The 2017 conference of the Association of Caribbean University, Research and Institutional Libraries took place in Puerto Rico. This year’s theme was “Multidisciplinary Research in the Caribbean.”
Together with Dr. Lissa Paul, Professor at Brock University, and Dr. Laurie Taylor, Digital Scholarship Librarian at the University of Florida, I presented as part of a panel titled “Collaboration Across Disciplines to Make a Path Where None Existed.” You can read the abstract here.
Our panel was the result of a series of auspicious coincidences and a prime example of collaboration at every step of the way. It also exemplified many of the themes of the ACURIL 2017 conference, namely knowledge production, regional and international aspects, capacity building, collaboration and, most of all, interdisciplinary research.
In fact, our panel is an example of a continuum that actually evolved in the inverse order: it is an end that at the same time a mid-way point, and a start. The panel itself is the culmination, the concrete result, of a collaboration that started in November 2016, when we put in a preliminary application for an Endangered Archives Programme grant. At the same time, it is situated mid-way at a point where we are awaiting for the results of our detailed application. As such, it has the potential to signal the start of a wonderful project.
In her presentation, “Digitizing the Barbados Mercury Gazette, and how “Connectors” Make Projects Work,” Lissa discussed how our collaboration was an example of “the strength of weak ties” (Granovetter, 1973). She argued that what made this collaboration possible was dLOC (the Digital Library of the Caribbean) personified by Laurie, calling dLOC a “super connector” (per M. Gladwell’s concept of “connectors” (2000)).
In her presentation, “Dream Machines: Critical Connections with GLAMR ,” Laurie discussed collaborations and connections among GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums, Repositories) and Scholars facilitated by dLOC.
In my presentation, “Digitizing the Barbados Mercury Gazette: From a Newspaper Collection to Data about the Enslaved,” I discussed archival silences in the case of marginalized populations and the opportunities that the digitization of the gazette offers.
I started out by discussing the idea of serendipity in collaborations. Quite often we do not choose a project, but instead it seems the project chooses us. Every coalition of people is inherently a breeding ground, just like “every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it,” as Michelangelo said. A collaboration is then an artistic endeavor–the art of making something where nothing existed before, which was the whole point of the panel.
Our collaboration happened mainly due to geographic serendipity: we all happened to coalesce in/around Barbados. It all started with Lissa’s “dogged persistence” (as described by her spouse; and a virtue when conducting archival work!) tracing Eliza Fenwick in archives all over the world, and using the Mercury Gazette to reconstruct Eliza’s life during her sojourn in Barbados. Lissa soon became aware of the runaway slave ads interspersed in the pages of the Gazette and was intrigued by their content and language that revealed the normalcy of an ugly, colonial reality. Parallel to Lissa’s serendipitous scholarly journey, Laurie was in her own mission through the Caribbean to create collaborations for digital scholarship. And fortuitously so, I happened to be finishing an archival digitization project in Barbados, a stop in Laurie’s outreach journey. How I came to be in Barbados in the first place is a whole other journey!
The second part of my presentation focused on the ways the digitization of the Barbados Mercury can facilitate new forms of scholarship on the enslaved. I discussed how the “collections-as-data” approach can overcome limitations in archival practices that end up locking marginalized populations out of the archives and create gaps and silences in the historical record.
I will discuss this more in length at a later time once an EAP grant announcement is made.