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Improving access to our Latin American archives

Rebecca JWebster20 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.

You can find out more about the collection on our online catalogue – search for SANTA ROSA. For more information about using our collections, please see our webpages.

The Norris Photography Project

Rebecca JWebster9 April 2018

This is a guest post by Euan Guckian, UCL Special Collections volunteer.

Over terms one and two this year I have had the opportunity to sort and catalogue the photograph collection of Arthur Norris for the Special Collections team. Norris was a railway engineer who, at the beginning of the twentieth century, spent several years (roughly 1909-1916) working in Latin America. He captured scenes from across the continent, annotating some of them for his mother back home in Britain.

Already gathered into region specific files, alongside a separate one for a soccer game played at one of the highest points in the Andes, my first responsibility was to sort them into a more coherent order. I was at first helped by the extensive notes provided by Norris on the back on the photos, but as the years went on I was fortunate to have a date and location. A sense of lethargy that anyone who has committed to keeping at diary will be familiar with. Having sorted each file, my next job was to list them digitally, this comprised either paraphrasing Norris’ notes or, in their absence, describing concisely what would be considered each one’s important features.

UCL Special Collections, NORRIS/9

Having previously studied the modernisation of Latin America during this period, it was interesting to see the region enter the 20th century from such a visual perspective. This was most obviously represented by the numerous photographs of the laying of tracks, carving of tunnels, building of railway bridges, and constructing of train stations taken by Norris from Buenos Aires to Lima. Amongst my favourite photographs, was a shot taken from 13,000ft above sea level of an Argentine mountain range. It came with instructions from Norris to place it next to another to create a carefully framed panorama. Unfortunately, after weeks of searching I never found it. There is plenty however, that would be appeal to those with an interest in Latin America. These include, depictions of rural village life, as well as that of the region’s capitals, all alongside photographs of ceremonies both native to South America, and those, such as bullfights, brought over from Spain.

UCL Special Collections, NORRIS/1

You can see the full catalogue for the Norris photographic archive here. To arrange a visit to consult the collection please email us at spec.coll@ucl.ac.uk