The Buenos Aires Herald archives: a treasure to be restored

When we started working on the relaunch we set out to recover over a century of history, not only to preserve it but to bring it back to life.

When you open the huge, heavy book, the smell of aged paper is a ticket to the past. Going through the yellowed pages of bound volumes of Buenos Aires Herald newspapers from yesteryear is a trip to an Argentina that no longer exists and, at the same time, still feels present thanks to the stories captured in them. 

The archive of the Buenos Aires Herald has large shelves stacked with such volumes. When we started working on the relaunch we didn’t want to leave such treasures behind, so we set out to find that material, not only to preserve it but also to bring it back to life. It is our fervent wish that those gems will someday be available to anybody interested in exploring them.

The oldest volume we found is from 1906 and, as evidenced by the photo below of a 1911 “Views of Buenos Aires” section, one could say that the Herald was the precursor to Instagram.

In addition to the printed newspapers, there are also hundreds of 35mm microfilms, a record of even older editions. Among them are newspapers from the late 19th century — the oldest is from 1877.

Looking at all this material we couldn’t help but wonder: what is the importance of the past? And in particular: what is the importance of the past for a newspaper, whose existence is sustained by the news, which is necessarily transient? 

Going through the old pages of newspapers brings surprises, laughter, admiration — and frustration, when we see that history often repeats itself. It is an experience full of pleasant and nostalgic emotions in equal parts. But it is also the living testimony of the past, which allows us to understand and remember events that we didn’t know about, or which had been completely erased from our memory. It is witnessing how language and ways of saying things change. 

A striking example is in the volume compiling the Buenos Aires Herald newspapers for September 1977. Tucked under the hardback cover are three formal requests signed by Judge Juan Manuel Yalj, from the Federal Correctional and Criminal Court No. 2 in San Martin. He requested information about three people, all victims of the military dictatorship: Armando Croatto, murdered in 1979; Horacio Mendizábal, murdered in 1979; Fernando Mario Gertel; disappeared in 1976. Throughout the book, pieces of white paper point to the pages where the Herald covered their disappearances. Every day, every published article counts. 

Beyond a trip to the past, these memories are at the same time a guide for us. In the darkest years of Argentina’s history, during the dictatorship, the Buenos Aires Herald proved that commitment to information is the best way to do journalism, even when its journalists in the newsroom were in danger. Robert Cox, Andrew Graham-Yooll and James Neilson will always remain beacons of our work. 

This is our history. This is where we start from. We will always try to live up to it.


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