Loyola University Chicago

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Public history project commemorates Ellacuría & Salvadoran martyrs

Public history project commemorates Ellacuría & Salvadoran martyrs

Photo by Myles Ostrowski

The History Department of Loyola University Chicago commemorates the 25th anniversary of the Jesuit Martyrs of El Salvador through the launch of the public history project, The Ellacuría Tapes: A Martyr at Loyola. We applaud the vision for and management of this project by the department’s Professor Dina Berger, and her collaborative work with PhD Candidate Katie Macica and undergraduate student Albert Salatka, among many others from other departments within the university.

It is our pleasure to introduce this project that so aptly demonstrates innovative teaching and research, the department’s commitment to public history, and Loyola University Chicago’s tradition of advocacy in pursuit of social justice.

In May 1986, Loyola University Chicago awarded Ignacio Ellacuría, S.J., rector of the University of Central America in San Salvador and a well-known Liberation Theologian, an honorary doctorate. Three years later, he was one of the six Jesuits brutally murdered, along with their housekeeper and her daughter, in their shared home on the university’s campus. The tragedy of the Salvadoran Martyrs became an impetus for worldwide activism and solidarity with the peoples of El Salvador and a call for a broader movement to end US aid to El Salvador. This movement was alive and well at Loyola.

The Ellacuría Tapes public history exhibit reveals the ways in which faculty, staff, and students at Loyola responded to the conflict in El Salvador and the murder of Fr. Ellacuría and his fellow priests. Using archival footage of Ellacuría's visit to Loyola, as well as images and documents from a variety of sources, this exhibit shows how Loyola played a central role in the solidarity movement in the 1980s and early 1990s.

This project is sponsored by the History and Latin American Studies departments, with assistance from the Modern Languages department and the University Archives and Special Collections.

To investigate the origins and development of this project, the department posed a few questions of the project’s producer and manager, Professor Dina Berger.

How did this project come to be?

In fall 2013, I designed a class in which students created an exhibit about Loyola solidarity with Central America in the 1980s using Loyola’s archives. At one of the first meetings with Kathy Young in the archives, she and Ashley pointed out that there was a collection of VHS tapes that documented Ignacio Ellacuría’s time at Loyola in 1986 when he received an honorary degree. I was excited about the prospects of having a student work with these tapes for the exhibit but decided it was best to save them for a future project. That time came when I learned from my colleague Stephen Schloesser that there was a series of events being organized at Loyola to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Salvadoran Martyrs. I sent a description of my proposed project to Steve who sent it on to a committee spearheaded by Mission and Ministry. I then applied for funding to develop the project and consulted with Kyle Roberts about how best to execute it.

I met Katie Macica in fall 2013 when she came to my class to document our work on the Loyola Solidarity exhibit. She was so excited about what we were working on that I invited her to be the lead designer of the website. I then invited students to be interns and translators.

What do you think are the distinctive features or different applications for the project?

A few things: First, this project is a joint effort of amazing student work. Katie Macica (lead) and Al Salatka in History, Kendyl Berger in Latin American Studies, and Alex Korte (lead) and Lorena Rios in Modern Languages. A student in School of Communication even edited and subtitled the tapes! So, I couldn’t be more impressed with this team of graduate and undergraduate students who worked on its design, who completed the research, and who transcribed, translated, and edited the tapes.

Second, this project is innovative in that it features never-before-seen footage of Ellacuría’s visit and the many press conferences he gave. It also provides important historical context to understand that footage in an effort to engage students and the public more broadly.

Third, this project uncovers and celebrates an important part of Loyola’s history in the 1980s when students, faculty and staff were engaged in public discussions about civil strife and the US government’s contribution to it.

Fourth, this project is collaborative beyond just academic departments/programs. We have worked with University Marketing to design an interactive feature of Loyola’s memorial to the martyrs. Kendyl Berger provided the content while doing an internship, and folks in University Marketing have designed the feature for the Ignatian Heritage Month homepage.

Who will be interested in the resource and how will they use it?

Students will definitely be able to make use of the exhibit. They can use it for class projects on US foreign policy, especially the information on resources and links to primary documents. But beyond Loyola, the general public can view the Ellacuría videos on the site or on YouTube and enhance their own knowledge of this history.

Excitement for this project also extends beyond the US, and includes people in El Salvador and Latin America. I have been contacted by people in El Salvador who knew and worked with Ellacuría. They, too, are excited about the exhibit. We also collaborated with the Museo de Palabra y Imagen in El Salvador. They allowed us to use images from their digital photograph archive. I hope that we can link our site to theirs in the hopes of reaching a broader audience in Latin America.

We also wish to honor the Loyola faculty, staff and students who were on campus in the 1980s and participated in these discussions and activism. We hope that they, too, will be able to reflect on this important event in Loyola’s history.

How does this highlight key values or goals of the History Department, the Latin American Studies Program, and Loyola University Chicago?

For the History Department, this project illustrates how one can make history accessible to the general public. It also highlights our role on campus as investigators into Loyola’s history. This project models how other faculty can work with students on similar projects.

For the Latin American Studies Program, which is small, it illustrates how central the region of Latin America was and is to Loyola. My hope is always to bring more attention to a region we should be teaching more of at Loyola.

As it relates to the history and mission of the institution, our project explores the ways that faculty like Dr. Thomas Sheehan and Dr. David Schweickart advocated awareness of these issues and were instrumental in campus activism for social justice in Central America. The resurrection of these VHS tapes from Ellacuría’s visit and the broader project uncovers the long-term commitment of Loyola faculty, staff and students to the cause of social justice.