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Atitlan Digital Ethnographic Archive

Santiago Atitlán, Sololá, Guatemala

1. Context
2. The proposal
I. Description of the Database
II. Repatriation and Networking
III. Community Engagement
IV. Documentation

1. Context
Santiago Atitlán is on the south shore of Lake Atitlán in the highlands of Guatemala. Atitlán is
made up of the Tzutujil Maya, one of the three principal ethnic groups in Guatemala at the time
of the conquest. During the colonial period (1524-1821), Atitlán was an important regional
center, both administrative and religious.

For a variety of reasons, from its regional importance to the attraction to visitors of its natural
beauty and cultural richness, through its history there has been a considerable quantity of
ethnographic production about the community. Ranging from administrative and church records
from the colonial and post-independence periods, works by national historians and chroniclers
from 1542 on, writings by travelers from the mid-1800s on, to academic ethnographies in the
20th and 21st century, they constitute a large and interesting body of information. Photographic
works, beginning as early as 1870, include:
Carl Dammann (1870), Alfred P. Maudslay and Alberto Valdeavellano (1880s), Elsie
McDougall (1928), F.A. Mitchell-Hedges (bef. 1931), Roberto Eichenberger and Adolfo Biener
(1930s), National Geographic (1945, 1947, 1974), Time Life Pictures (1945), Felix McBryde
(pub. 1947), E. Michael Mendelson (1952), John D. Early (1970s)
Despite the richness and breadth of materials produced, there has been an unfortunate absence of
the return of these works and materials to the community. Even currently, aside from a few
copies distributed by authors, for structural reasons it is difficult for an enduring and wide access
to be provided on a community level. Until very recently, the majority of the population was
unable to study or become literate. In recent history, Guatemala’s Civil War (1960s-1997)
contributed to the general lack of access to information in many different ways. Today, access to

For a list of important works in the last century, see appendix I.
a high school level education in Atitlan is less than 10 years old. There are now a small handful
of libraries in the community that have just begun to enable students to do research for their
schoolwork and to promote reading.

This issue of lack of access to information and information production is a key issue in
development. Our project is conceived as an attempt to counteract and reverse a tendency that
has for the most part prevailed until now.

2. The Proposal
Our objective is the formation of a digital Archive, which could be accessible from public
computers, in places such as municipal and private libraries, museums and schools. This archive
will consist of digitalized ethnographic material about the town and area, including photographs
and postcards, film and audio, manuscripts and other available historic media of relevance to the
Atitlán area. Nearly all reside in museum and university archives in other countries, and have
never been accessible locally.

While in the past the possibility of repatriation of cultural materials held abroad has depended on
the establishment of physical housing and displaying institutions like museums, which require
strong sources of funding, we believe that currently with the increased availability and access to
technology, we can achieve a durable mechanism for repatriation in the community with a
relatively small amount of resources. Currently there are many members of the community
(especially young people) who use computers and are learning different applications, so we feel
that this is an appropriate and practical medium for making available information in a way that
was never possible before.

The purpose of the Atitlán Digital Archive would be to promote valorization, learning and
reexamination of history on a local level by serving as a repository for visual and textual
ethnographic materials about the area of Santiago Atitlán freely accessible to members of the

Areas of work to pursue:

1. Database system
2. Relationships with national and international institutions

3. Community engagement

4. Documentation of processes
I. Description of the Database

a. Database Content
b. Database Functions: Storage and Presentation
c. Disclaimers and Copyright Protection

a. Database Content
As stated above, the Atitlan Digital Ethnographic Archive Database2 will consist of
digitalized ethnographic material about the town and area, including photographs and
postcards, film and audio, manuscripts and other available historic media of relevance to the
Atitlán area.

The material can de divided as follows:

Photography Film Sound- Sound- Manuscripts Materials Archaeology
1870-???? Music Oral History 15??-???? ????-????

Carl Dammann circa 1870s

Alberto Valdeavellano 1880-1910

Alfred P. Maudslay- 1881-1882

Tempest Anderson 1907

Elsie McDougall 1928

Carnegie photographs (Lothrop and Kidder) 1929-1957

F.A. Mitchell Hedges early 1930s

Bruce Scherschel – National Geographic and Time/LIFE (1945,1947)

Felix McBryde (pub. 1947)

E. Michael Mendelson early 1950s

Postcards 1920s-1960s (Roberto Eichenberger, and Adolfo Biener in 1930s, Guillermo Mata
Amado in the 1960s, etc.)

CIRMA (Centro de Investigaciones Regionales de Mesoamerica) Fototeca, Antigua, Guatemala-

2 Collections from Guatemala (1880-present), John D. Early Photographs (1960s-70s)
For Database Fields, view Appendix II
Manuscripts and Documents:

Administrative Documents (Colonial - present day)

Tribute Rolls, Censuses, Encomienda and Land Titles, Residencias, Judicial

Documents, Government Correspondence, Relaciones Geograficas.

Ecclesiastical Documents

Censuses, Pastoral Visits, Church Correspondence, Parish registers of baptisms,

confirmations, marriage petitions, marriages, births and deaths, Grammars and
Dictionaries, and other church documents.

Indigenous Documents

Titulos and Testamentos, Cofradia Documents

The database is bilingual (Spanish/English) and made in FILEMAKER PRO.

b. Database Functions
The database system will perform two functions: Storage and Presentation.

i. Storage:
The primary function of the Database system is to organize and safeguard the Database Content.

In order to properly safeguard the information, steps have been taken to have multiple copies of
the database. This will be achieved through the use of backup CD’s and storage units such as
external hard drives, etc. the use of external hard drives also facilitates the updating of the

ii. Presentation: Ethnographic Kiosk Program

The Ethnographic Kiosk Program contemplates the establishment of public access points in the
Atitlan area, for the sole purpose of visually presenting ethnographic material held in the
Archive. Through this program, members of the Atitlan community will be able to browse
through the content, organize it by media type, topic, dates, etc. The visual interface should be a
simple set of windows designed for people with rudimentary computer skills. As stated above,
these will be housed in different educational facilities, which could include libraries, schools, or
The visual interface for the Kiosks is a Runtime Solution developed using Filemaker Pro, which
allows for the creation of a stand-alone version of the database that does not need the original
program to run (Runtime Solution with kiosk settings). Using Runtime Solution kiosk settings on
Filemaker Pro, all menus and windows are limited, ensuring complete control over the content
displayed. This also avoids any software copyright infringement, as Runtime Solutions are non-
proprietary to Filemaker.
Through the use of Internet Café software, the host computer is locked down to only allow for
the use of this program or others such as audio/video players. In the event of a re-boot, this
software will automatically restart the kiosk software.

Physical Kiosk

The Kiosk will be 50 inches tall (4ft 2 inches), 20 inches wide, 20 inches deep. The shell will be
constructed of 1 1/4 inch square metal tubing covered with 3/8 inch plywood sheet. The bottom
will be reinforced with concrete to create a solid base.

The Kiosk is composed of two shelves:

The bottom shelf will house the CPU and Line Conditioner. This will be locked for protection
but will need to be ventilated. This will be achieved using four 12v computer fans.

The top shelf will have one face open to house the monitor. Right below this there will be a
Keyboard and Mouse for navigating.

c. Disclaimers and Copyright Protection

To limit the commercialization and misuse of materials, there will be an obligatory signup and
login page and the user will be asked to agree to the Terms of Use.
Unless otherwise noted, materials held in the Atitlan Digital Ethnographic Archive are for
educational purposes only. Any other petition for use will be dealt with on an individual basis,
depending on the final use of the materials. Taking this into account, petitions will be directed to
the person or institution that holds the original copyright of the material.
I. Repatriation and Networking
An important part of the project will be networking and forming alliances with national and
international entities that currently possess materials of interest or have experience with
repatriation. This will be important to both obtain permission for the repatriation of information
and to learn about similar efforts and experiences.

Some national and international institutions housing archival material from Santiago

Fototeca of CIRMA-Centro de Investigaciones Regionales de Mesoamerica (Guatemala), the

Royal Geographic Society, Yorkshire Museum, Pitt Rivers Museum-Oxford University (UK),
Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology- Harvard University, Middle American
Research Institute-Tulane University, Time/Life/Getty Images, National Geographic, Library of
Congress, Smithsonian Institution (USA) Pierre Verger Foundation (Brazil),

Archival Documents:

Archivo General De Centroamerica, Archivo Ecclesiastico(Guatemala), Archivo General de la

Nacion (Mexico), Archivo General de Indias (Spain), Genealogical Society of Utah, Stanford
University, Princeton University, Benson Latin American Collection-University of Texas at Austin,
Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley (USA)

To begin with, the archive will focus on gathering photographic images and obtaining permission
to digitally repatriate them. Manuscript and historical materials that are already available as pdfs
on the internet (such as those made available by the Pares digitization project of contents of the
Archivo de Las Indias in Seville undertaken under the auspices of Spain’s Ministry of Culture)
will be included. In the future, the archive plans to raise funds and obtain assistance to digitize
different manuscript collections that have been located that relate to the region held within
Guatemala and abroad.

II. Community Engagement

Intercommunity alliances will also be essential to enable the long term preservation of access in
the community to these materials. Dialogue within the community will be encouraged through
educational activities and the inclusion of different sectors.

Establish venues for publicly accessible computers (Kiosks) in different educational and
cultural facilities in Santiago Atitlán (libraries, schools, etc.).
Ideal locations to begin with would be:

i) Biblioteca Puerta Abierta, Canton Xechivoy. The library was designed to create a comfortable
and inviting space for local children to explore literature.

ii) Municipal Library. Also a small children´s library, attached to the municipality.

iii) Museo de Chukumuk: Built but not yet filled. Government agencies, nongovernment
organizations and Comunitary Development Comittees (Cocodes- Comites Comunitarios de
Desarollo ) from several municipalities are working on the plans for museography and

Open a dialogue space within the community through slideshow presentations and other
educational activities with different sectors of the population.
By encouraging the younger generation to organize showings of this material to the older
generation, young people will not only take a proactive part in the preservation of this historical
material, but also help span the bridge between the generations. This will hopefully contribute to
the promotion and preservation of ancestral values and customs that are in risk.
Groups of interests would be:

Primary School Students

Secondary and Technical School Students

Asociaciones de Jovenes Mayas (Maya Youth Associations)


Consejos de Ancianos (Councils of Elders)

Cofradias (Religious Confraternities)

Family Groups

Religious institutions
Civil Society

COMUDES and COCODES (Municipal and Communitary Development


Community and Nongovernmental Organizations

Local Government
Mayor and Municipal Council

III. Documentation

Ideally, these activities can be documented by note taking, and film or audio when possible. Any
information resulting from these presentations would then be added to the database during the
next updating period.

Appendix I
Important ethnographic works include:

Elsie McDougall, 1955, ¨Easter Ceremonies at Santiago Atitlan in 1930.” Notes on Middle
American Archaeology and Ethnology, December 1955); Samuel Lothrop, 1933, Atitlan, An
Archaeological Study of Ancient Remains on the Borders of Lake Atitlan, Guatemala; Erna
Fergusson, 1937, Guatemala; E. Michael Mendelson (PhD dissertation, 1956, Religion and
World-View in Santiago Atitlan; 1965, Los Escandalos de Maximon); William G. Douglas,
Ph.D. dissertation, 1969, Illness and Curing in Santiago Atitlán, a Tzutujil-Maya Community in
the Southwestern Highlands of Guatemala; Linda Lee O’Brien, Ph.D. dissertation, 1975, Songs
of the Face of the Earth: Ancestor Songs of the Tzutuhil-Maya of Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala;
John D. Early, 1970. ¨Demographic Profile of a Maya Community: The Atitecos of Santiago
Atitlan¨ The Milbank Memorial Fund Quarterly, Vol. 48, No. 2, Part 1 (Apr., 1970); Nathaniel
Tarn and Martin Prechtel 1981, 1983, 1986, 1990,1995, c1997 Scandals in the house of birds :
shamans and priests on Lake Atitlan; James D. Sexton. 1999. Heart of Heaven, Heart of Earth
and other Maya Folktales; Orellana, S.L. 1984. The Tzutujil Mayas, Continuity and Change,
1250-1630; Robert S. Carlsen. 1997 The War for the Heart and Soul of a Highland Maya Town;
Robert S. Carlsen and Martin Prechtel, 1988, 1991; Vincent J. Stanzione, 2000, Rituals of
Sacrifice: Walking the Face of the Earth on the Sacred Path of the Sun: A Journey Through
theTzutujil Maya World of Santiago Atitlán; Allen J. Christenson, 2001, Art and Society in a
Highland Maya Community: The Altarpiece of Santiago Atitlán.

Appendix II - Database Fields

The Fields of the PHOTOGRAPHIC DATABASE are:


Photography Collection
Property of
Original Cataloguing Information

Date Taken

URL or website (if online)

Date of Entry






Type of Document
Property of

Original Cataloguing Information


URL or website (if online)

Date of Entry