Bringing Memories in from the Margins: Inclusive Transitional Justice and Creative Memory Processes for Reconciliation in Colombia

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: School of Modern Languages


Over more than five decades of armed conflict in Colombia, the memories of marginalised communities and victims of conflict have been silenced or excluded from dominant accounts. These memories, and creation of spaces to acknowledge them, will be crucial to an inclusive reconciliation.

This project adopts a participatory, co-production methodology to support community members in Bajo Cauca, Florencia, Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, and Valledupar - some of Colombia's most marginalised municipalities - to produce creative pieces of memory work. Creating memory work means using the pain of the past to create something useful for working towards peace in the present and future. Working with a set of highly respected national partners (including the National Library of Colombia, the National Centre for Historical Memory, the Peaceful Route for Women, and the National Network of Memory Sites) the project will enable victims to develop the skills, networks, and confidence to share their memories on a national stage, including with Colombia's truth commission.

Acknowledgement of victims' experiences by the truth commission is fundamental to reconciliation in Colombia, but it will not and cannot be the only space where reconciliation takes place. Victims' memories also need to be heard and acknowledged in everyday spaces of learning about conflict and peace, including in schools and online. In partnership with the National Centre for Historical Memory, the project will train over 200 teachers to use memory work for peace education and it will produce a set of resources for use in classrooms. In partnership with the project, the National Library of Colombia will design and host a digital resource that will effectively share the creative memory work of these marginalised communities with a wide audience nationally and internationally.

We bring together an interdisciplinary team of researchers and practitioners who share a commitment to understanding and enabling the possibilities for a more inclusive process of reconciliation in Colombia. The team of researchers from the Universidad Nacional de Colombia and the University of Bristol works across the disciplines of history, education, area studies, politics, media studies, and feminism and has expertise in co-production and participatory methodologies, the use of digital technology to enhance research findings, as well of leading research projects in Colombia and Latin America focused on memory, reconciliation and education. The partnerships at the core of the project are based on existing and well-established relationships with leading organisations in Colombia working to promote memory and reconciliation at local, regional and national levels.

The project works in three strands, first memories from the margins will support between 1,000 - 10,000 people from some of the most marginalised parts of Colombia to create transformative memory works, enabling individual and community processes of reconciliation and developing lasting skills for public participation. Physical objects created by the project will remain in the local municipalities. The second, reconciliation, shares this memory work on a national scale, including with Colombia's truth commission and in the nation's schools. The final strand, lessons from Colombia's transitional justice consolidates the work in Colombia, producing lasting digital resources, and shares findings, methodologies and lessons in Colombia, the UK and internationally.

The project will contribute to a sustainable, inclusive reconciliation in Colombia. In doing so, it will also generate important knowledge about the potential for localised processes of reconciliation to be connected with formal initiatives like truth commissions and shared in schools using co-production and digital methodologies. These lessons will be valuable for global policy discussions around transitional justice and for academic debates across our disciplines.

Planned Impact

4000 characters for Impact Summary for J-es

The impact programme of this project will put memory and reconciliation at the forefront of local, national and international dialogue. It will enable groups working in marginalized municipalities and existing practitioners to learn from each other and to maximize the reach of their message by refining their methodologies and disseminating their best practices. A stronger, more networked and educated movement for memory, reconciliation and inclusive development will be better able to negotiate the difficult political future that awaits. This will contribute towards the creation of a more inclusive society with citizens who are more at ease with their fractious and violent pasts, and thereby have direct effects upon the capacity for more equitable development, the reduction of conflict and the prevention of the re-emergence of political violence. The lessons from this project will contribute with methodological reflections and know-how to facilitate the empowerment of marginalized groups by providing space for the emergence of diverse memories and inclusive narratives for critical reconciliation.

With the purpose of fostering an inclusive transition, we acknowledge how essential it is to amplify the voices from local initiatives working with marginalized populations (indigenous, women, youth, rural). These initiatives have in most cases remained isolated from one another, impeding the exchange of know-how and knowledge. As a result, their chances of having an impact in the struggles over the narratives of the war, and therefore in creating the conditions for reconciliation, have until now been very limited.

By means of its interdisciplinary approach, and by working with and through long-standing research partnerships, the project therefore aims to impact three broad groups:

Marginalized Memories: Impact will be aimed at social groups working at the local level for reconciliation in marginalized municipalities of Colombia, including in the Sierra Nevada, Cauca, Caqueta and Boyaca. We will introduce them to each other's innovative creative methodologies, in order to produce a critical space for reflection, to energize their efforts and to produce new and unexpected collaborations. By providing expertise, resources, guidance and the opportunity for networking and collaborative learning, the project will strengthen these marginalized participants in the reconciliation process.

Reconciliation: Impact will be aimed at organizations working at the national level for reconciliation in Colombia. Our partners from the Ruta Pacifica, Red de Lugares de la Memoria, Biblioteca Nacional and Centro Nacional de Memoria Histórica are already some of the major participants in debates about how the historical past should be remembered as Colombia implements its peace agreements. This project will enable these institutions, and the people who work within and with them, to learn how to overcome the obstacles that prevent marginalized memories from being incorporated into centrally-directed reconciliation programmes and the educational curriculum.

Transitional Justice: Impact will be aimed at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Colombia and stakeholders in related processes elsewhere. The research will support the Colombian Truth and Reconciliation Commission in ensuring that marginalized memories are heard and acted upon. Beyond this, it is expected that the research findings will feed into future Truth and Reconciliation commissions elsewhere, sharing best practice from Colombia and establishing a model for inclusive reconciliation in post-conflict societies elsewhere in the world.

The specifics of how these impacts will be achieved are detailed in the separate Pathways to Impact document.


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Description The process of establishing the truth about the armed conflict in Colombia will not be an easy one. Our partners, involved in the production of historical memory amongst the country's most marginalized communities, are under considerable stress and have many obstacles to overcome. Our project, working together in horizontal ways with a strong ethics of co-production, will have a major impact. International collaboration with the implementation of the peace accords in Colombia is welcomed by our partners, and this international partnership will provide a major support for our shared research agenda.
Exploitation Route We will be seeking every possible funding opportunity to secure further support for our partners, particularly the CEV, given that this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to conduct research into the history of armed conflict in Colombia, through our partnerships established in this and previous projects.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Security and Diplomacy

Description This project has only just begun, but has already had a direct impact upon the workings of the Truth Commission (CEV) in Colombia, in particular the Gender Working Group, with whom we have established a close working relationship around their collection of testimonies. We hope and intend this partnership to continue throughout the operation of the CEV.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Policy & public services

Description CEV
Geographic Reach South America 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Description University of Bristol Global Impact Acceleration Account
Amount £20,000 (GBP)
Organisation University of Bristol 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2018 
End 03/2019
Description Biblioteca Nacional de Colombia 
Organisation National Library of Colombia
PI Contribution We worked together to co-design the Peace Festival and its dissemination activities. In 2017/18 we worked together to design the Bringing Memories in from the Margins.
Collaborator Contribution We worked together to co-design the Peace Festival and its dissemination activities. The Biblioteca Nacional organized, as part of this project, a workshop in the Montes de Maria region of Colombia discussing the role of libraries in bringing peace. In 2018/19 the BNC is working to deliver one strand of the MEMPAZ project, in the Sierra Nevada region.
Impact Montes de Maria workshop, involving history and social science. Full details elsewhere on form. Outputs from the MEMPAZ project will be collected at a meeting in Colombia in June 2019, so will be listed next year.
Start Year 2016
Description Ruta Pacifica 
Organisation Peaceful Women's Route
PI Contribution Ruta were the partners on the Peace Festival. We have worked to disseminate their work on the Truth Commission in Colombia. We have worked together to design the MEMPAZ project. We are working with Ruta to coordinate work with the Truth Commission (2019).
Collaborator Contribution Their presence and networks enabled the participation of a great diversity of organizations in the event. Their director and two colleagues attended the Peace Festival, running workshop sessions and providing valuable experience. In April 2018 Alejandra Miller Restrepo, from Ruta, visited Bristol as part of a GCRF event. She is now one of Colombia's Truth Commissioners, and has been central to the coordination of MEMPAZ with the Truth Commission, and to enabling the closer integration of MEMPAZ activities with AHRC-funded commissioned research with the Truth Commission on Gender, Truth and the Making of History.
Impact The Truth Commission began its operations in coordination with our team in February 2019, so are beginning to take place. Full reporting will be listed for the next round of Researchfish. We will be meeting in Colombia in June 2019 to assess progress so far.
Start Year 2016
Description Engagement activities on MEMPAZ 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The MEMPAZ project is a multi-site, multi-disciplinary investigation of processes of memory production in Colombia. Its activities began in October 2018. We have our first physical meeting of all the partners (including the Biblioteca Nacional de Colombia, Ruta Pacifica, etc) in June 2019. We have asked our partners to provide updates on progress at this encounter. We therefore do not have all the detail to submit here as to what has happened in terms of engagement, given that the entire project is based around and justified by engaging with marginalized communities on the periphery of Colombian political life. We will be able to provide a fuller list of activities so far in March 2020, and have some sense of the impact achieved, most obviously with the CEV but also at grassroots level, by March 2021.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018,2019