Since no worth while debate over Lebanon’s war-loaded memory can ever occur if it lacks comprehensiveness and sufficient data and detail, UMAM D&R’s predilection with documenting the history of the country—especially but not only its most cursed periods—has been a constant organizational responsibility. Of course, because our endeavor is essentially a citizen-based initiative, we certainly do not intend to insinuate that our organization is in competition somehow with academic institutions that may be involved with similar actions. Rather, the collection we are building is destined for Lebanon’s public, and indeed all those interested in Lebanese issues. It represents an effort that is open to everyone without the restrictions imposed by state or academic entities. Sir Francis Bacon indeed observed that “knowledge is power”; however, knowledge must first have a basis in reality to qualify as true intelligence and through its efforts, UMAM D&R seeks that very basis.
As evidenced by our sustained focus on collecting the documentation needed to provide those critical details, we recognize that combating Lebanon’s social amnesia is a citizen duty.
In doing so, it is simply not enough to lament the amnesty that ended the war or the almost religious dogma of forgetting the past imposed on us by the warlords who have been recycled into the country’s political leaders. Rather, the responsibility and effort involved with the documentation of Lebanon’s memory falls on the shoulders of its citizens.
In this initiative, we cannot claim the existence of transparency in the present if we fail to apply that same value to the past, especially as it regards the pivotal stages of that past, which continue to generate divisiveness because of the inaccuracies that plague our collective memory and social consciousness. Therefore, gathering, preserving, and publicizing the documentation that relates the stories of Lebanon’s war-loaded past becomes an essential effort with which the Lebanese should become actively involved in order to face their past.
That effort is precisely the one in which UMAM D&R has invested itself via its archival activities and unrelenting advocacy for the safeguarding of the myriad documents related to Lebanon’s recent past.
Since its inception in 2004, UMAM D&R has assembled a vast collection that ranges from materials such as books, newspapers, leaflets, posters, videos and magazines, to personal and official documents, narratives, interviews, and various types of “gray” or uncategorized but related information. Our organization has gathered—and continues to gather—these records in order to document Lebanon's civil wars as well as extensive portions of the country’s recent social and cultural history.
Indeed, many of these materials have never been published, and were they not included in UMAM D&R’s archive, would certainly have been lost in countless dank basements, damp attics or destructive garbage dumps…as many related examples already have.
Beyond simply collecting documentation, however, UMAM D&R is more determined than ever to safeguard that important information. In fact, a turning point in our preservation efforts came during the 2006 war when our offices were partially destroyed.
To our great misfortune, we incurred a substantial loss of irreplaceable documentation which had been previously archived. Thus, as an organization, we learned that there is very little leisure time associated with the collection and preservation of important documents. More importantly, that loss motivated our organization to begin a large-scale effort to digitize our burgeoning collection.
Clearly, that endeavor is the only way we can truly ensure the protection of our resources. Interestingly, as we began to digitize these invaluable records, we realized that the materials could not only be stored and safeguarded more effectively, but they could also be accessed, locally and remotely, due to their electronic media.
As its very name attests, UMAM Documentation and Research has been, and will remain committed to gathering, preserving, protecting, and disseminating the information that has informed, motivated, and even divided Lebanon along its various social, political, and sectarian lines. But through the renewed availability of this valuable evidence about the country’s past, Lebanese are gaining the ability to exercise their “right to know.”
And although no national legislation exists which guarantees that right to the citizens of Lebanon, the efforts of UMAM D&R coupled with those of other civil society organizations are making it increasingly difficult to prevent this initiative from becoming part of the national agenda, despite the apparent lack of support and attention being given to the topic by politicians. Ultimately, the advancement of this issue and others like it will help negate the deleterious effects of enforced amnesia.
At the beginning of this section, we noted that any debate over Lebanon’s history must be as comprehensive as it is detailed. Thus, as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe noted quite simply that “God is in the details,” we hope to provide those details. Finally, as we proceed with our organizational efforts dedicated to national memory, we must remind everyone interested either directly or indirectly in Lebanon’s condition that as George Santayana observed, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Who can access UMAM’s collection?
In principle, everyone is welcome to review this collection. The number of visitors is limited only by UMAM’s ability to manage the volume of patrons.
Can the entire collection be consulted by everyone?
Typically, the complete collection is available to all visitors. At the same time, UMAM must impose some restrictions on documents or audio testimonies that were given with the understanding that the donor would remain anonymous. For audiovisual testimonies donated under such conditions, visitors can consult “blind transcriptions,” depending on availability.
Where can I review UMAM’s documents?
Usually, people view UMAM’s broad collection of documentation in its office. To date, we have not yet established a loan policy for the materials. To facilitate visitor review of our documentation, an unused wing of The Hangar was refurbished in 2010 thanks to a generous grant by the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This area has become a reading room intended specifically for those interested in reviewing or researching UMAM’s library and archives.
Does UMAM request any financial compensation for the use of its collection of materials?
Generally, no. At the same time, given its status as a non-governmental organization dedicated to the advancement of Lebanon’s civil society, UMAM welcomes any donations to help it achieve its mission. Regarding the use of technical facilities, such as photocopy machines, the Internet, or large-scale document scanning, financial agreements can be made on a case by case basis.
Can I volunteer to assist UMAM in the management of its collection?
Certainly! As you can imagine, the effective management of our growing collection depends on a concerted and continuous effort. Thus, contributions that represent a wide range of skills are indeed welcome. Today, some of the tasks that cause us significant consternation (and delay) are cataloging books in French, English, and German; transcribing audio materials in French and Arabic; and sorting through the various categories of the archive (which continues to expand).