Digital Archiving on Chilean Music and Musicians, Part 1 by Eileen Karmy

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I am pleased to begin our digital mini-series with the first of two posts about online resources for Chilean music. Eileen Karmy is a music scholar interested in music politics, labor history, and archival research. She completed her PhD in Music at the University of Glasgow in 2019 with a thesis on the development of musicians’ unions in Chile. She has researched on popular music in Chile, especially cumbia, tango, and Nueva Canción. She regularly disseminates her research through articles, blog posts, films, and digital repositories. She created the digital archive of musicians’ organizations in Valparaíso ( in 2015. She has published books and journal articles on Chilean New Song, tango orchestras, tropical music, musicians’ working conditions, and the social history of musicians’ organizations in Chile. These include Lorena Ardito, Eileen Karmy, Antonia Mardones, and Alejandra Vargas, ¡Hagan un trencito! Siguiendo los pasos de la memoria cumbianchera en Chile (1949-1989), (Santiago de Chile: Ceibo, 2016); and Karmy, “Musical Mutualism in Valparaiso during the Rise of the Labor Movement (1893–1931),” Popular Music and Society, 40, no. 5, 2017.


Digital Archiving on Chilean Music and Musicians, Part 1


I recently completed my PhD at the University of Glasgow on musical work and the development of musicians’ unions in Chile, focused on Valparaíso, from the late nineteenth to the early twentieth centuries. I worked with archival documents and press accounts; some of them were available online, others, only in physical copies at public libraries and archives. Although I did visit these repositories, being based in Scotland, the digital availability of such materials was a perennial concern.


In this post, I focus on three digital platforms from which I obtained relevant documents for my research. I describe the sort of materials they hold and highlight some of their hidden gems. In another post, I share other digital sources that might be useful for scholars interested in researching Chilean music and musicians.


I chose these three digital platforms because they proved to be the most useful for my research, hosted a large number of documents, were clearly organized, and were, of course, available online. Two of them are part of the National Library: Biblioteca Nacional Digital de Chile and Memoria Chilena. The third one, Cine Chile: Enciclopedia del Cine Chileno, is the result of an independent research project conducted by a group of film scholars.


Biblioteca Nacional Digital de Chile (BNDC) brings together all the digital services and collections of the National Library, allowing remote access to documents. The materials, which cover a wide variety of subjects, not just music, are mostly downloadable in PDF. They are organized in fourteen collections that are roughly based on types of sources, such as photographs, maps, newspapers, magazines, videos, and audio recordings (see Figure 1). For general searches, the materials are easy to find using the search button with keywords at the Fondos y Collecciones’ home website. More specific searches work better using the search button in the relevant collection.

Figure 1: Screenshot of BNDC’s collections (

For my research, documents in the music collection were the most useful. A hidden gem was the more than ninety digitized sheet music from the late nineteenth to the early twentieth centuries by Antonio Alba (see Figure 2). These are all available online and downloadable in PDF.

Figure 2: Screenshot of Antonio Alba’s sheet music in the BNDC Music Archive


Although Memoria Chilena is part of the BNDC, and therefore some of the materials can be found on both pages, in the former site, sources are selected and organized under specific themes. These thematic “mini-websites” begin with essays that provide a contextual framework. The sites then provide links to documents, images, chronology, bibliographies, and relevant links. The “mini-websites” as well as the sources themselves can be searched for in a variety of different ways, including: place, theme, type of source, and dates. Most of the materials are in the public domain, but not all. This information is specified for each document, and researchers may reproduce them after contacting Memoria Chilena (more details here).

Memoria Chilena holds a substantial number and variety of press accounts, rulebooks, letters, sheet music, leaflets, photographs, articles, theses, and books. It also displays an interactive timeline, highlighting milestones per era, which can be useful for anyone interested in Chilean history (see Figure 3). For my research, it was especially relevant having remote access to magazines like Sucesos, which is available to download in PDF. Sucesos was published in Valparaíso from 1905 to 1932, covering national and foreign news and photography of urban life. Here I found some of the few existent portraits of the musicians I studied (see Figure 4).


Figure 3: Screenshot of Timeline in Memoria Chilena (

Figure 4: Musicians from the Sociedad Musical de Socorros Mutuos de Valparaíso who performed at the Saint Cecilia festival in Valparaíso. Sucesos, November 25, 1904, a magazine available at Memoria Chilena



Cine Chile works as both a repository to disseminate national film production and a digital archive of Chilean film history. The latter hosts digital copies and full transcriptions of an array of articles from newspapers and magazines that cover the various aspects of film production and reception in Chile. The inclusion of the transcriptions is remarkable because it is not a common practice and greatly facilitates the research process. The information can be located using the home search button with film titles or names of people. An advanced search is provided at the catalogue window (catálogo), and in the archive window (archivos históricos), another search button is available. The material is presented in three ways: in a compressed list of the press articles, a full list, and in “mini-websites” by era (especiales por época). The website also includes bibliography and chronology sections plus other multimedia sources, which go from 1895 to the present time, offering a treat for any researcher interested in the topic.


For example, Cine Chile holds material related to films produced in Valparaíso, such as Un paseo a Playa Ancha (1903), the oldest Chilean production available, and Un grito en el mar (1924) (see Figures 5 and 6). The former features a day trip with a shared lunch and cueca dancing, common practices among grassroots’ societies of the time, such as the one I studied, the Sociedad Musical de Socorros Mutuos de Valparaíso. The latter praised Paul Salvatierra, the Sociedad Musical’s secretary, for conducting the “magnificent orchestra” that performed “with synchronic accompaniment, a brilliant musical programme especially adapted” for the film (La Estrella, Valparaíso, December 30, 1924).


Figure 5: A couple dancing a cueca in the film Un paseo a Playa Ancha (1903). Film screenshot, Archivo Cine Chile.



Figure 6: Press announcement on the film premiere of Un grito en el mar (1924).

La Estrella, Valparaíso, December 30, 1924. Archivo Cine Chile.



The three digital platforms I described in this post hold significant material especially useful for my research on the development of musical workers’ organizations in Chile between 1893 and 1940. In the next post, I will cover other digital sources that hold relevant material and information that might be useful for other scholars interested in researching Chilean music and culture.

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