About Us

AREPR is a collaborative digital humanities project led by Christina Boyles at Michigan State University, Mirerza González Vélez and Nadjah Ríos Villarini at the University of Puerto Rico at Río Piedras (UPRRP), and Ricia Anne Chansky at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez (UPRM). Funded by a grant from the Mellon Foundation (2020-2023), AREPR employs the decolonial practice of post-custodial archiving to record stories of mutual aid organizations and individuals surviving and responding creatively to stratified disasters that have impacted the Puerto Rican archipelago in the last five years, including hurricanes, earthquakes, and the global pandemic of COVID-19. We define post-custodial archiving as a model in which the concept of the “archive” is deeply rooted in that of memory as heritage. As such, data in the form of digital artifacts is preserved in a manner that allows “creators to maintain control of their archival records while archivists provide management support.” Our reliance on post-custodial archiving practices in building the digital repository allows us to engage a strategy in which community partners and narrators cocreate research frameworks and participate in designing project outputs and their dissemination.

Over the course of two weeks in September 2017, Puerto Rico was successively impacted by two category 5 hurricanes, Hurricanes Irma and María. The disaster, however, was not simply the hurricanes but also the events that followed. Notably, the disaster-response methods used—prioritization of urban centers, slow distribution of resources, and limited communication with those in need—placed the cultural legacy of Puerto Rico and the Caribbean under duress by leaving most Puerto Ricans to fend for themselves. Local residents were left to pick up the pieces on their own; as a result, the island largely depended upon community-based groups and their use of local traditions, oral knowledge, and community organizing.

While the items in this collection focus on Puerto Rico, they also bring attention to how disasters are weaponized and leveraged by those in power and how similar crises are increasingly frequent as the effects of climate change worsen. The innovative knowledge shared by AREPR’s community partners offer us new ways of relating to the pending climate catastrophe by foregrounding stories previously neglected and by implementing project design strategies that elicit, encourage, and exhibit these stories. Although these stories offer insight into the lived experiences of those living in climate hot spots, they also ask us to shift our notions of the ethical and humane by laying bare the injustices of colonial policies.

Institutional Partners

Mellon Foundation logo
Michigan State University logo
Digital Library of the Caribbean logo
University of Puerto Rico–Mayagüez logo
University of Puerto Rico–Río Piedras logo

The University of Puerto Rico and Michigan State University are uniquely positioned to collaborate on this project. Nadjah Ríos and Mirerza Gonzalez Velez, both at the University of Puerto Rico-Río Piedras are experts in developing community-engaged archives in Puerto Rico. Their projects, the Caribbean Diaspora Project and the Culebra Digital Community Archive, emphasize a deep commitment to Puerto Rican communities and culture. Ricia Chansky and Christina Boyles, at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez and Michigan State University respectively, are practiced oral historians with ongoing projects focused on life in Puerto Rico during and after Hurricane María. Chansky’s Mí María project demonstrates how large-scale public humanities projects can and do offer opportunities for responding to disaster. The combined efforts of these four scholars make it possible to provide training; partner with community organizations; and collect and preserve physical, born-digital, and interview materials from across Puerto Rico.

Additionally, the Digital Library of the Caribbean (dLOC) was and is integral to our shared collaboration through the Archivo de Respuestas Emergencias de Puerto Rico by providing community, conversation, and models of decolonial praxis in the Caribbean. According to Linda Tuhiwai Smith, decolonizing projects require “revolutionary thinking about the roles that knowledge, knowledge production, knowledge hierarchies and knowledge institutions play in decolonization and social transformation.” dLOC models these values by freely sharing multilingual materials without claiming ownership of Caribbean artifacts or knowledges and by sharing sound-based artifacts with and from across the Caribbean, and their work serves as a model for AREPR.

Community Partners

Comedores Sociales logo
El Puente logo
ITIAS logo
JunteGente logo
Operation Blessing logo

All project elements are developed through iterative processes that offer frequent opportunities for community feedback. These elements include: the metadata we collect and the structure of our metadata manual; ingestion processes for materials and the development of new Omeka S themes and modules; workshops we offer; and methods for engaging and supporting collaborators, knowledge makers, and human beings.

Our community partners include:

Comedores Sociales de Puerto Rico: Comedores Sociales de Puerto Rico seeks to eradicate hunger in Puerto Rico while strengthening a social fabric that seeks lasting social transformations under parameters of solidarity, mutual aid, self-management and autonomy.

El Puente – Latino Climate Action Network: Enlace Latino de Acción Climática (ELAC) emerged as a program of El Puente de Williamsburg in New York, an organization whose mission for the past 40 years has been to inspire and nurture leaders for peace and justice. ELAC was born from the vision of Luis Garden Acosta to link the social struggles of Puerto Rican communities in the diaspora and in Puerto Rico.

ITIAS: The Transdisciplinary Institute for Social Action Research (ITIAS) is a research center attached to the Department of Social Sciences and a key component of the Baccalaureate Program in Social Action Research (INAS) at the University of Puerto Rico-Humacao. ITIAS promotes applied, transdisciplinary and relevant research and service initiatives for communities, grassroots organizations, government institutions and the private sector.

JunteGente: JunteGente works to create spaces that allow different organizations, social and political movements, and people to reflect, analyze and develop roadmaps to achieve together the world of solidarity that we want.

Operation Blessing: is a non-profit humanitarian organization founded in the United States. Beginning in 1978, OBI has worked in more than 90 countries and throughout the U.S. Implementing programs that provide disaster relief, medical aid, clean water, hunger relief, and community development.