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After Attacks, Harvard Library Archive Charlie Hebdo Materials

By Nathaniel J. Hiatt, Contributing Writer

The Harvard College Library and the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures are creating an archive to preserve materials related to the January attack on French humor magazine Charlie Hebdo and its aftermath.

On the Jan. 7 attack, 11 people were killed when two jihadist gunmen stormed the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris in retribution for the magazine’s publication of cartoons that satirized Prophet Muhammad. Two days after the Charlie Hebdo attack, an additional four people were killed and 15 others held hostage in a kosher supermarket, also in Paris. The tragedy prompted worldwide debate about issues related to free speech and Islamic extremism.

Nicole A. Mills, the department of Romance Languages and Literatures’ senior preceptor, was in Paris in the days after the attacks and decided to collect as many related materials as she could.

“I felt this urgency, that I needed to collect as many materials as possible,” Mills said. “I collected every newspaper, every magazine. I walked around the city and I took photos of graffiti and banners and posters.”

While she originally tried to preserve the materials for use by language instructors, Mills said, she and Romance Languages and Literatures professor Virginie E. Greene instead approached librarians last March about making them available to a broader audience.

The archive will collect “as many materials as we can related to these series of events and the debate that happened afterward,” Greene said. “It’s a group of events which is very defined in time, but raised a lot of different issues.”

The archive includes cartoons, articles, journals, and other documents; it also preserves more “ephemeral” items like posters, graffiti, and banners, Greene said. The majority of materials are from France, though the archive will also feature items from around the world.

“It’s important for the library to take an active role in documenting because many of these materials are ephemeral. They could be lost forever,” said Lidia Uziel, the head of the library’s Western Languages division who is working with Greene and Mills to establish the archive.

Beginning in January, all of the materials will be made available to anyone who has access to the Harvard libraries, and some materials will be made available to the public when possible, according to the project’s leaders.

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