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The CSIC digitalizes and publishes more than 40 thousand centenarian documents of ethnographic interest

Technicians of the CSIC have digitized in 2019 the old surveys of the Catalonian Folklore and Ethnographic Fond, which forms part of the Tomàs Carreras i Artau Fond, kept in the Milá y Fontanals Institution, the humanities center of the CSIC in Catalonia. There are more than 40 thousand documents, with very valuable information for ethnographic studies, which are available for consultation on the website.

The Questionnaires are centenarian documents, which contain customs, music, dances, traditions, recipes from Catalan-speaking geographical areas in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.Social surveys were used in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as tools for the collection of ethnographic materials from European rural populations.

They were written by specialized anthropologists and sent to several correspondents, spread over a specific territory. Then, the correspondents collected information on the uses, customs and traditions of a given community, through direct testimony from the inhabitants.

In Catalonia, the Catalonian Folklore and Ethnographic Fond (in Catalan, 'Qüestionaris de l´Arxiu d´Etnografia i Folklore de Catalunya’ or AEFC) prepared 22 surveys on diverse topics, such as linguistic particularities or customary law, traditional songs, popular medicine, and myths and legends of Catalan-speaking geographical areas: Catalonia, Balearic Islands, Sardinia, Perpignan, Roussillon, Valencia, Alicante, among others.

Hundreds of people responded then to the 'Qüestionaris', which were published between 1915 and 1928 and are currently kept at the Milà i Fontanals Institution of the CSIC.

With them, now it is possible to learn that a century ago people believed that carrying two yarn dolls of different colours as an amulet would give them good luck. Or that the Catalan expression ‘breaking the worm’ ('trencar el cuc') meant the small intake, just a bite, that the workers made very early, before breakfast, and that they accompanied with a little of 'barreja' drink, a mixture of a wine and a brandy. There are also all kind of remedies (for typhus, one based on onion plaster on the feet; for chilblains, a remedy based on oak leaves...) some of which may have come to our days.

This year, CSIC technicians have digitized the ‘Qüestionaris’. They are more than 40 thousand documents, with very valuable information for ethnographic studies, and which are available for consultation through the SIMURG website and the CSIC Library and Archives Network. The project has been carried out thanks to the support of the Scientific Information Resources Unit (URICI) of the CSIC.

The documentary fond has been structured according to the criteria proposed by the CSIC researcher Lluís Calvo, who leads the project and is also the director of the Institución Milà i Fontanals, of grouping the responses within the 22 questionnaires. Therefore, each questionnaire has sub-series with the corresponding responses. All these documents are now digitized and available for consultation, says Carmen Losada, who has technically developed the digitazion project.

An amulet kept in the AEFC fond.

The Network of Libraries and Archives of the CSIC has entrusted the dissemination of documentary heritage of special value. To this end, a Digitalization Plan is applied, which establishes annual projects that are integrated into Simurg (digitized CSIC funds), and thus collected by Hispanic and European.

This strategy allows unrestricted consultation to anyone who is interested in the documents, whether for research, training or entertainment purposes. "In the case of archival fonds, given their unique character, digital dissemination is especially relevant, as it enables citizens to have access to these documents avoiding any handling or manipulation of the original materials, which are sometimes very fragile," explains Luis Calvo.

There were other similar projects. For instance, in the Iberian Peninsula, a large project was carried out in 1901, promoted by the Section of Moral and Political Sciences of the Athenaeum of Madrid. That project was aimed at collecting information in the field of popular customs related to the three essential events in life: birth, marriage and death.