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Room for files on politics

At Unicamp and Unesp, a history of the left

The idea of forming an archive on Brazilian political subjects arose at the beginning of the 70’s. A group of teachers from the Institute of Philosophy and Humanities (IFCH), of the State University of Campinas (Unicamp), decided to create a documentation center suitable for the research that used to begin to be carried out in the post-graduate programs. The starting point was the acquisition of the material accumulated over a lifetime by the anarchist leader, Edgar Leuenroth (1881-1968). Unicamp bought the collection of newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, letters and other documents. The archive, which was given Leuenroth’s name, was set up in 1974.

It was the starting point for the largest sets of documents in existence on the workers’ movements and the left in general in Brazil. Leuenroth’s material soon had the company of other documents, acquired in swaps, donations or purchases. From abroad, material came from the Internationaal Instituut voor Sociale Geschiedenis, from Amsterdam, from the Archivio Storico del Movimento Operaio Brasiliano, in Milan, from Ministèrio degli Affari Ersteri, in Rome, and the National Archives, in Washington. In Brazil, special attention was given to political repression under the military region.

“The AEL (acronym in Portuguese for Edgar Leuenroth Archive) had grown a lot, and the original space had become so small that it was difficult to work” says Ângela Maria Carneiro Araújo, who teaches at IFCH’s Department of Political Science. Ângela Maria was the director of the archive in 1998, when the investments under Fapesp’s Infrastructure started to arrive. The R$ 619,000 funding received by the AEL was one of the largest of the program. It was used to provide proper accommodation for the material, the archive’s building was refurbished, and equipment necessary for the maintenance of the collection was installed.

Proper tables
Work began with the computerization of the collection and the recovery of the computer network. “We carried on equipping the place with everything that was necessary” the teacher recalls. The table for sanitation, for example, where the documents are cleaned, to rid them of dust and insects, was improvised. “With the money from Infra, we bought proper tables, upgraded the computer network, replaced the fixed bookshelves by sliding ones, acclimatized the whole building, and set up a security system” recalls Ângela Maria.

An important part of the reform of the archive was the extreme care that Unicamp’s personnel had with the money received. For example, Maria Aparecida Remédio, who takes care of preservation and restoration, was one of those charged with making the funds go as far as possible. She personally measured the areas, designed the bookshelves and cabinets and negotiated with the suppliers.

Maria Aparecida went as far as to monitor the manufacture of the items made to order. This was tremendously useful. In the middle of the way, she discovered that some of the shelving would bend under the weight of the books and documents. “Since I had a good knowledge of the technical standards, I convinced the manufacturer to redo everything, in accordance with the specifications, so as not to lose the money” she remembers.

Maria Aparecida also created a system for the disinfestation of insects, for which she has requested a patent, to avoid Unicamp having to pay royalties for a process developed there. It consists, basically, of putting the documents in plastic bags, where they remain in carbon dioxide for five days and in nitrogen for ten days. “This is sufficient to kill bookworms, bugs and termites” she says. The process is not only simple, it is cheap and leaves no residue to harm staff or users.

The process is also applied to the so-called “bastard documents”, those that are left in boxes on the doorstep of the building of the archive, by people who do not want to be identified. They join rarities like parts of the archives of the communist leader, Luiz Carlos Prestes and of the newspaper of the PCB – The Brazilian Communist Party, Voz da Unidade; the surveys carried out by the Brazilian Opinion of Public Opinion (Ibope), between 1942 and 1987; and the Brasil Nunca Mais (Brazil Never Again) collection, with over 700 cases of political prisoners.

Unesp’s memory
This is not, however, the only archive dedicated to political themes that received decisive support from Fapesp. When it was founded in 1987, the Documentation and Memory Center (Cedem) of the São Paulo State University (Unesp) had as its objective the preservation of the university’s memory. Nowadays, it has been transformed into one of the most important centers of documentation on the history of the left in Brazil.

The crucial moment came in 1994, when the Astrogildo Pereira Institute transferred to Cedem, on a custody basis, part of the archives of the Brazilian Communist Party (PCB). The material contained the major part of the documentation referring to the 80’s and the 90’s, and it therefore shows the transition of the PCB to today’s PPS (The Popular Socialist Party) at the same time, Cedem received the Archivio del Movimento Operaio Brasiliano, which was in the custody of the Feltrinelli Foundation, of Milão, in Italy.

These have been joined by the archives of the Mario Pedrosa Documentation Center (Cemap), in the custody of the University of São Paulo (USP), and by the Documentation Center of the City of São Paulo (Cedesp), with documents relating to the period in which the mayor was Luiza Erundina, from 1989 to 1992. Cedem thus found itself faced by two challenges: organizing all this documentation, and fulfilling its original task of recording Unesp’s history.

Site on the Internet
The investment made by FAPESP in Cedem was R$ 413,600. “We asked for funds to organize the documents and to buy furniture, sliding cabinets, microfilm readers and copiers” recalls its coordinator, Maria Martinez Correia. Previously, the documentation was not open to the public. Today, anybody can get information at a distance, through the site

The archive has, for example, extremely important information on the origins of the Workers’ Party (PT). There are other valuable documents, like the minutes, written in Russian, of the meeting of the Communist International that approved the 1935 uprising in Brazil. Cedem’s researchers are now dedicated to organizing a collection relating to the Movement of the Landless (MST), with over 50,000 photographs and other documents, and to gather together the memory of the 31 institute and study centers, scattered over 15 cities in the state, that comprise the university. To do so, in addition to the written material, 165 interviews have already been recorded.