Endangered Archives

EAP046: Pilot project to seek, identify, contact, and report on collections of the endangered archives of the states of Maranhão and Pará in the Amazon region of Brazil

Mr Carlos Liberato de Sousa, York University, Canada
2005 award - Pilot project
£12,991 for 12 months

Project Overview

This pilot project will explore small, unattended archives in two Amazon states in Brazil, Maranhão and Pará, that are related to the history of enslaved Africans and their descendants. Although the major slave importations occurred through the ports of São Luís (Maranhão) and Belém (Pará), these West African slaves could be found as far as the gold mines of Mato Grosso, being transported through Amazon rivers, lakes, and channels, further to the interior and the southern areas.

These archives are very rich in all kinds of information between the early 17th century and the end of the 19th century, and in a few cases the middle of the 20th century. This documentation originated with the state (Portuguese and Brazilian administrations), churches (especially Catholic missionaries and priests), and notarial offices (notarial records and civil contracts).

The physical conditions of the archives vary enormously but most are in a poor condition. The northern region of Brazil is hot and wet, which makes conservation a difficult task. The archives lack financing and therefore do not have access to the necessary technology. The fact is that the vast holdings of this region are deteriorating at an alarming rate. Nature and negligence are together creating a desperate need to rescue this important part of world history.

The pilot project will explore a prioritised number of archives to make inventories and identify the most seriously endangered collections.

Project Outcome

This pilot project was successful in surveying 28 archives located in the Brazilian States of Pará and Maranhão. Some digitisation was conducted but the main objective was the completion of a detailed inventory providing precise information about the archives. This will form the basis for a future major digitisation project.

The 28 archives were located in 10 different cities some 2,000 kilometres apart:

1 Arquivo da Arquidiocese de São Luís, São Luís, Maranhão.
2 Biblioteca Pública Benedito Leite – Coleção Ribeiro do Amaral, São Luís.
3 Arquivo do Cartório de Notas do 2 o Ofício de São Luís, São Luís, Maranhão.
4 Livros da Câmara Municipal de São Luís – Projeto Praia Grande, São Luís.
5 Arquivo do Tribunal de Justiça do Estado do Maranhão, São Luís, Maranhão.
6 Arquivo Público do Estado do Maranhão, São Luís, Maranhão.
7 Arquivo do Cartório de Notas do 1 o Ofício de São Luís, São Luís, Maranhão.
8 Arquivo do 1 o Cartório de Órfãos de São Luís, São Luís, Maranhão.
9 Acervo do Museu Histórico e Artístico de São Luís, São Luís, Maranhão.
10 Arquivo do Cartório do 1 o Ofício de Notas de Alcântara, Alcântara, Maranhão.
11 Arquivo do Cartório do 2 o Ofício da Comarca de Alcântara, Alcântara, Maranhão.
12 Arquivo do Cartório do 1 o Ofício de Caxias, Caxias, Maranhão.
13 Arquivo do Cartório do 2 o Ofício de Caxias, Caxias, Maranhão.
14 Arquivo da Cúria Diocesana de Caxias, Caxias, Maranhão.
15 Arquivo do Cartório do 1 o Ofício de Codó, Codó, Maranhão.
16 Arquivo do Cartório do 2 o Ofício de Codó, Codó, Maranhão.
17 Arquivo Público do Pará, Belém, Pará.
18 Arquidiocese de Belém, Belém, Pará.
19 Instituto Histórico e Geográfico do Pará – Coleção de Manuscritos, Belém, Pará.
20 Irmandade Nossa Senhora do Rosário da Campina, Belém, Pará.
21 Arquivo do Tribunal de Justiça do Estado do Pará, Belém, Pará.
22 Cartório do 1 o Ofício da Cidade de Santarém – Anexo, Santarém, Pará.
23 Cartório do 2 o Ofício da Cidade de Santarém – Fórum, Santarém, Pará.
24 Museu Integrado de Óbidos – Manuscritos, Óbidos, Pará.
25 Igreja de Nossa Senhora de Sant'Anna, Óbidos, Pará.
26 Cartório do 1 o Ofício da Cidade de Vigia, Vigia, Pará.
27 Cartório do 1 o Ofício de Registro de Imóvel da Cidade de Bragança, Bragança.
28 Arquivo da Igreja de São Domingos do Capim, São Domingos do Capim, Pará.

Most of the responsible authorities showed a willingness to be involved in a future digitisation project – it was important to adopt a political approach that engaged the responsible persons for the archives with the purposes and possibilities of digitising materials as any development of a digitisation programme requires the active participation of the archives.

Many archives located in small and isolated places do not have any kind of catalogue for their collections – in such cases personal observation allowed an appraisal of quantities, maintenance, storage facilities and types of documents. The detailed inventory covers six categories: identity statement, context, content and structure, conditions of access and use, allied materials, and description of control area.

Survey results (PDF format 690KB)