Digitisation of The Barbados Mercury Gazette
This week we have a guest blog post from Amalia Levi who is currently working on the EAP1086 project to preserve and digitise The Barbados Mercury Gazette.
In late 2017, the Barbados Department of Archives was awarded an Endangered Archives Programme grant for the digitisation of The Barbados Mercury Gazette, the first EAP grant that Barbados has received. The grant application process was the result of an international collaboration through the efforts of Barbados Archives Director Ingrid Thompson, Brock University Professor Lissa Paul; archivist Amalia S. Levi, and University of Florida Digital Scholarship Librarian Laurie Taylor.
The Barbados Mercury Gazette is an important primary source that sheds light on a tumultuous period in the history of this former British colony. The volumes housed in the Archives (1783-1839) cover the years leading up to the 1816 slave revolt on the island, the first of such large-scale slave revolts in the West Indies that eventually led to the abolition of slavery in the British Empire. The grant will facilitate different kinds of research into the island’s past.
The grant has funded the purchase of equipment that after the completion of this project will remain at the Archives and will be used for other digitisation initiatives, and work by the digitisation team, consisting of project leader, Amalia S. Levi; project assistant, Lenora Williams; and Archives assistant, Jennifer Breedy.
We have organised two workshops during the planning phase of the project. In December 2017, the first workshop brought together scholars of literature and history, and practitioners in archives, libraries, and museums in a brainstorming session. The goal was to better contextualize and define the significance of The Gazette to populate its finding aid. You can read more information about the workshop here. Through interaction and discussion, workshop participants added valuable context to The Mercury Gazette and its potential as a primary source for research on slavery. Discussions aimed to go behind colonial narratives and unpack questions of power, authority, and the silences of the archival record. Furthermore, participants explored opportunities for future research and scholarship through this grant. You can find more on these discussions here.
After the equipment arrived at the Archives we organised a second workshop, which was held over two days on July 11 and July 12, 2018 and was aimed to provide digitisation training. The first day was open to archivists, librarians and professionals working in institutions on the island, and 23 people attended. The second day was dedicated to the core project team. Training was provided by two members of the University of Florida Libraries digitisation services team: Laura Perry, Digital Production Manager, and Jake Goodson, Special Formats Imaging Assistant. For the complete program, see here.
The morning session of Day 1 included introductions and presentations about the grant, the importance of The Mercury Gazette and an overview of the digitisation process and metadata creation. The afternoon session was dedicated to hands-on training. Participants had the chance to hear and learn about every step of the digitisation, including setting up the equipment, lighting, imaging, and quality control. The first day training was provided in the Archives’ events room to accommodate attendees. During the second day the equipment was set up in the room that has been specifically allocated for digitisation, which is secure and where natural light is controlled, and training was provided there. You can see more pictures and read information about both days.
As Barbados Archives Director Ingrid Thompson noted in her introductory remarks, the grant has been “a learning experience in terms of the details required and the process itself. When you look at how the whole program is structured, it’s not only the application process, but the process of finding the personnel and expertise required. Because for me it’s not only important to receive the grant, but also the outcome and the results. We hope that this experience will allow us to apply for more grants in the future.” Thompson also commented on the teamwork required to make the application possible: “Lissa was the one who passionately advocated for the newspaper’s scholarly importance. Lissa was introduced to me by Amalia, with whom I was already in contact through her work with the Jewish archives on the island.” Ingrid Thompson also invited scholars to initiate discussions in order to prioritize material for digitisation or processing.
In her remarks, Project Leader Amalia S. Levi noted the potential of the digitisation of The Mercury Gazette to foster and facilitate new forms of scholarship on the history of Barbados and of the enslaved. She discussed how archival practices end up locking marginalised populations out of the archives and create gaps and silences in the historical record, and ways to mitigate that. She concluded her presentation with examples of initiatives, particularly digital humanities projects with spatial and network components, that can provide novel ways to locate marginalised voices in The Mercury and bring them to light.
After the training workshop, Project Assistant Lenora Williams discussed her excitement to be part of this process as a junior heritage professional and shared her thoughts: “As the Project Assistant, I will be one of the main persons involved in the day to day digitising. After the first week of digitising after the workshop I can say all the demonstrations by Laura Perry and Jake Goodson have prepared me to fulfill my role in the project. They were able to give me an understanding of each step in the process and the general objectives of each. I found it very helpful to be able to access professionals in the industry who have the experience working with several types of materials. Most importantly the hands-on training inspired me to approach my duties with a confidence that reading a manual may not be able to cover. So as I continue to learn more about the contents of this resource I am digitising, conservation methods and the new software I am being exposed to, I will always be grateful to those who provided this opportunity and those who made the workshop the success that it was.”
As the project gets under way, we will share more about the process itself, as well as the information gleamed through the pages of the Barbados Mercury Gazette through regular blog posts and conference presentations.