“Upon obtaining citizenship, finding himself in the ‘arid Patagonian latitudes,’ he kissed the ground and promised to dedicate his life to his great passion: archives”: Interview with Dr. Branka Tanodi, History and Methodology of Historical Archives. Daughter of Professor Aurelio Tanodi

The reputation of distinguished archivist Aurelio Tanodi is acclaimed in the vast majority of Latin American countries and even in Europe. His theoretical work planted the seed of the knowledge of archival preservation in the region and for many years it was required reading for those who dared to embrace the profession, still unknown to many not only in America but also in other parts of the world. Master Tanodi, or Professor Tanodi, as many of his students called him, inspired other archivists not only to promote the archival sciences but also to spearhead the development of archives in their own countries. For new generations of archivists, Tanodi’s name is not as well known today, and since we represent a profession dedicated to the preservation of memory, Archivoz Magazine wishes to remember the man considered to be the Father of Latin American archival studies. What better way to do it, than to interview his daughter, Branka Tanodi, herself an archivist, so she might tell us of the legacy of Don Aurelio Tanodi.

(Archivoz) Tell us a little about Professor Aurelio Tanodi’s immigration to Argentina and how he became involved with archival work.

(B.T.) His interest in and contact with archival science began during his years as a history student in Croatia, with a focus on palaeography and diplomatics. His research in these areas connected him with the archive.

After completion of his studies in 1938, he began to work in the Municipal Archive of Varazdin, in the medieval documents department. At the suggestion of his former professor of paleography, he went to work at the Croatian National Archive in Zagreb in 1940, in the middle of World War II. His duties included, among others things, inspections of the various archives across the country. During this time, he also broadened his studies in archival science, and he obtained a  Ph.D. in history. After the war he emigrated for political reasons—namely, the rise to power of Marshal Josip Broz (Tito). In 1946, during his exile in Austria, in addition to studying law, he did research at the Styrian Provincial Archive, visited various others, and conceived the idea of ​​creating an archive dedicated to the experiences of Croatian migrants, a project that failed to materialize when he traveled to Rome to work with the Pontifical University of Saint Anthony of the Franciscan Fathers. His passage to Italy, according to his own account, was like this: “one night in February 1947 I crossed, with the help of a Tyrolean friar, the icy, snowy heights of the Brenero Pass, dodging Austrian and Italian border forces along the way.” In Rome, from 1947 to 1948, he studied archivology in the Vatican Secret Archives and librarianship at the Vatican Apostolic Library. Although the Franciscans wanted him to remain at the Secret Archive as a specialist in documents related to Slavic peoples, his destiny brought him instead to Argentina in 1948, aboard a North American troop transport, in the service of the Red Cross, which had granted him the passport to be able to travel.

(Archivoz) What were Professor Tanodi’s early years at the University of Córdoba like?

(B.T.) At first, he worked in Buenos Aires in a textile factory, then moved to Comodoro Rivadavia, where he was chief of staff of a construction company. While there, he received news in 1953 that the new curriculum of the School of Philosophy and Humanities of the National University of Córdoba had created the position of chair of Paleography and Diplomatics, and he applied for the position. Once hired, he organized the Misiones Universitarias Archivológicas, through which he sought to evaluate a number of the important archives in Argentina. This evaluation, which revealed a lack of professionally trained personnel, underscored the need for a school of archivology, which subsequently was established in 1959.

(Archivoz) Argentina has been recognized among Latin American countries as a pioneer in the field of archival development. Its work reached its high water mark in the 20th century, at the School of Archivology in Córdoba.

(B.T) As the organizer and director of the only School of Archivology in the country, my father had to function not only as a teacher, but also as a facilitator of research, advice, coordination and archival extension, to train archivists for the entire national territory, until other programs were established, especially in Buenos Aires. He organized the First Conference of Archivists of Argentina in 1959, which was no easy task due to the lack of both awareness and economic wherewithal. More conferences followed at intervals of several years. He taught courses in several Argentine cities, gave consultations, and published books, monographs, and articles. Under his direction, the School of Archivists became the benchmark in archival matters, since it was the only one in the country.

(Archivoz) The Inter-American Center for Archival Development (CIDA), sponsored by the OAS [Organization of American States], marked a turning point for Latin American archival development. The leading archivists of the region were trained there, and from there Professor Tanodi’s influence spread to a number of countries, such as Colombia, Peru, Costa Rica, Chile, becoming almost a regional movement. What aspects of the collaboration between Professor Tanodi and CIDA would you highlight from those glorious years?

(B.T.) CIDA was founded to address the lack of training for archivists in the region, a shortcoming verified by Dr. Tanodi’s visits to various repositories in the OAS member countries. The shortage of personnel with the necessary knowledge to carry out executive tasks or manage the internal organization of the archives prompted the OAS to sponsor the courses.

The Inter-American Center for Archival Development (CIDA) was originally called the Inter-American Center for Archives Formation (CIFA). It was formed based on an agreement between the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Argentine Foreign Ministry. Although other locations were proposed, it was ultimately based in Córdoba due to the presence there of Dr. Aurelio Tanodi.

I believe that the Center owed its high level of academic quality to several factors. First and foremost, to the professionalism and effort that Dr. Tanodi put into designing the courses, without neglecting the smallest detail. The selection of scholarship recipients, the curriculum, the professors–from whom he demanded the greatest dedication and commitment—also contributed. The visits made by scholarship recipients to the various repositories, along with written descriptions submitted afterwards, the practicums and internships in Buenos Aires at the General Archive of the Nation, the assistance rendered to other public and private repositories: all this contributed to the high quality of the program.

The information exchange between scholarship recipients and professors regarding archival practices in their respective countries was also very enriching. In many cases, this exchange helped to define one’s own situation, also of course contributing to a knowledge of the broader regional situation, and helped suggest solutions to challenges at all levels.

Visiting professors, who came to Córdoba to teach courses in their different specialties, contributed further to the training of scholarship recipients. I want to highlight, without reflection upon the abilities of any of the scholars, the several visits of Dr. Vicenta Cortés Alonso–who died recently—as the first and one of the most noteworthy guests at the Center. She directed another OAS Center, located in Madrid (Spain), which focused more on historical archives, whereas the one in Córdoba was dedicated to administrative archives.

The Center also offered bibliographic material on archives to course participants, much of which was printed onsite. The Inter-American Archives Bulletin, later the Inter-American Archives Yearbook, published in the Publications Directorate of the National University of Córdoba, directed by Dr. Tanodi, was an important factor, as well as provision of technical apparatus such as a printing press, supplies and equipment for microfilming and a restoration workshop. I even believe that the first computer that arrived at the National University of Córdoba was sent by the OAS for the CIDA courses.

All of this helped to change a widely held belief, one that is still very common and tinged with a certain humor or irony: that appointment to archival work was used as punishment, generally for political reasons or personal resentments.

(Archivoz) In spite of receiving international acclaim for the high quality of its academic output, which placed it on a par with master’s-level studies, CIDA’s training program, attached to the University of Córdoba, was closed. Why was this, especially at a time when greater numbers of skillful archivists are needed in the region?

(B.T.) General economic conditions within the OAS were the main reason for the closure. The original program was slated to last 10 years but was extended for another five due to its success. Fortunately, so as not to end such a successful initiative, it was later divided between two centers of operation: one in Lima, Peru, and the other in San José, Costa Rica, with oversight from the countries’ respective National Archives. Two former participants from the Córdoba center assumed the responsibility of continuing with the project.

(Archivoz) As an immigrant, why do you think your father, Professor Tanodi, dedicated himself so passionately to the development of Latin American archival science?

(B.T.) On this point I will paraphrase his own words, which I believe most accurately express his passion for archival science in general and his commitment to the development of Latin American archives specifically: upon obtaining citizenship, finding himself in the ‘arid Patagonian latitudes,’ he kissed the ground and promised to dedicate his life to his great passion: archives. He remained faithful to his decision to work for Argentina and Latin America in the face of political and ideological fluctuations, struggling to build up a scientific field that has a silent but fundamental impact on historical research and administrative organization.

(Archivoz) Do you believe it is possible today to speak of a Latin American archival tradition originating in the theoretical postulates of Professor Tanodi?

(B.T.) I know that we can. My father laid the foundation with his Manual of Hispano-American Archivology, a text still considered seminal in the field of Latin American archival studies today. The fundamental concepts are there, although since its publication in 1961, much more has been written about archival theory and practice.

(Archivoz) Is it reasonable to suggest that the archival sciences are undergoing an identity crisis, given continuous and ongoing changes in the means and methods of recording information?

(B.T.) The basic tenets of archival science remain the same, even if current archival practices respond to new scientific developments. There will always be concern for proper administrative management of documentation produced by organizations of all sizes, from major ministries down to the smallest companies. Work related to document management, organization, and description goes on, even in the light of new electronic formats, which are themselves a response to modern technological develoments. This has been an ongoing debate over the last two decades in both national and international congresses and conferences, and manifests a great concern among professionals about the need to update archival procedures.

(Archivoz) What does it mean to you to be the daughter and, at the same time, a colleague of Professor Tanodi, whose legacy is recognized both throughout the region and in the wider world of archival science?

(B.T.) Above all, I must admit that it makes me very proud. It was also a huge responsibility during my years as a teacher and researcher, since I strove not to disappoint the master. I appreciate his guidance and advice, always given with the best of dispositions, and I also remember our long conversations on the subjects about which we both were passionate: palaeography, diplomatics, and especially archives.

(Archivoz) What would your father think of the position in which Latin American archivology finds itself today, especially in light of the challenge represented by the ongoing digitalization of society?

(B.T.) Being familiar with his manner of thought, I am sure he would be a strong advocate of new technologies.

He was always a visionary and ahead of his time. In conference presentations, as early as the 1980s, when speaking on archival universalism, he argued that “new technologies, which are more or less uniform in their structure and procedures, will necessarily lead to fundamental changes in the practices of archival work, in light of the dizzyingly precipitate nature of scientific-technological progress, along with other realities of human development. The quantitative explosion of documentation written and reproduced on paper and qualitative improvements represented by new platforms for content or text are both reasons for this technological innovation and a result of its systematization and consultation, and bring about new circumstances that promise a true revolution…which requires of the modern archivist a great degree of flexibility, in order quickly to adapt  to the application of new procedures that break repeatedly and often into the time-honored and generally measured evolution of the average archive, a manner of working that in many Ibero-American institutions dates back to the Portuguese-Hispanic colonial era.”

(Archivoz) Finally, given your deep knowledge of your father’s work, what would you say is Professor Aurelio Tanodi’s main legacy to Latin American archival studies?

(B.T.) Surely his true legacy has been the expansion of archival studies in Latin America, a source of expertise now recognized throughout Latin America and beyond. All this emerged from one School of Archivology in a city in the far south of the American continent, the effort of a Croatian immigrant who dedicated himself passionately to the growth and prestige of archives and the archival profession.

(Archivoz, in collaboration with Carlos Alberto Zapata) When will a history of the Inter-American Center for Archival Development be ready for publication? Such a work is a pressing concern for those who wish to learn of your father’s work and that of all the Latin American archivists who studied in the classrooms of the University of Córdoba.

(B.T.) I am indebted to Professor Carlos Zapata, and have not forgotten the promise I made to him in Asunción (Paraguay), at the VIII Ibero-American Congress of University Archives, to write a history of the Inter-American Center for Archival Development.

I began that project with great enthusiasm, but for various reasons it could not be completed. The matter was complicated last year, under circumstances well known to all, by the forced closure of the School of Archivology of the National University in Córdoba, which is where the relevant documentation resides. I will tell you that I found, among the names of scholarship recipients of the III Inter-American Archival Training Course, in 1976, that of your father, León Jaime Zapata García. I will continue the project as soon as I can access the documents again.

Our profound thanks to Professor Branka for her willingness to participate in this interview honoring the work of her father, the Professor Aurelio Tanodi. Likewise, our thanks to our friend Carlos Alberto Zapata, who facilitated the interview. Thank you for supporting Archivoz and making it possible for us to tell these kinds of stories, of such great value to new generations of archivists around the world.
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