The Art of Archive: Interns at the IEB

This week we are delighted to feature the experience of a number of students who have fulfilled internships at the Instituto de Estudos Brasileiros (IEB), a research institute connected to the Universidade de São Paulo. BYU has a significant relationship to the IEB thanks to the coordinating efforts of Professor James Krause and others. Students who have helped out at the IEB through this partnership have stories to tell not only of their own edification, but also the enlightenment of scholars past and future as well as the Brazilian public.

Two weeks ago on February 13th, 2019, Elisabete Ribas visited our beautiful (and cold) campus. Over the past five years, Elisabete—a dedicated and essential figure at the IEB—has helped to facilitate dozens of student internships from BYU. Interns have described her as going “above and beyond” in everything that she does, and as “one of the most selfless people” that they have ever met. Together, students, professors, and Elisabete met together to reminisce about their experiences of the IEB and how to sustain their work going forward.

Perhaps one of the most impressive elements of the IEB internship is that Elisabete makes sure that each student is given a project that aligns with his or her own personal interests. For example, while she was an intern at the IEB, Dalila Sanabria (one of our Humanities Center undergraduate fellows this year and a Visual Arts double major) was assigned to organize an archive of documents and objects surrounding Waldisa Rússio—a prominent museologist who facilitated museum programs throughout Brazil. Along the way, Dalila gathered first hand exposure to documentation, archive methodologies, and preservation techniques for future study. She referred to this experience as an “intimate way to get to know these people and see what they cared about.”

Courtney Walker, a Public Health major, similarly helped to organize the archive of Maria Lúcia Mott, a feminist activist and health reformist idol who wrote about the representation of women (as well as the lack thereof) in literature. In addition to being hand-picked for each student, these projects are also significant in their novelty. In fact, Mott passed away so recently that as part of the archive process, Courtney was able to talk to people whom Mott knew—professors who collaborated with her about literature. Courtney related that through “getting to know this person through the various versions of her work, I got to see how she evolved and developed; you can kind of piece together her work with how she interacted with others and how that changed her work, how she developed as a person.”

Christina Newell’s experience was a bit different than Dalila’s or Courtney’s, in that she was given the opportunity to focus on a literary genre instead of a specific person. Literatura de Cordel refers to a kind of folk literature passed down as spoken as well as written texts in a semi-poetic format, typically sold as booklets closepinned to strings in markets (where it receives its name). She was able to gather information about cordel literatures and disseminate that information through digital and other means. Now working on a Master’s Degree in Portuguese, Christina has even used her work at the IEB in an academic setting to compare variations of a well-known story in different cordel texts.

BYU’s partnership with the IEB has allowed these students to meaningfully connect with their respective projects both inside and outside the Institute, and both personally and professionally. During her stay, Dalila accompanied student interns from the University of São Paulo to a conference of curators and museologists. She detailed how much “seeing so many people involved in this kind of thing, especially in brazil” was particularly meaningful to her. In addition to giving her curriculum ideas in art education, the conference also made her “interested in keeping international ties.”

But the projects at the IEB also have a prominently public focus as well. Courtney described how instead of simply “sitting in a box, the community can access it.” Although the audience of the archive will most likely consist primarily of scholars, the main floor of the IEB holds a computer lab with technicians ready to help anyone who comes with his or her own research interests. There’s an “amazing intellectual academic aspect of it,” Courtney related: “They talked about it in a way that made me excited to learn about it.” Personally, she felt that “this person I’ve never met, in a different country, we were kindred spirits.” She hopes that others can similarly find that kindred connection through the Institute’s archive.

As Elisabete was completing her visit to Utah, one of our professors took her to Salt Lake to visit the Family History Library. According to Christina, Elisabete afterwards related that she had been working on archival work for various famous people, but “she had been wondering about everyone else; what do they do to preserve their archives?” When introduced to our wide-scale genealogical efforts, “she thought it was the most amazing thing.”

BYU’s relationship with the IEB is an academic venture that holds intense personal implications for students, professors, and the Brazilian public. The students featured here—along with many others—have felt that potential themselves and have worked hard to contribute to that feeling for others. This is an exciting adventure not only for them but also for each member of the BYU Humanities community.

This post was written by Isaac Robertson, Humanities Center Intern

Photos courtesy of Courtney Walker.

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