Notes from the conversation about building community archives in the Caribbean
Community archives are those archives which are maintained by individuals or groups outside of the State/National archives. These archives are vital in understanding different aspects of our humanity. This conversation was held to discuss community archives related to the Caribbean.
These notes reflect some of the discussions in the conversation. (The conversation was not recorded)
The need for community archives in the Caribbean
The need for community archives is based on :-
- the gaps in information about marginalised peoples in the Caribbean and in the diaspora. This is an issue especially with regards to indigenous peoples and cultures, where the historical records are kept by colonisers and others with similar interests.
- to improve access to untold stories and histories related to Caribbean peoples
The nature of Community archives related to the Caribbean and its diasporas.
- Ego shared some of the archive projects where she worked.
- Some projects were incorporated into State archives, while others are sustained by community efforts
- Some communities do not have permanent institutions - some indigenous communities for example rely on village leadership and village councils and as these changes and day to day priorities take over, it is easy to lose records, etc.
- Indigenous peoples and other peoples have relied on story telling, on looking at the items they use in daily lives to maintain connections to histories.
- The Ro(u)ted by Our Stories Collective is a collective (and on Instagram) of volunteers who embarked on recording oral histories of silenced voices. The experiences shared include:-
- the importance of care for the persons who shared their stories. The design of the archive includes features to manage access as some persons did not want their stories public
- designing for future as the collective recognised that in future other voices could be silenced
- accessing support to manage technical aspects of the digital archiving
- This article has more information TheRo(u)ted by Our Stories Collective. “Stories the Mangroves Hold: Reflections on Indo-Caribbean Feminist Community Archiving.” Journal of Indentureship and Its Legacies, vol. 1, no. 1, Pluto Journals, 2021, pp. 63–83, https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.13169/jofstudindentleg.1.1.0063.
- Many individuals have items which they have curated and are now concerned about what will happen to their collections. (One journalist shared that she has recordings of interviews done in her career and would like to give them somewhere) . Others spoke of concerns about giving to institutions which would then make the items inaccessible to the public.
Participants shared issues and concerns in the conversation. These included :-
- the issue of care for the subjects of inquiry especially for LGBTIQ+ and other communities who have been criminalised by the Caribbean states. The issues related to how to tell stories, on the importance of telling stories and making decisions about which stories should be told or not told and how to ensure that the people who own the stories are involved in the telling.
- there are environmental concerns related to archiving - in the energy needed to preserve of objects, paper and items ; and even in digital archiving in the energy and water needed to maintain computer servers etc . The case of the Grenada archives was shared where the archives have been closed since 2005. Other archives have limited access in the pandemic.
- the issue of permanence - how do we ensure that the archives are sustainable and permanent, given not only vulnerability in the Caribbean to climate issues, but also to funding etc. ? People recognised that digitisation does not mean that things will be stored forever, and that there might not always be backward compatible technology available
- How do we organise to do community archiving? Who is responsible for maintaining community archives?
- Participants discussed how archives are also held in practices such as dance, agriculture, food preparation, and in using public space. There was discussion about how to include archives in public spaces (the renaming of streets, the design of buildings and the inclusion of the names of people who worked on the buildings, murals, identification of 'spots' where important events happened (important not only to the state but also to individual communities).
Resources shared in the conversation
- Digital Archive of Indian Indentureship curated by Suzanne C Persaud
- Mukurtu Project
- Archival Education and Research Initiative
- Dean Arlen - Installation artist, Instagram
Participants felt the conversation was rich and that there was benefit in continuing to learn and share and collaborate.