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Friday, June 3, 2011

Boncan lectures on Local History Writing in Dapitan

Dr. Celestina P. Boncan (Photo by Lawrence Charles Salazar of NCCA)

Dr. Celestina P. Boncan, PHA President 2006-2008, joined fellow Execon Members of the National Committee on Historical Research (Sub-Commission on Cultural Heritage) of the National Commission of Culture and the Arts in conducting a Heritage Seminar at the Rizal Shrine in Dapitan City, Province of Zamboanga del Norte on May 27, 2011 as part of the Closing Ceremony of this year’s celebration of Heritage Month. 

The topic of the Heritage Seminar was Local History Writing. Dr. Boncan’s lecture was on Using Archival Sources in Historical Research.

(Photo by Lawrence Charles Salazar of NCCA)
Local History Writing Seminar
Closing Program of Heritage Month
27 May 2011 Dapitan City


Celestina P. Boncan, Ph.D.[1]
University of the Philippines Manila

ARCHIVAL SOURCES are historical records most commonly referred to as documents or manuscripts. They are easily distinguishable as they are usually old, transcribed by hand --- using a brush, pen or pencil --- on paper or cloth. They constitute the records of organizations that include trade or business, religious bodies, government agencies and even individual persons. “Archives” refers both to the collection of records and to the place where these records are preserved.

The use of documents is one of the defining methods in historical research. The importance of documents was first introduced by two French scholars Charles Victor Langlois and Charles Seignobos in 1897 in their book “An Introduction to the Study of History” (Introduction aux ├ętudes historiques) --- “documents are the traces which have been left by the thoughts and actions of men of former times; for want of documents the history of immense periods in the past of humanity is destined to remain forever unknown for there is no substitute for documents.” The two immortalized their contention in the phrase “no documents, no history.” Ever since, this phrase has been the cardinal rule in writing, studying or teaching history.

There are various types of archival documents, each one giving a specific kind of information --- acta  (proceedings); arancel (tariff of goods), bando (circular), decreto (decree), expediente (dossier), factura (receipt), fianza (surety/guarantee/bond), liquidacion (liquidation), mapa (map),  memoria (descriptive account usually of a place), oficio (memorandum), orden (order), pagamento (receipt for payment), plano (plan), pliego de condiciones (bill of specifications), presupuesto (budget estimate), protocolo (notary document), tarifa (tariff), telegrama (telegram), testamento (testament or will).

Archival documents are primary sources, meaning to say, eyewitness testimonies, hence providing information that enrich knowledge of the past and bringing the researcher “nearer” to the subject matter in a number of other ways aside from the written text --- a signature, a logo, the plan of a building or a house, a sketch of a river, prices of common food items. However, using archival documents in historical research also poses certain problems. Reading archival documents is tedious since they are handwritten, most times in a manner that is difficult to read. Because most archival documents are over a hundred years old, they are no longer in the best state or condition --- in some, the ink has faded; in others, some parts have been torn off. Another problem is being unable to comprehend the information offered by archival documents since they are in Spanish, a language which is foreign to many Filipinos.

A quotation from the centennial publication of the National Archives of the Philippines summarizes at best the role of archival documents in research on the Filipino’s past as a people:

These documents reveal generations of societies that lived under an administrative structure that documented births, royal decrees, political situations, crimes, natural disasters, health institutions, schools, business inventions, public works, and almost everything related to the execution of the government’s functions and its people’s responses between the 17th and 19th centuries, and through which not only the known historical events but also the daily lives of the people are uncovered. Their values, however, go beyond their existence or in their having been produced many centuries ago, but because they can serve a purpose today.

[1] Member, Executive Council of the National Committee for Historical Research (NCHR)-NCCA); Past President, Philippine Historical Association, Associate Professor, College of Arts and Sciences, University of the Philippines Manila

National Commission for Culture and the Arts

Dr. Maria Nela Florendo
Sector: Historical Organizations (Philippine National Historical Society)

Dr. Francis Gealogo
Sector: Universities/Academic Institutions (Ateneo de Manila University)

Dr. Jose Victor Torres
Sector: Universities/Academic Institutions (De La Salle University Manila)

Dr. Erlinda Alburo
Sector: Local Studies Centers/Local Historical Societies (Visayas)


Ms. Carminda Arevalo
Sector: Government Cultural Agency (National Historical Commission of the Philippines)

Dr. Celestina Boncan
Sector: Historical Organizations (Philippine Historical Association)

Dr. Lars Raymund Ubaldo
Sector: Historical Organizations (Asosasyon ng Mga Dalubhasa, May Hilig, at Interes sa Kasaysayan ng Pilipinas, Inc.)

Dr. Maria Luisa Bolinao
Sector: Universities/Academic Institutions (University of the Philippines Diliman)

Dr. Augusto de Viana
Sector: Universities/Academic Institutions (University of Santo Tomas)

Prof. Carlos Magtolis, Jr.
Sector: Universities/Academic Institutions (Siliman University)

Prof. Gil Gotiangco II
Sector: Local Studies Centers/Local Historical Societies (Luzon)

Dr. Calbi Asain
Sector: Local Studies Centers/Local Historical Societies (Mindanao)

Atty. Norma Maruhom
Sector: Universities/Academic Institutions (Mindanao State University-Marawi)