1969-1994: Each of the 3,161 red pieces represents someone killed in the Troubles. Northern Ireland Quilt, Irene MacWilliam (1995); photo by Martin Melaugh

ALVAREZ PRIETO IgnacioSharing experiences of disseminating personal Accounts of the Conflict
by Ignacio Álvarez PRIETO for Northern Ireland Foundation
18 November 2014

A two-day international conference, “Accounts of the Conflict: Digitally Archiving Stories for Peacebuilding” held by INCORE, raised important considerations in archiving and disseminating personal accounts during times of conflict.

At the conference venue Holiday Inn, Belfast, the International Conflict Research institute (INCORE) presented the project “Accounts of the Conflict” and its webpage. The project’s main purpose is to create a digital archive for the long-term preservation of personal accounts related to the conflict in Northern Ireland, which have been collected with individuals and groups across the country. “Accounts of the Conflict” will work in partnership with those who manage individual story-telling, collections and story-tellers, by offering the opportunity to deposit a digital copy in the archive.

At this launch event University of Ulster (UU) Vice-Chancellor’s Professor Richard Barnett reminded those attending that this project was developed not only by INCORE, with the support of PEACE III funds, but also in partnership with ordinary people who lived through the conflict. He also stated that hard work INCORE has been done with the University of Ulster during the past 20 years in peace and conflict studies, for example the CAIN website of the Troubles.

Pat Colgan, from the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB), said during his intervention how lucky he is to have peace programmes in Northern Ireland. With the main theme ‘Acknowledging and dealing with the past’ from PEACE III funding, it has been possible to make sharing spaces such as the Peace Bridge in Derry. He also announced that PEACE IV is on the way.

UU Chancellor’s Dr James Nesbitt stated the great value of stories in times of conflict, along with the many stories to be heard from both sides of the Northern Ireland conflict in which he grew up. He cited Kevin Smith’s words, that “the only thing of value I have in this life is my ability to tell a story”.

The two-day conference was divided in several sessions, concerning ethical considerations, the practical development and implementation of a complex archive, and the dissemination and outreach of personal accounts for peacebuilding and social change.

Patricia Tappatá Valdez, founding director of Memoria Abierta, Argentina, considered the ethical obligations of archiving and the digitalization of the archive. Memoria Abierta (Open Memory) was created in 1999 in order to recollect oral stories from the Argentinean’s dictatorship 1976-1983. One of the biggest accomplishments of Memoria Abierta, with the aid of University of Salamanca, Spain, was the digitalization of the Trials to the Juntas.

The main purpose of Memoria Abierta was to stop losing testimonies and create resources to the future. With digitalization, new challenges arose, which resulted new laws. The main challenge, according to Patricia Valdez, is how to use the archive when is open to the public, and how to use it for a productive memory.

One of the biggest issues is the possibility of interviewees of incriminating themselves or other people, said Claire Hackett, from Duchas Project. For her it is not only a responsibility to delete those parts that a person wants erased, but also those extracts that will cause harm to somebody. Sara Duddy, from Pat Finucane Centre, shared the same opinion when she mentioned the dilemma of putting information online of someone who was implicated in a murder.

Libby Bishop, from UK Data Archive, assured that there is no escape from the dilemma of access and risk, as well as the inaccuracies in a story or the discrepancies that can always hinder a story.

During the second day, Professor Norman Duncan (University of Pretoria), presented the Apartheid Archive. This project was launched in June 2009. It is aimed to examine the nature of experiences under the former Apartheid order and to examine the micro-ecologies and interpersonal politics of life during that period. But also to counter the tendency that has come to characterize the post-1994 period of silencing people. During the course of the project, the first difficulty was to get the story, because people thought that what happened to them was not important. Professor Duncan said that the stories can be used to understand society, and quoted Derrida, who said that the function of an archive is not simply to memorialize, it is also to mourn, and to mourn is to transcend that which is lost.

Vesna Teršelič, director of “Dealing with the Past” DOCUMENTA, stressed the importance of recording memories from way back, and to try to record as much as possible. Teršelič presented the DOCUMENTA webpage and the work in recording material from the Second World War through the decades of Soviet domination to the wars in the 1990s in the post-Yugoslavian countries. With this, they aim to examine the reasons of polarized collective memory in the Balkan countries. She also presented the Croatian Memories project (CroMe), which unveils personal memories on war and detention, and preserves them from falling into oblivion. This project will make these materials available to as many people as possible, and for the use of the highest possible number of scientific, art, documentary and educational programmes.

More ways of disseminating stories were discussed and demonstrated. Iratxe Momoito, director of Gernika Peace Museum, appointed the role of museums with its links with the community they serve. She also stressed the importance of audiovisual testimonies in exhibitions, revealing that people can understand better the aim of the exhibit with oral testimonies. One of the performances, she added, that were taken in Gernika was the bombing of poems during the festivities in the town, causing a shocking impression to the population.

Iratxe also stated the existence of gatekeepers, usually institutional, that hinders the works of individuals, collectives or, in her case, the museum, a concern shared by Ramsay Leim, whose work regards the Korean War.

Accompanying the conference, there were spaces in the Holiday Inn for the exhibition of arpilleras, originated in Chile, under the “Textiles Accounts of Conflict” exhibition. This collection covers the work of groups of women from Northern Ireland, England, Spain, Chile, Peru, Argentina, Afghanistan, Palestine, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Germany, Brazil, Canada and Colombia, who with only needles, thread and scrapes of fabric, recreate their memories in order to present to the world their lived experiences of conflict.

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