On its tenth anniversary, House Museum shares another of the multiple areas of its work as an entity at the service of heritage and community, the preservation, diffusion and value of the Documentary Archive of the former President Eduardo Frei Montalva.
A valuable and interesting archive of letters, articles, speeches and other documents that belonged to the distinguished national politician is available for researchers, students and academic staff at House Museum, his family residency since 1942, and open to the public since 2008.
In the following article, we invite people to know this priceless material, since its origin in the hands of the former president, going through its preservation and development under the safekeeping of the museum, and finishing with the required projections and challenges to deal with the conservation necessities of the collection and access to the users in the digital era.
“I was born in Santiago in 1911, but it was another world. There was no radio, television, refrigerators, nor washing machines. You could barely see cars and commercial aircrafts were unknown as well as airports, which are now sowing the world. Very few knew that there was nuclear energy and no one imagined that atomic bombs could be made. The train was the symbol of travel and adventure. Customs were modest and time passed slowly. People were content with little and didn’t feel controlled by unrestrained ambitions. In this long and at the same time short life, I have seen how everything changes first progressively, but then almost frenetically”.
In 1980, after serious reflection whether it was appropriate or not, Eduardo Frei Montalva began writing his memoirs. However, soon after, he died leaving this work unfinished. His family created a foundation in his honor, whose main purpose was to promote the thoughts, work and figure of this distinguished intellectual Chilean politician of the 20th century. To do so, his family handed an essential part of the material legacy over to the Eduardo Frei Foundation, among which we can find thousands of documents that the former president gathered throughout his life.
Twenty years later, the Foundation started the project to transform the Frei Montalva’s emblematic residency, located on Hindenburg Street, into a heritage and educational space for the community. This initiative was concretized in 2008 with the inauguration of Eduardo Frei Montalva House Museum, the entity that has custody of the archives since then.
This tangible legacy of the distinguished national politician, who ruled our country as President of the Republic (1964-1970), has many features that make it worthy of an immense historical and patrimonial value. Firstly, the fact that it belongs to this Chilean statesman, witness and agent of significant processes of the 20th century and responsible for major social, political, economic and cultural changes during his presidential term. It is one of the few archives of political figures and former Chilean presidents that are preserved intact and compiled in one place, unlike what has happened with this type of material in the case of other figures, in which the documents are dispersed in different public and/ or private institutions, or rightly in the hands of relatives or collectors.
A clear example of the reality of the presidential documentary legacies in Chile can be seen in the list of the most important archives of our country. In the National Archive and the Archive of the Administration, you can find archives related to Pedro Aguirre Cerda, Gabriel Gonzales Videla, Juan Luis Sanfuentes, Domingo Santa Maria González, Manuel Montt Torres, Patricio Aylwin Azócar and Eduardo Frei-Ruiz Tagle. However, it is mostly about their presidential terms and in some cases, like Patricio Aywin’s, only photographs, while his documents are in the custody of the foundation that bears his name, and they are only partially available through a recent digital repository.
Instead, as we shall see below, the House Museum documentary archive preserves documentation of all the stages of Frei Montalva’s public and private life in a single file, which facilitates the study of his life and works through this material that is also available for students, academic staff and researchers through letters, articles, speeches, manuscripts and other documents written and/or gathered by Eduardo Frei Montalva.
An important part of the material deals with historical processes, social, economic and political transformations both in Chile and abroad from the 80s to the 80s. Frei Montalva’s collection of letters to different figures allows us to glimpse not only his personal vision, but also the impact of what was happening in Chile and the world throughout his life. His government documents provide the official view of the changes promoted during his presidential mandate, or the international relations of Chile with Latin America, the United States or Europe during the Cold War. While his more personal documents allow us to approach the private dimension of this public man, to know his tastes, interests, aspirations, fears, apprehensions, etc.
The Documentary Archive that is under the safekeeping of EFM House Museum contains approximately 10 thousand documents about Frei Montalva’s public and private life, the majority of documents being from his period as President of the Republic. Most of the material is in Spanish, although there are several in English and to a lesser extent in French, German, Portuguese and Italian.
Even though most of the documents are from his presidential term (1964-1970), an interesting collection of letters preserved by Frei Montalva is also part of this archive, such as an intimate set of letters exchanged with his wife María Ruiz-Tagle during their engagement, and others as a result of his friendship with great figures of the 20th century, such as Gabriela Mistral or the French philosopher Jacques Maritain, among many others.
In this archive we can also find emblematic documents of his government related to the Chilean Land Reform, the Education Reform, the Social Promotion, the Chilean Nationalization of Copper or his Housing Project, as well as copies of many of his speeches and conferences in Chile and other countries. We can also find typed copies of his publications in the press, mainly during his youth and before taking office as President of the Republic, in addition to numerous notes of his participation in the national and international politics since 1970 until his death.
For any institution that safeguards some type of archive, dissemination is almost an ethical obligation; the conservation of such material is not enough, nor is it sufficient to make it available to those who wish to consult it. It is essential to work permanently on transmitting it to the public through all possible means, since it allows society to know and value this heritage.
In this context, our documentary archive has been used as a primary source of required consultation for research carried out and published by EFM House Museum, either in its monthly articles, freely available on the website, or for those that serve as the historiographical foundation in temporary exhibitions, or as study material for the work team.
Social network has also become an excellent ally in the process of dissemination: thousands of followers of EFM House Museum are informed and shared content of the files on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram platforms daily.
Finally, the dozens of researchers that have used this material during the ten years of life of EFM House Museum have significantly contributed to the dissemination of this archive in professional and academics circles.
The EFM House Museum historical archive is organized and preserved in almost 500 acid-free file folders; this work was carried out by the Eduardo Frei Foundation while the project of transforming the Frei Ruiz-Tagle residency into a cultural space was materialized. Once House Museum was inaugurated, the new institution assumed safekeeping of this and other archives, constantly working in their conservation, dissemination and promotion among researchers, academic staff and general public.
In benefit of the preservation of this document archive, EFM House Museum’s team has signed an agreement with the National Congress Library that includes the entirely digitalization of our Documentary Archive with the primary objective of reducing the manipulation of the physical copies and thus avoid deterioration.
The agreement dates from the end of 2015 and will allow not only improving the material preservation conditions, but also reaching a wider amount of users. For this purpose, an entirely digital version of the material will be available to the community, reducing the time and distance limitations that often affect researchers, facilitating access from other areas of the country or the world.
Thus, thanks to the agreement with the National Congress Library, progress has been made in the digitalization of almost 50 % of Eduardo Frei Montalva House Museum Documentary Archive so far, process that has also allowed to delve into the content of the documents, deepening in their description and generating an important amount of information that will complement the future management of the whole archive.
For the future management of this archive, two fundamental challenges emerge: firstly, the one related to its dissemination among research and academics circles, aiming to generate new spaces and instances that will allow this important and valuable material being well known within the community; it has been available for consultation for several years, but is still unknown by those who study the history of Chile.
On the other hand, the preservation and access mechanisms to the digital version of the material as a result of the agreement with the Congress Library. In this process, we have a dual challenge: the storage of an important quantity of digital material of high resolution must be secure. At the same time, an access platform must be projected to allow users to consult from anywhere through a digital repository with basic information of each document, such as authors, content, dates, etc. In order to do so, EFM House Museum has uploaded the information during the preparation of the material for its digitalization, keeping in mind the different requirements formulated by researchers who have worked with the physical format archive in the House Museum.
The idea is to get the most of this digital archive, both for the use of the institution and for consultation by the community. A complex challenge that will definitely be, a contribution from Eduardo Frei Montalva House Museum to the history and heritage of our country.