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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Ten Years, Ten People: Oscar Arias, Digitization Specialist

Oscar Arias has been at Duke University Libraries for eleven years. Six months ago he joined the staff of the Digital Production Center as a Digitization Specialist. The DPC digitizes rare and fragile items to make them available in digital format.

Oscar is usually involved in any of the three main stages of the digitizing process: assessing the collection to develop a digitizing work flow and digitization guide, the actual scanning or digitizing of materials (using a variety of scanners or video digitizing equipment), and the quality control phase.

When asked to describe an interesting project he has worked on, Oscar replied:
One of the most interesting collections I’ve worked with is the collection of papers of Marshall T. Meyer. Dr. Meyer was an American activist Rabbi who worked in Argentina in the 1970’s, during the period of military dictatorship and repression. This period gave way to what came to be known as “La Guerra Sucia,” or the Dirty War, as it came to be known, in which thousands of Argentine citizens were “Desaparecidos,” or disappeared and presumed dead, or incarcerated without trial for suspected opposition to the government.

Rabbi Meyer was an activist and advocate for human rights during this dark period of Argentine history, and he personally advocated for the release of political prisoners. As part of the collection that we had to digitize, there were many original hand-written letters from prisoners and other original documents filled with gut wrenching testimonies of arrests, incarcerations and torture, and the desperate plight of family members of those disappeared or incarcerated.

I remember reading in school in some distant history book about the military dictatorship in Argentina in the late 1970’s. But being able to browse and read some of these hand-written, first-hand accounts in Spanish (my native language) was a profoundly different experience. It helped to remember that behind the news headlines of some distant conflict or behind the title of a chapter in a history book, there are real human beings with names and faces and real stories of tragedy during times of war and oppression. I look forward to the time of the fulfillment of the words of the prophet Isaiah, "And they will have to beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning shears. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, neither will they learn war anymore." (Isaiah 4:2)

Note on image: Correspondence to Rabbi Meyers from Deborah Esther Benchoam, a political prisoner who was held in cell 55 of the Villa Devoto women’s prison during the repression. From the RBMSCL Marshall T. Meyer Collection.

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