Digital Imaging and Human Rights Justice

April 9th, 2009 by Gabriel Bodard

A very exciting story reported by Xeni Jardin on the Boingboing blog a couple weeks ago (Tech Forensics in Guatemala–first prefigured in a piece two years earlier), that links some of the imaging techniques beloved of we digital philology types with new evidence for human rights abuses in Central America in the 1980s. (I think this is of Digital Classicist significance because there are several cool projects working on sophisticated means to image and decypher damaged, degraded, and fragile documents–not least among which is the EDUCE project in Kentucky, where this blog is hosted.)

This story, which is best read in full at the Boingboing link above, involves an archive of police records including evidence of the abuse and murder of “subversives”–teachers, students, journalists, campaigners, and the like–which was dumped in the basement of an old detention centre and has mouldered and rotted for 25 years. The digitization and decypherment of these records has led to the arrest and prosecution of at least one police office for the murder of a civilian in 1984. Although this is a grim story, it is heartening to hear that the work we do so painstakingly to reconstruct ancient texts has applications with current social value as well. (I’ll keep working on those curse tablets, then!) I don’t know if any digital humanities scholars were involved in this work, but would be interested to hear if anyone has any insight into that.

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