UMAM Documentation and Research launched its long-awaited online archive initiative at Beit Beirut last week. UMAM’s goal is to make its collection available for researchers or anyone interested in the region’s history.
“For years we’ve been repeating ourselves, saying we want archives to play a public role and be accessible,” UMAM co-founder Monika Borgmann said. “Today we’re very proud to launch this new website, UMAM Biblio, for people to see what we have.
“I would say 80 percent of the archive UMAM possesses is now listed on this website,” she added. “For example, if you search for ‘Al Massirah 84’ you can see if we have it and [can] then visit our office to work with the document.”
Funded by a grant from the Swiss Embassy, the site contains information on about 8,000 books, 1,000 periodicals and 900 items in collections. There are also some e-copies of certain items, with more to come.
“In the future we will also upload a lot of PDFs and electronic copies of things,” Borgmann said.
“We’re all the time adding material and it’s a permanent process. Today it’s a huge inventory.
“With the collections we’ve started a huge digitization campaign. We’re digitizing all the time,” she added. “Mainly the collections will be uploaded as several newspapers can be found online so we don’t have to do this.”
UMAM began the process of creating a workable inventory in 2016, when damage to the water system in its offices forced it to transfer the archive to The Hangar, its exhibition space. It was then that UMAM started to properly catalog and back up the archive digitally where possible.
Taking advantage of the launch, UMAM also relaunched “Memory at Work,” a separate online database centered primarily on the history and recollections of Lebanon’s several civil conflicts, with a more recent section on Syrian history and conflict.
“Our reworked website for ‘Memory at Work’ now has a completely new look and much more content than before,” Borgmann said. “It’s a project we started in 2010 and the database is all organized by topics and documentation based on open sources, going from car bombs to mass graves, the military court and how Lebanon is dealing with its refugees. There is a lot of material.
“One example is that Legal Agenda has worked a lot on the military court,” she added. “In May we will have a performance by [Dictaphone Group member] Petra Serhal about car bombs that was inspired by what we had on the topic.”
The most recent ongoing project UMAM is working on nowadays is called the “MENA Prison Forum,” an interdisciplinary collaboration that assembles human rights activists, former detainees, researchers and artists to rethink prisons from different perspectives.
“It’s such a central topic in the region and we don’t think that [either] a human rights-orientated or a pure artistic approach is enough,” Borgmann said. “So we brought all these people together. We had a first meeting in Berlin last November and we will have two platforms an online platform with video, audio, testimonies and documents concerning prison trauma and survival in the region. We will also produce our own artistic work and published reports.”
For more information, visit umambiblio.org and umam-dr.org.
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