Category Archives: Human Rights Collections


Our colleagues in Global Studies sat down with RBML archivists Chris Laico to discuss archives and his daily work with the Center for Human Rights Documentation & Research.

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.

judge with gavel that spews flowers

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”.

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.

Read the entire interview here.

Global Sexualities in the RBML Collections

The  Columbia Research Initiative on the Global History of Sexualities (CRIGHS) recently launched a website and research guide describing approximately 150 archival collections, databases, oral histories, and other sources available across the Columbia and Barnard libraries of interest to historians of sexuality.

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What is this place? A short intro to RBML

That is the question we hear a lot at the beginning of the new academic year as students explore Butler Library and end up here, in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library, aka “The Pink Palace.”

pink castle design and acronym rbml

Is there difference between a “castle” and a “palace?”

The Rare Book & Manuscript Library (RBML) is Columbia’s principal repository for primary source collections.  The range of collections in the RBML spans more than 4,000 years and includes rare printed works, cylinder seals, cuneiform tablets, papyri, and Coptic ostraca; medieval and renaissance manuscripts; posters; art; comics & cartoons, and oral histories.

Forming the core of the collections: 500,000 printed books, 14 miles of manuscripts, personal papers, archives and records, and 10,000 (and counting) oral histories.

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Pride Month and history in the RBML collections

Photo by Jiroe on Unsplash

Getting to tell your own story is a gift, but it means that you have to contend with other people’s stories, and I guess that can mean arguing, maybe for 50 years straight. And that’s O.K.  – Who Threw the First Brick at Stonewall? Let’s Argue About It

The RBML’s archival, manuscript, oral history and University Archives are full of materials from people who were out and proud, recently revealed queer collections and likely materials and people still somewhat closeted by historical forces and past archival practices rooted in homophobia.

You’re invite during PRIDE month, and every other month, to explore the collections we have on offer that begin to demonstrate the range of LGBTQIA people, voices and experiences. Some materials to start with include, but aren’t limited to:

Ephemera relating to the LGBT movement in Croatia // A collection of leaflets and cards and one button relating to the LGBT movement in Croatia. Several of the items were issued by Kontra or Iskorak, both based in Zagreb. //

And, by all means, if you come across items in our collections that show evidence of LGBTQIA histories, let us know so that we can update our records accurately.

After Processing, Scholarship Begins: Research Applications of the Ford Foundation International Fellowships Program Records

On September 30, the Rare Book and Manuscript Library’s three-year project to process the Ford Foundation International Fellowships Program Records will officially come to an end.  The project, supported by the Ford Foundation, met several goals.  It supported the processing of approximately 500 linear feet of paper records and 3.6 terabytes of digital records, which are now open to researchers at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library.  It facilitated the development of necessary infrastructure for accessioning, processing, and providing access to the rapidly increasing amount of born-digital materials in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library’s archival collections.  Finally, to encourage scholarly engagement with the Ford IFP Records, it permitted RBML to host a group of six international visiting scholars who conducted extensive research using the collection over the summer and presented their findings in a symposium titled “Education, Development, and Social Justice: the Legacy of the Ford Foundation International Fellowships Program.”

A complete video recording of the first panel of the symposium is now available on Columbia University’s YouTube channel, and video of the second panel is forthcoming.  Sean Quimby, Director of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library, welcomed attendees.   Joan Dassin, IFP’s Executive Director and Professor of International Education and Development at Brandeis University, opened the event with a keynote address reflecting on the experience of designing and administering IFP, as well as preserving its records.  Next, Rajika Bhandari of the Institute of International Education moderated the symposium’s first panel, “Global Perspectives.”   Patricia L. Rosenfield of the Rockefeller Archive Center moderated its second panel, “Local Contexts,” and Kay Lee of the Ford Foundation gave closing remarks.

Joan Dassin, Executive Director of the Ford Foundation International Fellowships Program, delivers the keynote address at "Education, Development, and Social Justice: the Legacy of the Ford Foundation International Fellowships Program," a symposium hosted by the Rare Book and Manuscript Library on September 8.

Joan Dassin, Executive Director of the Ford Foundation International Fellowships Program, delivers the keynote address at “Education, Development, and Social Justice: the Legacy of the Ford Foundation International Fellowships Program,” a symposium hosted by the Rare Book and Manuscript Library on September 8.


The Ford Foundation International Fellowships Program supported graduate studies for individuals in 23 developing countries between 2001 and 2013.  Its model prioritized social commitment over traditional selection criteria.  In addition to academic and leadership potential, Fellows were selected from groups and communities who lack systematic access to higher education. These groups included women, indigenous people, people with disabilities, and people from rural areas, as well as other groups identified as marginalized within specific regional and national contexts.  According to the Ford Foundation International Fellowships Program Website—which is no longer live, but was archived as part of RBML’s processing project –these selection criteria also allowed IFP to function as an experiment through which the international community could “derive lessons about educational access, academic excellence and the ways in which equity-based scholarship programs could have a positive impact on individuals, institutions and communities.”  As such, extensive program evaluation was carried out throughout IFP’s duration.  A longitudinal Alumni Tracking Study carried out by the Institute of International Education will also continue until 2023, in order to more thoroughly document and study the program’s long-term effects on its alumni and their communities.

The experimental nature of IFP, as well as the thoroughness with which it was documented, gives the Ford Foundation International Fellowships Program Records multifaceted and enduring research value.  As the visiting scholars demonstrated, the Ford IFP Records contain information useful to researchers working within a broad range of disciplines and approaches.  Some of the records’ applications are highlighted below, in video clips from the symposium.

Wim de Jong, a Dutch historian and political philosopher at Radboud University Nijmegen, specializes in the history of democracy and its connection to education.  His presentation, “Between Global and Local:  The International Fellowships Program Archives and the Training of Social Justice Leaders (2001-2013)” examined IFP’s work to define leadership and social justice as universally applicable concepts, and its relationship to the structure and approach of IFP overall.

Budi Waluyo, an IFP Indonesia alumnus and Ph.D. candidate in International and Comparative Education at Lehigh University, specializes in teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL).  He presented “Measuring National Community Development Returns from International Scholarship Programs:  A Case Study of the International Fellowships Program.”  This presentation analyzed the impact of IFP through the theoretical frameworks of Human Capital, Social Capital Renewal, and Cultural Capital, using data sets from the Ford IFP Records.

Budi Waluyo presents his work at the Columbia University symposium as Wim de Jong (left) and Oluwafunmilayo Para-Mallam (right) look on.

Budi Waluyo presents his work at the Columbia University symposium as Wim de Jong (left) and Oluwafunmilayo Para-Mallam (right) look on.


Rajendran T. Govender, an IFP South Africa alumnus, is the director of the Kwa-Zulu Natal Department of Arts and Culture.  In “From Dark to Enlightened Continent:  An Analytical Study of the Research of the Ford Foundation IFP Africa Alumni from 2001 to 2013,” he presented the results of a quantitative and qualitative analysis of African and Middle Eastern IFP alumni.  Govender’s quantitative data sample was gathered from the Ford IFP Records, and his qualitative data was gathered through a survey distributed to the same alumni.

Oluwafunmilayo Para-Mallam is an IFP Nigeria alumna and a professor of gender and development at the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru, Nigeria.  Her presentation, “Gender-Based Violence in Sub-Saharan Africa:  An Integrative Review,” analyzed studies related to gender-based violence conducted by IFP alumni from sub-Saharan Africa.  Through this analysis, she identified strategies for reducing gender-based violence from those studies which are applicable to the current Nigerian context.

Nagah Sayed-Ahmed, an IFP Egypt alumna, is an independent social science researcher and activist who studies the relationship between modernity and political Islam in Egypt.  Her presentation, “Ford Foundation IFP Impact on Social Justice:  Some Evidence from Egypt,” examined the impact of IFP’s emphasis on social justice leadership on Egyptian IFP alumni.

Thy Tran presents her analysis of IFP Vietnam alumni theses.

Thy Tran presents her analysis of IFP Vietnam alumni theses.


The final presentation in the symposium was given by Tran Nu Mai Thy, an IFP Vietnam and Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs alumna.  Tran analyzed theses by IFP Vietnam alumni from the Ford IFP Records for evidence of the relationship between alumni scholarship and the program’s vision.  She also identified information about how these theses, which very often incorporated local case studies, impacted their authors’ communities.

Submitted by Celeste Brewer, Ford IFP Project Archivist


Human Rights Watch/Americas Watch Division Records are now available for research

Human Rights Watch/Americas Watch (AmW) was established in 1981 as an outgrowth of the Helsinki Watch Committee, the AmW division promotes human rights in the Western Hemisphere. It concerns itself particularly with harassed human rights groups in repressive countries. AmW, for example, assists Latin American monitoring organizations in disseminating information about oppressive practices. It also mounts external pressure within countries to ensure human rights protections through sponsored human rights missions and publishes reports on their findings.

Archival materials include correspondence and e-mail communications, mission reports, testimonies and interviews, addresses and contact lists, confidential interoffice memos, legal and advocacy material, internal planning and policy material, declassified government and United Nations documents, published and unpublished human rights reports from individuals and fellow non-governmental organizations (NGOs), press clippings and news releases, and maps. Another category of documents consists of HRW reports and briefing papers, as well as press releases and open letters to heads of state, governments and various government agencies.

The finding aid for the collection is available at:

Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility Records

The records of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) have been processed and are now available for use by researchers at the Rare Book & Manuscript Library.  The ICCR is a coalition of predominantly faith based institutions that are committed to socially responsible investing. The strength of the records lies in their documentation of the ICCR’s programs, its work on individual issues, and its work with individual corporations and the U.S. Security and Exchanges Commission (SEC).

The records document the organization from its founding in 1971, and include information related to its work on issues of corporate responsibility such as apartheid South Africa, the responsible distribution of infant formula, and on issues related to the environment, corporate governance, discrimination and equality, health, labor, militarism, and violence.

The finding aid for the records is available online here.

Journalists at Risk in the Former Yugoslavia: The Committee to Protect Journalists Records

Catherine Carson Ricciardi

In processing the records for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), I’ve found many files that document the challenges for journalists covering the war in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. For example, records relating to a project to create a safety handbook for these journalists provide additional insights into the dangerous conditions surrounding their work.

Founded in 1981, the CPJ works to promote press freedom and to defend the rights of journalists to cover and report the news around the world. The war in the former Yugoslavia inspired the CPJ to explore new ways to assist journalists.  In this case, the CPJ began a project to publish an advisory guide for journalists covering events there. CPJ had never issued such a guide, but felt that the unprecedented casualty rate for journalists covering the war created a need for reliable advice and safety information. The CPJ felt that its role as a monitor of press conditions put it in a unique position to fill this void by gathering such information and providing it to journalists.

As I continued processing, however, I discovered that the records included not only the guides, but also the correspondence and interview notes of CPJ Publications Director Greg Victor. Victor interviewed many journalists about their experiences in the former Yugoslavia, including Al Horne of the Washington Post, Jim Dutton of ITN, and several journalists at CNN. Notes below from an interview with Carol Williams and Al Horne illustrate  the working conditions


Carol Williams

and methods of journalists covering the war.  A separate file deals with the subject of body armor and vests, which were recommended for journalists covering the area. The observations and recommendations obtained through these interviews and other sources ultimately were compiled into the guides.


Al Horne

The guide went through at least four editions. I found the first edition, “Journalists Advisory on the Former Yugoslavia: How to Survive and Still Get the Story”, issued in November 1992, and an update, issued less than six months later in March 1993. These first editions were produced and printed on simple paper stock. Another edition, “Journalists Survival Guide: The Former Yugoslavia”, was reformatted and published in November 1994.


Made to fit easily into a pocket or case, these guides were widely used by journalists at the time. One additional edition was produced in 1999 by students in former CPJ Executive Director Anne Nelson’s Elements of International Reporting Class at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.

This project, in the end, did not remain an isolated idea. The idea of providing basic safety advice to journalists covering conflicts still remains important at CPJ, and the CPJ still produces a guide, entitled, “On Assignment: Covering Conflicts Safely”, which is available on the CPJ website.