A review of Archivo General de la Nación– Archivo Intermedio (The General Archive of the Nation, Intermediate Archive) (Buenos Aires, Argentina).
The state of Argentine studies has primarily relied on utilizing Buenos Aires and the littoral region as the base to tell the national story. In recent years, the tide has shifted to a more provincial perspective. Indeed, a look into the recent crop of young argentinistas shows that many, including myself, are beginning to question many of the previous conclusions our predecessors arrived at by expanding our scope into the interior. My own work utilizes two cholera epidemics that took place in northwestern Argentina as a lens to examine the relationship between the northwestern province of Tucumán and the central government, situated in Buenos Aires, during the late nineteenth century. I hold that the image of a strong and coercive state peters out the further one moves from Buenos Aires. In the far distant provinces, a more negotiated form of governance arose.
During my investigation, I completed research in archives and libraries in Tucumán, Córdoba and Buenos Aires. The bureaucratic structure of Argentina during the nineteenth century, however, requires that a significant amount of research must still be conducted in Buenos Aires. At the time, the Ministry of the Interior (MI) was one of the most important ministries of the state. As the primary arbiter between the capital and the provinces, the Minister was given the responsibility of maintaining a balance between the needs of the interior and the state and was the primary point of contact for the provinces to the state and managed all forms of connections with the interior. It oversaw mail delivery, telegraph, the port, immigration, the railroad, national elections and public lands in the national territories. Its influence permeated into other institutions, such as the National Department of Hygiene (NDH) and the University of Buenos Aires. In short, if it had to do with the provinces, it had to go through the Minister of the Interior. By the early twentieth century, the Ministry’s influence had waned. The NDH became an independent institution and the age of the railroad and telegraph ended with the development of the Argentine highway system. For researchers of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century, the Ministry is a valuable source base to investigate since the ministry was involved with so many aspects of everyday Argentine life, and offers a window to the state in action in the national peripheries.
Argentina’s principal national archive, Archivo General de la Nación, is divided into two locations. There is the Sede Central (SC) that contains materials from the colonial to the modern period and the Archivo Intermedio (AI) where the Ministry of the Interior collections are housed with other collections. The AI is located at Avenida Paseo Colón 1093 4th floor, in the San Telmo area of Buenos Aires. The archive is both conveniently and inconveniently located. During my various stays in Buenos Aires, I rented an apartment in Recoleta, San Telmo, Microcentro and Congresso. From almost any location in San Telmo it is a relatively short walk. For those familiar with the area, it is two blocks east of Plaza Dorrego, where the San Telmo fair is held every weekend. By Subte, the most convenient form of arriving is the C (blue) line, exiting at San Juan and walking eight blocks east. The E (purple) line is also a possibility but will leave you too far north. From Microcentro and Recoleta, I took various buses, depending on my exact location. Since the archive is located on a main street and near the University of Buenos Aires School Of Engineering, there are a variety of buses crossing the area. I was usually on the 152 that traveled from Boca, in the south, to Olivos in the far north. Using this line I had quick access to the SC, the Biblioteca Nacional and the Retiro Bus Station. The archive holds no visual media. Pictures and film are all housed at the Sede Central, which is about a tad bit over a mile north on Paseo Cólon and after it turns into Av. Alem. The few times I moved from the AI to SC, I either walked, roughly 30 minutes, or took a 5 minute bus ride. Once I got the hang of the Buenos Aires bus system there was never a need to take a taxi or subway anywhere. The archive is open from 10:00am to 5:00pm, but a few times I arrived right at 10 am, and various researchers were already there and looked to have been working for awhile.
Upon arriving, the archive is fairly easy to miss. Since all national archives are under the purview of the Ministry of the Interior, this archive is on the fourth floor of a Ministry of Interior building where people apply for and receive their DNI (Documento Nacional de Identidad). The entrance resembles a parking garage with security guards at the entrance. (For quick reference, it is next to a BMW dealership.) On the side you will see a burgundy sign labeled “Archivo Intermedio.” Once you inform the guards that you will be going to the archive they will signal you to some stairs with a glass door. Take the elevator or stairs to the fourth floor (the elevator rarely works and once almost got stuck between the 2nd and 3rd floor). After exiting the elevator and walking through some double doors, the archive is one small room with various desks. All Argentine archives require some form of identification when entering. Since non-Argentine citizens cannot posses a DNI, I was able to get by with my California driver’s license. Occasionally I was asked to show my passport, but since I did not want to walk around with my passport, I told the archivist my license number was the American form of a DNI number, although I think it is a bit closer to a social security number. Upon entering, you will be asked to leave your bags, pens and notebooks at the entrance. Laptops are allowed. After my third visit I began to arrive with only a pencil, a camera and my wallet. I took pictures of all documents and uploaded them when I got back to my apartment.
After you have signed in, you are directed to a wall where the collections the archives holds are laid out. They are in alphabetical order, list sub-collections, quantity, years covered and the form of documents contained, e.g., letters, reports, telegrams and account ledgers. The intermediary archive has numerous collections, some very important, such as the MI’s correspondence and dossiers from 1867 to 1976, the Ministry of Justice, Education, Public Works, Foreign Relations, the National Commission of Investigation and National Border Patrol; but a significant number are ones that did not “make the cut” for the central archive. One area of note is the Ministry of Interior’s collections from El Proceso. If you plan to work with these collections allow yourself more time. They are listed as “secret, confidential and reserved files” and therefore you will not be allowed to take pictures. Moreover, expect the archivist to keep a closer eye on you. A friend I made at the archive was working with this collection and he told me that the majority of the material is blacked out, but he was still able to get some decent material. If your interests are in the early period, this archive is not for you. All files prior to 1867 were burnt in a fire back in 1868.
Requesting materials is straightforward. Once I informed the archivist of the collection I intended to work with (MI files from 1868-1890), I was given a rudimentary index to look through. It listed the number of boxes available per year and how many folios each contained—most were in the 500 range. The archive has an Excel spreadsheet that lists the description of the folios in each box, but the organization and inability to take the box to the computer desk to cross-reference made it difficult to utilize the index. I filled out a paper, with my name, ID number and the date and the Collection year and box. You are allowed up to three boxes per request.
Carlos Dimas Ministerio del Interior 1868 Caja 1,2 y3
When the three boxes are brought to you, they are placed on a table where all the deliveries are held. You can only bring one box to your table. After you bring your box to the table, you open it on the side and pull out the folios in stacks of fifty. The folios are numbered. The files must be taken out of the box one-by-one and then be placed in the exact same order, which can require some dexterity. Each has a small note at the beginning that summarizes what each file contains, but the writing on them is very unclear and at times the description was vague. They ranged from “Carta de Antonio Taboada sobre recursos en Santiago del Estero, con información de Anselmo Rojo sobre Catamarca,” to “Salta-correspondencia” or “subsidio.” Each folio is stapled together making it difficult to read anything more than 3 pages. The employees of the archive can be a bit abrasive and will not tell you most of the rules of the archive until you have broken one of them. You will need to ask the archivist to remove the staple and then it will be placed into a blue folder. If an archivist suspects you of folding the papers or, say, you want to look at a few pages before you ask for the staple to be removed, they will scold you openly and threaten you with barring access to the material. I saw it happen a few times. By 1886, the Ministry of the Interior developed a more coherent organization system. Since I was looking for all material to and from Catamarca and Tucumán, and letters from the NDH and port authority, I was able to disregard any file that did not contain those keywords on the cover. After you are done with a box, you place it on the “return” table and move on to the next. If you decide to leave, but want to look through the same box the next day, you put it back on the “delivery” table. They hold it there up to a week. I never inquired about photocopying, since I took pictures of all the material.
When I first went in 2011, the archive strictly prohibited any photos to be taken of the materials. In 2013 the regulations had relaxed and they simply did not want any flash. Towards the end of my stay I was told that photos were only allowed for files pre-1950, anything following that was on a file-by-file basis. I would advise visitors to take photos of all materials. The archive is continually organizing and moving collections, which has led to some of the boxes to be misplaced. During my first visit, I had located a letter in one of files that was very important to my research at the time. The inability to take photos or a notebook inside meant I had written out the letter on the scratch paper provided. In 2013 I returned to the archive and wanted to take a picture of the letter for possible future reference. When I requested the box, I searched through the folio but the letter, and the two preceding it, were missing. Fortunately, it was of no consequence to my research but still a little frustrating.
The dress code is fairly relaxed. I usually went in wearing a T-shirt, jeans and boots. The archivist and fellow researchers were similarly dressed and everyone usually kept to themselves. The last pull was allowed at 4:15pm. By 5, the immediate zone near the archive is fairly empty. A few blocks west, however, there are various cafes, shops and food stands where you can stop for a bite to eat, or meet up with friends.
Carlos S. Dimas
Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow Latin American Studies
Center for the Americas
Image: Photo by Author.
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