09 August 2023
Recent online collections include zoological records from Kenya, documents from a Sufi shrine in India, manuscripts from Java, and records from monasteries of cloistered nuns in Lima. You can read a brief overview about these projects below, or go straight to the online collections using these links:
- Preserving endangered zoological archival material in the National Museums of Kenya
- Exploring the archives of cloistered nuns in colonial Lima (Peru)
- Documents in the Sufi shrine at Dhar (India)
- Identifying and Digitising Eastern Salient Manuscripts of Java (Indonesia)
This project digitised zoological archival records from the Zoology department of the National Museums of Kenya. The records include field trip reports and catalogues that capture details such as species notes, the localities where samples were collected or recorded, and the sources or names of donors. The material spans four taxa: mammalogy, ornithology, ichthyology, and invertebrate zoology. Containing valuable research information on species taxonomy, natural history, and distribution, these records offer insights into historical animal species distribution, shedding light on habitat destruction and helping to map out the extent of species decline.
This project digitised archives from the 17th to 20th centuries of two monasteries of cloistered nuns in Lima, Peru: the Monasterio de Santa Rosa de Lima and the Monasterio Jesus, María y José (Clarisas Capuchinas). Most of these documents shed light on aspects of daily life in colonial and early republican Peru, areas that have been minimally investigated. Due to the scarcity of sources, the lives of nuns and women in general during this period have been under-researched. It is hoped that the materials now digitised will stimulate ongoing and future studies, offering insights into religious and everyday life in late colonial and early republican Lima.
The goal of this project was to digitise and examine documents related to the tomb complex of Kamal al-Din Chishti in Dhar, Madhya Pradesh, India. Kamal al-Din was a member of the renowned Chishti lineage of Sufis. After spending a period with Nizamuddin Auliya in Delhi, he migrated to central India in the late 1200s and passed away in 1331. His descendants have overseen Kamal al-Din’s tomb for seven centuries. Following some known and published inscriptions from the 1400s, the earliest extant documents from the shrine originate from the late 1600s, bearing seals linked to the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb (1658-1707). Subsequent documents correspond with the reigns of Bahadur Shah, Farrukhsiyar, Muhammad Shah, and Shah Alam II. The archive extends into the Maratha rule of central India, with examples persisting into the 20th century. Predominantly detailing property transactions and endowments, these documents offer invaluable insights into institutional history, charitable endeavours, officials, local geography, and land stewardship.
This project digitised 97 manuscripts from 24 different owners or collections in the regions of Banyuwangi, Jember, Bondowoso, Situbondo, and Lumajang on the island of Java, Indonesia. The manuscripts cover the subjects of religion, history, culture, metaphysics, etc, predominantly written in Javanese and Arabic, but including some in Madurese, Indonesian and Malay.
30 May 2023
Every now and then, researchers notify us of a conference talk focusing on content digitised by EAP projects. We are always thrilled to be told about these talks and it prompted us to create a digital lecture series of our own. We approached a handful of people, who we knew had worked on EAP content and they, very kindly, agreed to take part. We have created two themes in the first instance: Narratives within the Archive and Manuscripts on Magic and the links to the individual lectures are below. The presentations are absolutely fascinating and we hope you enjoy listening to them.
Narratives within the Archive
Dr Helga Baitenmann - Hidden Narratives of Indigenous Women in Nineteenth-Century Mexico
Dr Mégane Coulon - Life histories in mid-nineteenth century Freetown, Sierra Leone
Manuscripts on Magic
Eyob Derillo (PhD student) - Ethiopian amulet scrolls, talisman and divination
Professor Fallou Ngom - Healing, Divination, and Protection Techniques in Wolof and Mandinka Manuscripts
Dr Sam van Schaik - Buddhist Magic
Dr Farouk Yahya - Malay Magic and Divination Manuscripts from Indonesia
We would like to take this opportunity to thank the contributors and if you are using EAP content for your own research and would like to notify us, please email us at [email protected].
03 May 2023
With a full public launch of the new BL Sounds website just around the corner, EAP would like to highlight this month’s blog relating to two sound projects that have been catalogued, and share some phonograph record treasures and images of singers and musicians from South America and Azerbaijan.
If you are a collector of all things vinyl you may have one or two of these squeezed between the sleeves. Affectionately known as 78’s, these two collections of shellac discs have been transferred to digital for research, inspiration and enjoyment. Although the quality of a few recordings is quite weak every piece of audio has one or more stories to tell.
Valparaíso’s musical heritage (EAP359)
The Valparaíso’s musical heritage collection holds shellacs dating from 1910 to 1959 and primarily contains folk songs and folk music dances, like the renowned foxtrot, waltz and tango to, possibly, the less popularised dances of Western Europe; cuecas and corridos. The cueca is known to Chileans as their national dance because of its cultural, social, and historical relevance – it’s one of the most popular music genres in Chile. However, under General Pinochet it went from a sign of freedom and fun to a sign of oppression and force. But since Chile’s return to democracy 44 years ago, la cueca has lost much of the stigma that it had during the dictatorship. The themes on cueca songs are very diverse, but all are incredibly poetic. The lyrics are usually romantic, and often related to the hardships of the poorest in big cities. Other audio treasures include the tonada – a folk music style of Spain, boleros, and Mexican corridos, which is a form of musical folk ballad that has been a typical expression of Mexican life. They are a way of documenting the experiences of people who often have no other voice. Whereas the bolero, the dance and music is centred on themes of romantic love.
These discs were produced by various record labels, which, at the time, were the top of their game; Victor (incl. RCA Victor), Columbia, Odeon Records and Decca, to name but a few.
With a multitude of dynamic singers and musicians from this collection, I would like to highlight an artist that is one of the earliest female folklore names of the 20th century before the appearance of referential artists in history. Singer-songwriter Derlinda Araya was one of the first to record Chilean folklore. In the 1930s she began a successful career as a radio singer and since 1935 she recorded several albums. Her voice and the panache of her interpretation is very present. Eloquent, emotionally expressive and inspirational, which precisely earned her that popularity, embodied in dozens of records. Here's a recording of Derlinda accompanied with her guitar, singing 'Mi cantar'.
I would like to draw your attention to a rendition of ‘Night and Day’ written by American composer and lyricist, Cole Porter. This has been covered by many an artist over the years. Here, Noche y Día is performed by Chilean vocalist Humberto Lozán and accompanied by the Jackie Kohan Orchestra. It’s always a pleasant surprise when you find a song you’re fond of that is sung in another language, as you can pick up the words to it and their correct pronunciation.
Pages of Azerbaijan (EAP124)
What first struck me about this collection was the intriguing design of the record labels. The visual imagery of most discs have survived, with just a handful that have been vulnerable to fading and deterioration over the decades. The creation of the artwork is aesthetically pleasing – pretty and effective. No doubt some labels played a relevant role in the distribution sales of the discs. As the EAP cataloguer, when the labels were missing, it proved difficult to identify exactly who the artists were and when the music was recorded.
The other interesting find I had while cataloguing this project, were the images of the musicians and singers, such as this Azerbaijani folk singer below:
You can see the intricacy and craftsmanship of not only the instrument but the garments he is wearing. Immaculate!
However, what captured my imagination was listening to and discovering a variety of instruments. Each recording gave me a thought process and insight into the ideas and imaginations of the instrument makers. For example; the kamancheh, which appears to combine systems of a violin and a cello, as it is bowed with the right hand in a palm-up position and held vertically with an endpin rod (or spike). Here you can hear the kamancheh, with the accompaniment of a tar, and singer and daf (drum) musician, Islam Abdullayev.
We hope that on reading this blog post you will be inspired to delve into a selection of EAP sound projects from around the world.
Remember, you will be able to access these on the new BL Sounds website. It is an exciting time to try out the new Universal Player. Have fun!
03 March 2023
This month we would like to highlight five new collections that can be accessed via the EAP website. Two of these are from India, with the others from Mali, Mongolia, and Brazil.
- Creating a digital archive of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century criminal and notarial records in Mamanguape, São João do Cariri, and João Pessoa, Paraíba, Brazil (EAP853)
- Digitisation and preservation of rare historical sources of Mongolia written in the 19th and early 20th centuries (EAP927)
- Survey and Creation of the Digital Documentary Resources in Nilgiri and Coimbatore (1850-1970) (EAP1274)
- Documenting royalty through the changing political culture in Kongu Nadu, South India, 1400-1950 (EAP1160)
- Recovering the rich local history of Kita (Mali) through the salvaging of its archival heritage (EAP1085)
Creating a digital archive of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century criminal and notarial records in Mamanguape, São João do Cariri, and João Pessoa, Paraíba, Brazil (EAP853)
This project digitised four collections of criminal and notarial records in Paraíba, Brazil. They should prove to be a great resource for studies of slavery and abolition, orphans and wards of the court, crime, and property ownership in the Brazilian Northeast. The four collections digitised are:
• EAP853/1 Fórum Miguel Levino de Oliveira Ramos, Comarca de Mamanguape (1846-1918)
• EAP853/2 Arquivo do Fórum Judicial da Comarca de João Pessoa (21 Mar 1855-27 Mar 1909)
• EAP853/3 Arquivo do Memorial do Tribunal de Justiça da Paraíba (1778-1893)
• EAP853/4 Arquivo do Fórum Nivaldo Farias Brito, Comarca de São João do Cariri (17 Sep 1782-11 Apr 1921)
The records consist mostly of legal proceedings from criminal, civil, and commercial courts. They include deeds of sale, powers of attorney, inventories, criminal lawsuits, eviction orders, and many other records created in the jurisdictions. More detailed information is available on each of the four collections catalogue records.
Digitisation and preservation of rare historical sources of Mongolia written in the 19th and early 20th centuries (EAP927)
This project digitised c. 3000 rare, unpublished documents in seven different sub-collections, held by the Institute of History and Ethnography at the Mongolian Academy of Sciences (MAS). The majority are typewritten copies of 19th century-early 20th century materials created in the 1940s-1950s by scholars copying them into Uyghur Mongolian or Cyrillic script. The documents illustrate the events of the Manchu empire (lasted until 1911), Mongolian sovereignty (1911-1921), Chinese-Russian-Mongolian connections, and the start of socialism (from 1921 on).
Survey and Creation of the Digital Documentary Resources in Nilgiri and Coimbatore (1850-1970) (EAP1274)
The four collections digitised in this project consist mostly of photographs dating from the late 19th to mid 20th centuries. Other records digitised include newspaper clippings, postcards, and other documents. The four collections available are:
• EAP1274/1 Collections of Rao Bahadur C.M. Ramachandran Chettiar of Coimbatore (1925-1953)
• EAP1274/2 Annual Meeting photographs of the United Planters' Association of South India (1893-1953)
• EAP1274/3 Collections of Nilgiri Documentation Centre (NDC) (1st half of the 20th century)
• EAP1274/4 Badaga Family Collection (Mid 20th century)
EAP1274/1 contains photographs of various temples in India, portraits of celebrities, and newspaper cuttings related to temples and monuments. The EAP1274/3 collection includes the records of Dr. Philo Irudhayanath, and Mr. A. Dharmalingam who founded the Nilgiri Documentation Centre in the 1940s, and created a collection of photographs related to the Nilgiris.
Documenting royalty through the changing political culture in Kongu Nadu, South India, 1400-1950 (EAP1160)
This project carried out a survey of records from various locations in Kongu Nadu, in addition to digitising notebooks and registers from one of them – the Idayakottai Zamin Collection. The records address a variety of issues of Idayakottai Zamin and their estate, and include acquittance rolls, complaints, land accounts, minutes books, temple accounts and leases. Many of the documents are related to the social history and financial activity of the Idayakottai Zamin, their participation in municipal administration, and association with various government departments and officials.
Recovering the rich local history of Kita (Mali) through the salvaging of its archival heritage (EAP1085)
This is a continuation of the EAP820 project which carried out a survey (and sample digitisation) of archives of the Kita Cercle in Mali. The project revealed a larger number of records in poor condition and in need of digitising resulting in this follow-on project with more material preserved digitally.
Kita played a crucial role in the French colonisation of western Mali, partly because of it being the location of one of the earliest colonial railroad stations in the country. The Cercle was the main colonial administrative authority and created a tremendous amount of information on social and economic life in the region. Records digitised include those related to political affairs; state surveillance; meteorological reports; decrees, ordinances, and circulars; administrative records and correspondence.
05 October 2022
We have another four projects that recently went online to highlight this month. Two projects from India, and one each from Cuba and Columbia:
- Preservation and Digitisation of Manuscripts Belonging to 16th to 20th Century of Central Kerala (EAP1320)
- Creating a digital archive of ecclesiastical records in the original seven Villas of Cuba (EAP955)
- Digitisation of Documentary Heritage of the Colombian Caribbean in the Maritime Port of Cartagena de Indias (EAP1212)
- Songs of the Old Madmen: Recovering Baul Songs from the Note-Books of 19th and 20th Century Bengali Saint-Composers (EAP1247)
The project team has digitised 84 documents, made up of a total of 77 palm leaves documents and seven old books. The palm leaves belong to the period 1600 to 1910 AD. Notable outcomes are the recovery and digitisation of assumingly ‘lost’ ancient works like ‘Lagnaprakarana’ of renowned ancient scholars and a Palm leaf manuscript text of Rgveda. The records cover the topics of Astronomy related mathematics, Ayurveda, Upanayana, Astrology, Commentaries, amongst others. The sources of these collections are mainly from two families with renowned tradition of knowledge in ancient Kerala. One is the Irinjadapilly Mana the ancestral home of Sangamagrama Madhava, the legendary Mathematician of the 14th century. The other is Kunnathur Padinjaredath Mana, known for their knowledge in Vasthu Sastra and Tantra.
This project digitised records owned by the Bishopric of Santa Clara in Cuba, and held at three separate locations: the Catedral de Santa Clara, the Iglesia de San Juan, and the Iglesia of La Caridad. Records include baptism, death, and burial registers.
This project digitised notarial documents from 1853-1900 corresponding to the First Notary Office of Cartagena, and notarial documents from 1859-1861 corresponding to the Notary Public of the Municipality of El Carmen de Bolívar. Such documents are found in the Historical Archive of Cartagena de Indias, an administrative unit of the Historical Museum of the same city. The digitised material accounts for the social history of both the city of Cartagena de Indias and the Municipality of El Carmen de Bolívar. It addresses aspects related to economic life (including: trade, formation of commercial companies, purchase-sale of possessions and rural and urban properties, production and marketing of tobacco, public administrative contracts, mortgages), as well as characteristics of social, public and private life (civil marriages, successions of post-mortuary assets, appraisals, wills), both in rural and urban areas.
This project digitised records from six different Baul collections in West Bengal, India. The songs of the Bauls (literally “mad”, intoxicated by divine love) are composed by gurus or spiritual teachers, and performed by itinerant folk musicians. They are performed among low-caste communities in India and Bangladesh, where they are recognized as intangible cultural heritage. An encyclopedia of beliefs and practices, Baul songs discuss ideas on cosmogony, health, sexuality, meditation and everyday life.
The collections provide important primary sources for the study of the Baul tradition of Bengal, showing how the songs are passed down across the generations and transmitted from older gurus to contemporary singers/practitioners. They provide information about the continuity and change in the repertoire of Baul songs, while also offering a window to understand the intimate and devotional relationship between gurus and disciples of this tradition.
The records include handwritten notebooks of Baul songs, three albums of correspondence between guru and disciple, historical documents, and numerous photographs of Baul performers and their families which have been found within the pages of the notebooks.
30 September 2022
EAP recently commissioned a short film, in the hope that it would raise the profile of the Programme and highlight the importance of making digitised content freely available to everyone. The video is now available on the Library’s YouTube channel and we hope you enjoying watching it.
EAP would like to thank the British Library Collections Trust for generously supporting the making of the film.
06 May 2022
In this month's round-up we have a collection of portrait photographs from Lima, Peru (EAP1234), and two collections from Sri Lanka, palm-leaf manuscripts from the Jaffna, Vanni, and Mannar districts (EAP1056), and Tamil Protestant records from the Jaffna Peninsula (EAP971). You can read more about each of the projects below and follow the links to see the catalogued records, digitised images, and project information.
EAP1234 - Preservation of Film Negatives of the Elias del Aguila Collection of the Historical Archive of Centro de la Imagen
When the Elías del Águila collection first arrived at the Centro de la Imagen in Lima, Peru, it was concealed within another acquisition, the Fotografia Central/Estudio Courret archive. Though originally attributed to the Courret brothers, research in 2015 revealed the true source to be the photographer Elías del Águila and his studio, E. del Águila y Cía in central Lima, operational from 1903 until the late 1930s. Until this discovery, Elías remained practically unknown and there are still relatively few details known about his life.
His studio was popular with Lima’s burgeoning middle class of the early 20th century. Among his subjects, researchers have identified important businessmen, intellectuals, and politicians, including child portraits of the two-time President of Peru, Fernando Belaúnde Terry. Other notable portraits in the archive include those of the architect Ricardo Malachowski, the former mayor of Lima Augusto Benavides, and the scientist and diplomat Vitold de Szyszlo.
The Centro de la Imagen holds over 20,000 of Elías’s negatives in their archive. For this pilot project the local team catalogued, digitised, and rehoused some of the most endangered of them. Over 2,000 of these images are now available to view on the EAP website.
This project surveyed and digitised endangered Tamil and Sanskrit palm-leaf manuscript collections in the Jaffna, Vanni, and Mannar districts of Northern Sri Lanka. The team conducted more than 150 field visits and identified 49 different collections. Many of these were located in temples, medical centres, and local libraries, while others are in the care of families and individuals including priests, medical practitioners, and astrologers.
135 manuscripts were digitised from 21 different collections in total and broadly cover the following subjects: traditional Siddha and Ayurvedic medicine; Hindu religious and temple ritual texts; astrology/astronomy works; local histories; literature; mathematics; unorthodox Hindu folk practice-related works including those on tantra, mesmerism, witchcraft, and folklore; and archival records including birth charts and budgets.
This project is a continuation of the EAP835 pilot project, which produced a survey (and some sample digitisation) of archives from the Tamil Protestant community of the Jaffna Peninsula. EAP971 built on the knowledge and experience from this earlier project and returned to carry out larger-scale digitisation from eight different archives. They include collections from Jaffna College Archive, St John's College, Evelyn Rutnam Institute, and Uduvil Girls' College. Digitised records include church record and ledger books, correspondence, and college magazines.
23 August 2021
Today is the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition. Today also sees the launch of the second crowdsourcing task of the Agents of Enslavement project. To coincide with these two events we are delighted to share this guest post by Dr Lissa Paul, a literary scholar at Brock University who specialises in children’s literature and Caribbean literary studies.
When Graham Jevon emailed just a day after launching 'Agents of Enslavement' on Monday 21 July 2021, to say that the project had hit over 23,000 views, I found myself suddenly close to tears. The early nineteenth century people in the fugitive slave ads of the Barbados Gazette were going to be as alive in the minds of those who accessed the site that day as they had been when I first encountered them in the National Library in Bridgetown Barbados on disintegrating microfilms ten years ago in 2011. My blog story is about how a community of readers, an army of readers, grows out of one reader reading.
At the recommendation of Alissandra Cummins, Director of the Barbados Museum and Historical Society, I had gone to the library in Bridgetown in search of the microfilm copies of the Gazette in order to look for the subject of my research, radical British author and teacher Eliza Fenwick (1766-1840). Between late 1814 and 1822, Eliza had run a school, a Seminary for Young Ladies, in Barbados with her daughter, Eliza Ann Rutherford (1789-1828).
The microfilms were stored in manilla cardboard boxes in a metal filing cabinet on the dimly lit second floor of the library. They had apparently not been disturbed in years and the only way to view them was on an ancient desk-sized microfilm reader with no copy function. A kind librarian set up a stool for my laptop so that I could at least take notes, but the films even then were fragile and had to be coaxed gently through the reader. The Gazette published twice a week, Tuesdays and Saturdays, and I simply started reading, issue-by-issue from 1812 as that is when Eliza's daughter (an unwilling actress at best) had arrived to join the Theatre Royal Company opening in Bridgetown in January that year. As soon as I began, I was immersed in the terrifying conflict zone of a slave-dependant community.
The political news in the papers—between 1812 and 1816—mostly consisted of objections by the colonial government in Barbados to Wilberforce's initial attempts to pass a slave-registration bill, the purpose of which was to enforce the 1807 ban on the slave trade. The official line was that Barbados was a profitable, well-run island and the slaves were perfectly happy and well-managed. The proposed bill, they argued, would destroy the peace and prosperity of the island, and, picking up the slogan from the American Revolution, they claimed that the bill was a form of taxation without representation.
In the fugitive slave ads, however, there was a completely different story, one that spoke to sustained resistance in the face of what now appears as appalling, incomprehensible brutality. In the ads were people—men, women and children—who were arrestingly alive: there were details of what they looked like, how they spoke, what they wore, distinguishing features, who their relatives were, and where they might have gone. As I approached the dates of what later become known as Bussa's Rebellion on the Easter weekend in April 1816, it was business as usual as far as the news was concerned, even on Saturday 13 April, the day before the rebellion began.
I couldn't wait to see what the paper would report on the following Tuesday, but, as the records show, there was no paper on Tuesday 16 April. There's a gap in the run. The Gazette, like the rest of the island, was shut down for two weeks. The next issue was published on Tuesday 30 April 1816 and there is nothing on the rebellion on the front page. On the top-left of the first column, there is an ad for the 5'3" Philley-Melia who had absconded. She might, the ad suggests, have gone to her mother in one parish or her husband in another (indicating that families maintained their networks despite all attempts to split them up) and that she might be using a 'false pass to move around the island (a sign that she had likely planned her escape with care).
Philley-Melia, I thought at the time, was a resistance fighter, and like so many others in the fugitive slave ads was a member of Bussa's de facto guerilla army. The brief report of the rebellion in the Tuesday 30 April issue was on page two, column one, under the ad for second-quality butter and it was only there to explain the publication gap to readers from other islands who might not have heard the news. Even in my first reading, I knew that the Gazette revealed important stories, ones that spoke both to the individual heroism of the enslaved and to the brutality and obliviousness of the enslavers. While Bussa (about whom little is known) received credit for the rebellion here were the people whose courage and persistence deserved recognition—which is why the Agents of Enslavement project stands as so important.
At this point I should probably say that I'm a white Canadian scholar, a professor at Brock University in the Niagara region of Ontario and that my research on Eliza Fenwick is generously funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada. I have no connection to the Caribbean except through my work. My biography, Eliza Fenwick: Early Modern Feminist, published by the University of Delaware Press, 2019 partly traces Eliza's move from the radical, abolitionist company of Mary Wollstonecraft, William Godwin and others in their circle, to Barbados and then via New Haven and New York to Niagara (where I work) and Toronto (where I live).
As I'd gone to the Gazette to find traces of Eliza's presence in Barbados after I'd returned home I did what scholars do: I ordered microfilm copies through my university library and expected that they would arrive eventually. They didn't. I tried several times and kept getting rejected. Eventually, after repeated requests for an explanation I received an answer from Stewart Gillis, the (long retired) British Library Reference Team manager who had been responsible for the (now closed) unit dealing with requests for copies of microfilms.
In 2012 he wrote to me, patiently explaining that because the films were 'pretty old', as well as 'badly scratched and damaged', they were 'not suitable for further reproduction'. The films were made, he explained, on 'diazo', something I later found out to be a non-preservation medium only used for 'disposable or frequently updated' material according to information provided by the American Library Association.
When I tried to access copies of the Gazette on microfilm in libraries closer to home, I found a few but all listed their holdings as partial (only much later did I realise that that the April 1816 gap in the issues caused by the rebellion, would have counted—without explanation—as simply missing from the catalog record). And when I tried to access the physical paper copies of the Gazette in the National Archives in Barbados I was told that they were locked and that 'it would take an act of Parliament' to release them. Although my SSHRC grant covered research trips to Barbados, as the microfilms were disintegrating and the papers locked, I was overwhelmed by a sense that unless the papers were digitised, the people in the ads would die.
This is the 'it takes a village' part of the story of the long road to the digitisation of the Gazette and later the Barbadian. As a scholar I know how to find and use archival material, but initially I had no idea how to go about accessing funding to digitise the papers or who might do it or how. On my trips to Barbados, I had, however, started to make friends with people at the University of the West Indies (UWI) in Cave Hill. Again, it was Alissandra Cummins who provided the key: she had invited Dr. Evelyn O'Callaghan--Caribbean scholar, UWI professor, and most recently the editor, with Tim Watson of Caribbean Literature in Transition: 1800-1920 (Cambridge UP, 2021)--to an early 'Eliza' talk I'd given at the Barbados Museum. It was Evelyn who eventually introduced me to Dr. Laurie Taylor and Dr. Leah Rosenberg of the Digital Library of the Caribbean (dLOC) based at the University of Florida.
When they found that I was going to be doing the first draft of my Eliza biography while on a fellowship in the autumn of 2014 at Lucy Cavendish College Cambridge, they put me in touch with Erich Kesse (who was there at the time but is now at the University of London). And it was Erich who suggested that the British Library Endangered Archives Programme Grant was the right body to approach for the digitisation project. On reading the application requirements I also realised, instantly, that I had no standing as I was, essentially, a tourist. Only the National Archives of Barbados, operating under the auspices of the Government of Barbados could apply. And so began what I regarded as a campaign to generate support for the application to the British Library Endangered Archives Programme. It would be, I knew, difficult.
As David Waldstreicher explains in a 1999 essay, 'Reading the Runaways' (William and Mary Quarterly 56:2), colonial papers have been read 'as rude reminder[s] of forms of unfreedom that were doomed' (246). The last thing anyone wants to do is circulate racist propaganda, so there were clearly strong arguments for keeping the papers locked up. But as scholars of slavery studies--Sir Hilary Beckles, Sir Woodville Marshall, and Dr. Pedro Welch among others--demonstrate, it is also possible to read against the grain.
The Gazette, I found when I checked, had not been accessed for new research in about thirty-five years, around the time the microfilms were made, and the papers locked. References in the scholarly literature were typically second-hand: a citation from someone who had used the physical papers when they had been available. One person who had done an early form of data analysis (of the kind at the heart of the 'Agents of Enslavement' project) was Dr. Gad Heuman. In his 1985 essay, "Runaway Slaves in Nineteenth Century Barbados," Abolition and Slavery 6:3, Heuman used an early form of data analysis—the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS)—to analyze fugitive slave ads in the Gazette. The new more powerful tools available to scholars working in digital humanities, I realised, could potentially reveal so much more and I wondered, for instance, if it might be possible to identify 'hot spots' of resistance from the ads.
It was Evelyn who helped me try to recruit support in Barbados for the digitization of the Gazette. She suggested to Dr. Rodney Worrell in the History Department at Cave Hill that I give a talk (in 2016) on what I'd found in the Gazette. That talk, as it happened, just preceded a trip to Barbados by Laurie Taylor, of dLOC, who was coming to launch the digitization of the Jewish archives in Barbados, a project recently completed by Amalia Levi, an accomplished archivist originally from Greece and founder of HeritEdge.
Though we missed meeting each other on that occasion it was Amalia, who, in the company of Laurie, convinced the archivist at the National Library of Barbados, Ingrid Thompson, that digitising the Gazette was a worthwhile project. And that's how the application to the Endangered Archives Programme began. Ingrid, as the head of the Archives, became the principal applicant and took overall responsibility, Amalia, with her expertise as an archivist, took on the role as co-applicant and project manager. I was the other co-applicant. Given that I had the grant experience and the scholarly credentials, I was able to explain why the project was important. Laurie, through dLOC provided the technical expertise. The grant to digitise the Gazette was awarded in 2017, and it was the first won for Barbados.
After its completion in 2018, I was asked by Amalia to consult on a second application, this time for the Barbadian. It was again, successful. And now, in the summer of 2021, with the fully digitised versions of the Gazette and the Barbadian available, Graham Jevon has launched 'Agents of Enslavement', and the people of the fugitive slave ads in the Gazette and the Barbadian are, at last, on the verge of being recognised for their heroic resistance.
As I think back to that first day reading the microfilms in the National Library, I also remember being approached by two little boys, about ten, who were curious about what I was doing. At the time I was too embarrassed to tell them, so I turned the question and asked what they were doing. Their faces fell as they told me that they were researching slavery for school. One asked, pointing to his own ribs, if I knew that slaves had been poked in the ribs with cattle prods. I did, though in the moment I asked if they knew about the British children in the 1790s who had given up sugar in support of the movement to abolish the slave trade. They had not known, but they brightened when they realized that they had a positive story to take back to their class, one about children supporting children. While that story served its purpose at the time, it wasn't the story they needed. With 'Agents of Enslavement' now up and running, however, wonderful stories of courage and active resistance will be available for future generations of children.
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- New online - September 2022
- EAP video
- New online - April 2022
- The Backstory to Digitising the Barbados Gazette
- Help trace the stories of enslaved people in the Caribbean using colonial newspapers
- New online - April/May 2021