Catharsis, by Sarah Backhouse

Early July saw the Liberalism in the Americas conference, organised as the highlight of the project by Dr Deborah Toner at the University of Leicester. I went along as a sort of interested (read: ‘nosey’) colleague rather than as a delegate with something insightful to contribute. The conference ended up being a thoroughly enjoyable two days, despite the heat, which we now know was the lead up to the most prolonged UK heat wave in 7 years. I think this could be contributed to a) the high quality of papers presented, b) the intrinsically fascinating subject of the conference, and c) the enthusiasm of all the speakers, delegates and conference organisers. Thank you for inviting me!

Reflecting on this project, I hardly need say how much I enjoyed immersing myself in a new subject and learning a little of the history of Latin America (better late than never). I did however still get rather over excited when the occasional art-history-related document cropped up. I am referring to the documents which give evidence of a penchant for erecting semi-colossal bronze statues of national figures and symbols, for example the statue of Miguel de Cervantes raised in Montevideo in 1835. The sculptor of this marvellous feat was Antonio Sola… cue a mad dash to Google to see who this was… and behold, a renowned Spanish artist! Joy!

I feel extremely privileged to have been part of this project. It has been a revelation to me that interesting history did occur outside of fourteenth-century Italy and that, yes, primary sources that don’t contain lovely images can also be fascinating. As for the digital archive itself, as an academic and a museum professional, I strongly feel that web-searchable collections databases are the way to go. Just think, you can do your thesis research from your laptop without having to drag yourself to an archive. A shame, perhaps, as there really is nothing like burying your nose in a historical document and inhaling the aroma of centuries of history and dust. But, ultimately, any means of making history accessible no matter where you live or where you have the means to travel to, is an end thoroughly worth pursuing.

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About Deborah Toner

Deborah worked at the Institute for the Study of the Americas as a postdoctoral research fellow in Latin American history from 2011-12, on the project ‘Liberalism in the Americas’, which is creating a digital library of resources for the study of liberalism in Peru and Argentina in the long nineteenth century. Now a Lecturer in Modern History at the University of Leicester, Deborah continues to work with ISA in overseeing the Liberalism in the Americas project as it comes to fruition. She completed her PhD on alcohol and nation-building in nineteenth-century Mexico at the University of Warwick, where she also completed her MA and BA in history.

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