Digitization and Research of Documents and Scientific-Technical Archives on Archaeology. The Recovery of the Documentary Legacy of Felix Hernández Giménez (1889-1975)

Funded by the Spanish Ministry of Education and Science. National R & D & I Plan. Reference: HAR2015-66753- R
Institution: University of Córdoba Center: Faculty of Philosophy and Letters
Departament: History of Art, Archaeology and Music Directors: Prof. Dres. José Antonio Garriguet Mata
and Alberto León Muñoz

In recent decades, at the urging of supranational bodies such as UNESCO, the Council of Europe or the European Union and following the recommendations of expert committees, numerous public and private institutions around the world in the custody and safeguarding of Cultural Heritage Archives, Libraries, Museums, etc.) have launched important projects to digitize their collections and documentary collections. This has two main objectives: to expand and improve free access to such funds from a community of users every day thanks to the internet; And help preserve the original documents, by reducing the manipulation of these.

From the perspective of Archaeology, the possibility of converting memories, drawings, photographs, etc. into digital files of excavations or other type of ancient research constitutes at present, without doubt, a new and interesting way to generate scientific knowledge. Proof of this are, for example, the works developed since 1998 by Juan Blánquez and his collaborators from the Department of Prehistory and Archaeology of the Autonomous University of Madrid around the documentary legacies of figures so relevant to Spanish archaeological research during the past century as Juan Cabré, Augusto Fernandez de Avilés, Antonio Garcia and Bellido or Julio Martinez Santa-Olalla.

In line with these works, the R&D&I project Digitization and Research of Scientific and Technical Archives and Documents (DIDACTA, Ref. HAR2015-66753-R), granted by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (MINECO) in the spring of 2016 and directed by Alberto León and for whom it subscribes, both members of the Sísifo Group and the Archaeology Area of ​​the University of Córdoba. In fact, this project has as its main objective the recovery, study and dissemination of the rich personal legacy of the architect Félix Hernández Giménez (Barcelona, ​​1889-Córdoba, 1975), one of the most prestigious precursors of Spanish medieval Archaeology. The legacy of “Don Félix”, deposited for the most part in the Archaeological Museum of Cordova, is constituted by a vast set of texts, sketches, drawings, plans, photographs, negatives, etc. Derived from his professional activity as a restoration architect and from the meticulous archaeological investigations that he carried out during more than forty years on outstanding monuments and deposits of Andalusia (Mosque-Cathedral of Cordova, Archaeological Ensemble of Madinat al-Zahra, Alcázar of Seville, Patio de los Naranjos of Seville Cathedral …) and Extremadura (Roman Theater and Alcazaba of Mérida, Alcazaba de Badajoz …). It is, therefore, a very valuable scientific and technical documentation, mostly unpublished and with high risk of loss due to the fragility of its support and the inexorable passage of the years.

The DIDACTA project has the active participation of a large group of researchers, both Spanish and foreign, of renowned prestige belonging to different national and international institutions linked to the university as well as the management of Archaeological Heritage, Professional Archaeology, Architecture or Archival. In order to achieve its main objective, the members of the research and project team of the project have set four essential tasks to be developed in the next three years:

  • Digitization of the documentary legacy of Félix Hernández guarded in the Archaeological Museum of Cordoba (most of it), as well as in the Archaeological Ensemble of Madinat al-Zahra and the Historical Archive of Cordova. This task, begun a few months ago, has focused on the abundant photographic archive and is already providing interesting results.
  • Creation of a database, integrated in a GIS, and a digital platform online that will gradually allow the collection and access to the virtual collection (derived from the previous task) both researchers and society as a whole.
  • Development of several lines of research focused on the person and work of Félix Hernández, based, to a large extent, on digitized documents or those preserved in other centers, such as the General Archives of the Administration (Alcála de Henares). It is certainly an essential activity, because from it will generate new knowledge that should be transferred to the scientific community for its evaluation and criticism.
  • Dissemination to the whole society of the figure of Félix Hernández, as well as his documentary legacy, using for them different media and adapting to different levels of understanding. An antecedent in this sense was the workshop held in late 2015 at the headquarters of the German Archaeological Institute of Madrid, which has been completed very recently with a session of the Dialogues with Culture dedicated to Félix Hernández in the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters from Cordova.

On the other hand, the relevance of the DIDACTA project is evident through the express interest and active collaboration with centers such as the aforementioned Deutsches Archäologisches Institut in Madrid or the main public entities dependent on the city of Cordova and the Junta de Andalucía. In addition, the results derived from it will serve to revive institutions such as the Archaeological Museum of Cordoba and the Archaeological Ensemble of Madinat al-Zahra, as they will surely strengthen their role as reference centers in Spanish and European archaeological research.

In short, the quantity and quality of the information contained in the documentary legacy of Félix Hernández is undoubtedly of enormous use to specialists in archaeology and architecture, both from a historiographical and technical point of view. To rescue it from oblivion and preserve it, making it available to any researcher and society in general through its digitization, is of course a challenge that we are assuming – and that is already beginning to bear fruit – from the Archaeology Area of the University of Córdoba, in close collaboration with the Archaeological Museum of Cordoba and other local and national institutions.