. Since the workshop was only one day, we barely scratched the surface of many of those topics, as you can probably imagine. I hope that the students now have at least a sense of what features to look for and how to describe them. They also came away with a reference sheet of sources where they can go for further guidance.

What was your impression of the students, of the level of interest and attendance? Did any of their questions surprise or intrigue you?

I was quite happy with the variety of backgrounds and experience that came into the workshop. The students had different levels of interaction and familiarity with manuscript culture. Some had worked with the MWM project, doing basic cataloging; some had used manuscripts in their own research, some had even worked on the production side of manuscripts, copying some works, and some had almost no experience with manuscripts. What I most enjoyed about the students, though, was their willingness to share their observations and suggestions. They asked each other for help, they circulated during the hands-on sessions to look at everyone else’s manuscripts and discuss manuscripts that were not assigned to them, they tossed around ideas and observations throughout the day. There was a sense of openness and experimentation. The experience was valuable, for me; I hope it was for them as well.

What type of workshops would you like to offer in the future? Are there any aspects of the project you would like to be more involved in, or see further developed?

I think it would be nice if someone from Art History offered a workshop on Islamicate manuscript illustration, including Perso-Indian. Actually, if someone were to offer a workshop on Perso-Indian manuscripts in general, that would be of real value! If there is interest, a workshop could be developed to delve more fully into manuscript construction, common types of damage and repair, perhaps taught by someone from conservation. With careful selecting, an excellent workshop could be developed to help students understand manuscript notes better, the uses to which they can be put for research, and the basics of provenance research, establishing names, and finding people in biographical dictionaries and other sources.

Thank you, Kelly! Many thanks to all who made this workshop possible!

For inquiries regarding the Muslim World Manuscript project at Columbia, please contact RBML: Jane Siegel: Librarian for Rare Books & Bibliographic Services: jane.siegel@columbia.edu; Peter Magierski:The Middle East and Islamic Studies Librarian: pm2650@columbia.edu, or Kaoukab Chebaro: Global Studies, Head: kc3287@ columbia.edu

Kaoukab Chebaro, Global Studies, Head, Columbia University Libraries


Online Resource: American Jewish Joint Distribution Council Archives

The JDC Archives holds the institutional records of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee since its founding in 1914. Given the nature of JDC’s work and the role it has played over more than a century of activity, these collections are among the most significant in the world for the study of modern Jewish history and immigration.

The online collections database now has more than 2.6 million pages of documents available. These are fully searchable, with pdfs of the individual documents, and open to scholars, students, and the general public at http://search.archives.jdc.org. Online finding aids for the collections are available at http://archives.jdc.org/explore-the-archives/using-the-archives.html.

This database also includes more than 67,000 digitized photographs that document JDC’s activity around the world throughout the twentieth century, not only in Europe and Israel but also in the Middle East and North Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Asia.

The Names Index holds more than 500,000 names and is a major source of information for genealogists and family historians. Search results include links to the digitized source documents—index cards, lists, remittances, and others—from which the names were drawn.

The JDC Archives website at http://archives.jdc.org includes curated exhibits, photo galleries, topic guides for educators, and an interactive timeline of JDC history. You will also find guidance on how to search the collections, including video tutorials.

(Image: Jews from the Bergen-Belsen Concentration camp with a memorial to those who died there)


December 10th is recognized as International Human Rights Day, commemorating the day in 1948 when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations.  This summer I visited the Franklin Delano Roosevelt home and Presidential Library in Hyde Park, NY for the first time.  A highlight of the visit was an exhibit on Eleanor Roosevelt’s important role in developing the UDHR, and viewing her hand-annotated draft of the declaration.

Eleanor Roosevelt's draft of the UDHR, FDR Library and Archives.

Eleanor Roosevelt’s draft of the UDHR, FDR Library and Archives.

As the modern human rights movement matures, endures and evolves, it’s important to preserve and record its history.  The Center for Human Rights Documentation & Research at Columbia Libraries carries out that mission, as we collect and make available a variety of important sources related to human rights activism and advocacy.  Some highlights of both our unique primary source collections, and other general research resources:

Contact chrdr@columbia.edu for more information, and follow us @HRDocumentation

Human Rights 365

110169028 crop December 10th is Human Rights Day, first designated by the United Nations in 1950 to bring attention to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the principles it espoused. This year’s theme emphasizes that every day is human rights day. I think it’s fair to say that every day is human rights day within the Columbia Libraries; our collections and initiatives to preserve and make available resources related to human rights are extensive and involve continuous effort and commitment. Some highlights of our collections:

And in recognition of today’s release of Brazil’s Truth Commission Report:

Contact chrdr@columbia.edu  to learn more about human rights resources in the Libraries. Follow us on Twitter @HRdocumentation And follow the Human Rights day conversation #Rights365.

3 New British Online Archives Resources

Columbia University Libraries has purchased three new British Online Archives historical collections:

The Indian papers of the 4th Earl of Minto
(From the National Library of Scotland) The papers of Gilbert John Elliot-Murray-Kynynmound, the 4th Earl of Minto, (1845-1914), Viceroy of India between 1905 and 1910, cover a period of dramatic and momentous change in the history of colonial India. The beginning of Minto’s tenure in India was marked by unprecedented anti-colonial protests against the partition of Bengal, initiated by his predecessor, Lord Curzon of Kedleston. It ended with the crucial ‘Morley-Minto reforms’ contained in the Government of India Act and the Indian Councils Act, both of 1909. These two new laws established, among other things, the constitutional principle of separate electorates for India’s Muslim communities.

The Indian papers of Colonel Clive and Brigadier-General Carnac, 1752-1774
(From the National Library of Wales) The papers of two leading actors in the East India Company in mid-18th century Bengal. By reproducing in full Clive’s English and Persian correspondence, it is possible to compare firsthand Indian and European accounts of Clive’s resounding victory in 1757 at Plassey over the superior French-backed force of the Nawab of Bengal in the aftermath of the notorious ‘Black Hole of Calcutta’ incident; of the conclusive routing of the Dutch in 1759; or of the ill-fated career of Clive’s chief administrator of revenues, Maharaja Nandakumara, including supplementary material on his trial and execution in 1775 for forgery drawn from the 1st Earl of Minto’s papers at National Library of Scotland. Complementing our understanding of this turning point in the history of British power in South Asia, are some 2,000 items of John Carnac’s correspondence. This correspondece’s emphasis on the years between 1763 and 1766 helps to fill the gap in events during Clive’s absence from India between March 1760 and April 1765, when he returned to Britain. At the same time, the collection amplifies our understanding of Clive’s third and final tour of duty, providing an opportunity to contrast how two senior British figures set about implementing the EIC’s new approach, combining commercial with growing political power.

The Meerut Conspiracy Trial, 1929-1933
(From the National Library of Scotland) Part 1 of the BOA series, People & Protest in Britain and Abroad, 1800-2000. Collectively drawn from the British Library, Labour History Archive & Study Centre and Working Class Movement Library, these documents bring together an array of differing, and balanced, perspectives on both the trial itself as well as its consequences for British imperialism as the sun was beginning to set on the Empire.