The Bracero History Archive (BHA), part of the Bracero History Project, is a “collaborative, bilingual, online archive documenting the Bracero Program, which brought Mexican guest workers to the United States between 1942 and 1964” (NEH Funded Grants).
The BHA functions primarily as a digital repository for oral histories, artifacts, and archival materials, as well as a community collecting initiative. The homepage directs visitors to explore the archive (in Spanish or English) and the mission statement emphasizes the collection and dissemination aspect of the project.
“The Bracero History Archive collects and makes available the oral histories and artifacts pertaining to the Bracero program, a guest worker initiative that spanned the years 1942-1964. Millions of Mexican agricultural workers crossed the border under the program to work in more than half of the states in America.”
The BHA is a multi-organization initiative with many moving parts. It was created by and is currently run by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, George Mason University, the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Brown University, and The Institute of Oral History at the University of Texas at El Paso; the National Endowment for the Humanities funds the project.
There is little discussion on the website on where the collections are sourced from; visitors must click on individual records to view their source. One thing to note when exploring the collection, materials are listed in reverse chronological order from when they were posted. This means that user-posted materials are the first that visitors will see. This information is also not clear on the website. I only found out after watching the introduction to the archive video tutorial.
When the BHA launched in 2007, visitors could add their own historical content to the archive. This part of the project appears to have been removed or gone defunct around 2017. The website still provides resources on how to add content to the project and guides on how to collect materials and conduct oral histories. It is unclear why this part of the project no longer functions and whether it is temporary or permanent.
In addition to the digital archive, the BHA provides three lesson plans on the Bracero Program for K-12 teachers that use the BHA’s collections, as well as a two-part bibliography. The first part of the bibliography is a selection of resources on bracero history; the second part is a full BHA research bibliography. Interestingly, the bibliography does not include the National Museum of American History’s (NMAH) online exhibit about the Bracero Program, which ran as a traveling exhibit on the Bracero Program from 2009-2017. Despite both the exhibit and the BHA being part of the Bracero History Project, there is no mention of the online exhibit anywhere on the BHA. The exhibit did not use source material from the BHA, but it does link to the BHA for further visitor exploration and contribution.
The project’s original collaborative collecting initiative has led to a few problems. First, items uploaded by users lack much of the basic metadata and the metadata that does exist is not “quality” metadata, meaning that it is not consistent, which makes the archive less searchable and sensible. Although the BHA does provide metadata and uploading guides, these guides are inevitably not followed to the letter of the guide, especially since users were inputting the data rather than choosing from a pre-selected drop-down menu. Second, most user-generated oral histories were uploaded with no transcript or description of the oral history, which forces visitors to listen to entire oral histories for the content. There is also no way to know whether an oral history has a transcription without clicking on the individual oral history record and then clicking on “Switch to Full View”.
The project was initially created with an aim to be bilingual, with content available in both Spanish and English. When visitors first view the site, they are immediately given the option to view the site in Spanish. Although I do not speak Spanish, I chose the Spanish option to see if I could get a sense of how well the website achieves its bilingual goal. My conclusion: not too well. The History, Resources, and Partners pages are entirely in English and the About page is two tiny paragraphs rather than thirteen full-length paragraphs. To the BHA’s credit, the teaching resources and collection material uploaded by “project historians” do seem to be available in full in Spanish, but I’d need a bilingual person to confirm.
For a more in-depth discussion of the BHA and some of its pitfalls, I highly recommend reading the following two articles. I included snippets of the discussions and arguments from the articles, but not everything.
Questions to consider:
- Do you have any ideas on how to avoid some of the pitfalls the BHA faced as a community collecting initiative?
- Do you think the website achieves its goal to document the Bracero Program?
- Do you think there is enough information about where the materials are sourced from?
- How would you improve the BHA?