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Technology and Scholarship: Spring 2009 Virtual Internship on Human Rights in Argentina

January 15, 2010

This past September, David Culver, a student in the course “Hispanic Studies 498 Internship: Research in  the National Security Archive” published a documentary video showing his and his classmates experience doing research with primary source US government documents.

During the Spring of 2009, the National Security Archive hosted 10 student-interns from the College of William and Mary, along with their professor, Silvia Tandeciarz, to carry out analysis of the more than 8000 documents compiled by the Argentina Documentation Project of the Archive. The goal: to publish a briefing book – a discrete selection of US declassified documents that illustrate a unique episode in the history of US foreign policy. The internship was designed to do exactly that: provide 10 enthusiastic and academically trained  interns to the Archive to advance our knowledge of human rights violations in Argentina under the military regime, and at the same time, to train students in hands on research using primary source US government documents. 

Every week, for 20 weeks, the students dove into thousands of US documents, collected their impressions and met for three hours with professor Tandeciarz and Argentina Documentation Project Director Carlos Osorio.  During the first couple of weeks, the students were trained to recognize document types, tags, US government structure, official titles, acronyms, etc. Eventually, the ordeal of Argentine journalist Jacobo Timerman, who was saved from being disappeared by the intervention of US President Jimmy Carter’s Administration, was selected as a focus for the research.

Taking advantage of the Archive digital collections, the students carried out electronic searches of index fields and full text OCR images, from their own laptops, sitting anywhere in William and Mary’s Campus in Williamsburg, Virginia. The electronic setting allowed us to carry virtual classes using secure remote electronic connections to the Archive databases in Washington, DC, and communicating on screen through Skype.

Eventually, the students reviewed thousands of documents, identified some 500 of them, and wrote descriptions of 18 documents illustrating how Jacobo Timerman’s case shook the military dictatorship in 1979. Using technology to bring together scholars and primary source materials proved and enriching and exciting experience for the Argentina Documentation Project and the students of William and Mary.

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