Mexicana: A Repository of Cultural Patrimony in Mexico
Mexicana: A Repository of Cultural Patrimony in Mexico (https://mexicana.cultura.gob.mx/) is a portal to various digital collections that document Mexican art, culture, and history. A project of the Digital Strategy department of the Mexican Federal Government’s Ministry of Culture, this platform aggregates digital collections from many of the ministry’s museums, libraries, and radio and television collections on one central platform. The collections are mostly made up of material from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. While not all the participating institutions have materials on the site yet, those that are there cover a wide range of topics and formats.
One of the strengths of Mexicana is the wide variety of formats included in its collections. The robust museum collections on the site include many historical objects that can be used as sources for the study of material culture and are apt for students who do not read Spanish. For those studying the history of the railroads, for example, the collections of the Centro Nacional para la Preservación del Patrimonio Cultural Ferrocarrilero (National Center for the Preservation of Cultural Railroad Patrimony) include a wooden trunk bearing the stamp of Mexico’s National Railroad, a chalkboard used to post trail schedules, and a photo of the special Pullman rail car used by President Ávila Camacho. The site also helps users make connections across collections; the presidential rail car page includes links to related resources, including portraits of Ávila Camacho and historical photographs of rail stations from other collections.
The digital collections hosted on the Mexicana platform also include textual documents, historical photographs, works of art, audio recordings of radio programming, short films, and digitized books and magazines. The site provides fascinating raw material for multimedia and digital projects. Students can listen to the sounds and speeches from the 1910 centennial celebrations, for example, on radio programming from the Fonoteca Nacional. Graphic prints and ephemeral flyers, including many illustrated by political lithographer and cartoonist José Guadalupe Posada, are engaging visual sources and ideal for teaching. Full text versions of significant journals and bulletins—many of which do not circulate outside of Mexico—will be of particular interest to historians and can be used by students as secondary sources.
Mexicana can be navigated in Spanish and English, and most elements of the site are translated. The translation and the prevalence of visual art, photography, objects, and other non-textual materials make this site a good resource for primary sources about Mexico for students who do not read Spanish. Users should be aware that, although the metadata templates are translated, most object titles and other metadata will appear in Spanish. The key terms associated with each item help with discoverability, but the site would benefit from adding more item descriptions, not only to enhance the search function but also to provide historical context for users who are encountering a source for the first time.
As with all digital collections, exploring Mexicana raises questions about the selection of materials for digital preservation and display. As a project of Mexico’s federal government, the materials included on the site reflect the priorities of the Ministry of Culture, but they also represent the priorities of each institution that the ministry supports and—as is usually the case—funding and happenstance have also shaped these digital collections. According to the site’s about page, this project seeks not just to aggregate existing digital collections but also to standardize metadata across institutions and encourage further digitization. The site is a work-in-progress, but the initiative is good news for students and scholars of Mexican history, both in Mexico and abroad.