Archival Research: Managua, Nicaragua versus Ames, Iowa

Today’s blog post was written by Sydney Marshall, one of our student workers and a graduate student here at Iowa State University (ISU).

Young woman in purple dress with straw hat, view behind her is coast:; "cristo de la misericordia" (Christ of the Merdy) on the coast of San Juan del Sur in Nicaragua.

Sydney Marshall at the “cristo de la misericordia” (Christ of the Mercy) on the coast of San Juan del Sur in Nicaragua. Photograph by Jaqueline Mendoza.

My name is Sydney Marshall and I am one of the student workers for the Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) at ISU. During this summer, I traveled abroad to Managua, Nicaragua for archival research at the Instituto de Historia de Nicaragua y Centroamerica (Institute of Nicaraguan and Central American History, IHNCA) at the Universidad de Centroamericana (University of Central America, UCA). My research project concerns women during the Nicaraguan revolutionary era. I found that IHNCA had a vast array of information regarding this time period.

UCA campus view. Photograph by Sydney Marshall.

Conducting historical research in both the United States and in Central America, I found that there are some surprising similarities to the research process. For one thing, entering a new archive and introducing yourself to the archivist is somewhat terrifying, no matter the country or language! For any archival research, I found that it is best practice to contact the archivist at the desired location to plan one’s research trip (i.e. Dates, times, materials, questions). The primary difference in this initial phase was that I needed permission from my department of study (ISU) in order to gain access to the archives in Nicaragua. Additionally, at IHNCA I had to pay a one-time fee for entrance into the archives, whereas at SCUA, admission is free.

At both SCUA and IHNCA, I was met with friendly staff that helped me with my research project. Both places required me to sign in and read (SCUA) or listen (IHNCA) to the reading room rules. Personal items were kept at the front desk, either in a locker (SCUA) or cubby (IHNCA). Food and drink were not allowed near the documents, however, water was permitted in the reading room at IHNCA. I used the reading room computer to go online and find the materials I wanted an archivist to retrieve (both links can be found below). Each archive had me complete an “out slip” with my name, date, title, and call number for each individual item (the only difference being that I had to state my research topic each time for IHNCA, which I only had to do once for SCUA).

Front desk for IHNCA reading room. Photograph by Sydney Marshall.

Once the items were brought out to the reading room, I could look at one document at a time. Whereas SCUA brought out the document box containing the desired folder, IHNCA brought out the single folder for me to examine. At IHNCA, I was allowed to bring my own notebook and/or computer to take notes using pencil. At SCUA, I could only take notes using the archives paper and writing utensil. Laptops or other mobile devices are allowed. If I wanted to take a picture of a document, I needed to obtain permission from the archive. SCUA required me to read and fill out the camera use policy form. There is also a KIC scanner in the SCUA reading room that I can use to make copies. For a fee, IHNCA allowed pictures of books and journals to be taken on a specific day at a certain time.

My conclusion after researching in the two archives is that the process for examining historical documents was very similar: ask for the desired item, read the documents, and take notes on what is deemed important. Each archive had a rich collection of materials, from government documents to published books, photos to individual’s recollections.

IHNCA catalogue (in English): https://translate.googleusercontent.com/translate_c?depth=1&hl=en&prev=search&rurl=translate.google.com&sl=es&sp=nmt4&u=http://catalogo.ihnca.edu.ni/&usg=ALkJrhj1wpG4xeh-6qnZBrAXVxRsqhZcyw

SCUA home page: http://archives.lib.iastate.edu

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