Improving access to our Latin American archives
By Rebecca J Webster, on 20 August 2018
Posted on behalf of Adersh Gill – a UCL student volunteer with Special Collections
Volunteering with UCL Archives over the last year has been really enjoyable. I was given the opportunity to improve the archive catalogue on the Santa Rosa Milling Company, a British owned milling company that operated in South American in the late 19th and 20th Centuries. The goal of the project was to make it easier for researchers, whose likely focus is on the economic history and development of South America, to gauge whether learning about the Santa Rosa Company’s history would be useful for their work.
The Santa Rosa Milling Company kept extensive documentation and I was asked to improve the archive description for the company’s minute books. The minute books recorded the monthly meetings of the company’s directors. This particular project required someone to be able to summarise the minute books with enough detail to be useful to researchers but not too much that it would take too long to read. Perhaps the main challenge was being able to decipher the hand-writing of the various secretaries recording the meetings, fortunately the archives team were always happy and willing to help whenever I ran into trouble.
The project offered a rare way for a student to learn about the history of South America particularly Chile, using the Santa Rosa Company’s history to gain an insight into the development of the regions. The Santa Rosa Milling Company also offers a case study about an early form of globalization, the company was headquartered in London whilst the majority of company activity occurred in South America; in addition one can learn about the less obvious impacts and ripple effects from the defining historical events of the period through the company’s response to them. The processing of reading through the minute books was in itself a learning experience for me. In particular the company’s post WWII history provides a valuable example of how global companies operated under the Bretton Woods era, when capital flows and currency exchanges were much more tightly regulated. Going through the minute book and seeing how a company on a day-to-day basis had to interact with various regulatory agencies provided a deeper level of understanding for a financial regulatory system which can seem quite abstract when described in a textbook.
Overall the project far exceeded my expectations both in what I expected to learn from it and how enjoyable I found the cataloguing, not to mention how welcoming and nice it was to work with the archives team. This is definitely an activity I would recommend to curious students.