I am happy to announce that we were awarded a 2017 grant through the Endangered Archives Programme by the British Library and Arcadia. The grant will support the digitization of the historic newspaper The Barbados Mercury Gazette.
This grant is truly an international collaborative effort and I cannot thank enough my wonderful colleagues: Ms. Ingrid Thompson, Chief Archivist, Barbados Archives Department; Dr. Lissa Paul, Brock University; and Dr. Laurie Taylor, University of Florida Libraries. They went truly beyond and above to help at every step. I have previously written in more detail about this collaboration.
The Barbados Mercury 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 largest slave revolt on the island in 1816, led by the African-born slave Bussa. Although the rebellion was quickly put down, it was the first of such large scale slave revolts in the West Indies that eventually led to the abolition of slavery in the British Empire. No archival records exist for Bussa, thus his life is undocumented up to the point of the uprising, so poignantly caught in the monument in his honor that stands as a collective image of the heroic rebels.
It is in fact this network of rebels and their patterns of resistance that Lissa first got a glimpse of in the runaway slave ads, while conducting her own research. It is our hope that the digitization of The Mercury will open up this crucial primary source to scholars for further research. Considering that historians find precious little on slaves in the archives, since their lives were rarely recorded, such ads offer a wealth of information, such as their names, what they looked like, their clothes, accents, distinguishing features, friends, families and skills.
While digitization of the newspaper is the primary goal of this project, generously funded by the grant, our wish is to be able to extract this information from the digitized images and make it available to scholars. We are curious to see how both close and distant reading might help reconstruct those lost lives.
We hope that this project will also open up further avenues for collaboration with experts in various disciplines. The Archives has invited colleagues from the Digital Library of the Caribbean for the set up of the equipment and to provide technical training. In order to explore possibilities for extracting data, we hope to be in touch with the team of the IMLS-funded Collections-as-data project and with digital humanists working with historical newspapers. Mostly, we hope that historians and other scholars studying the Atlantic world and slavery will enrich the digital by providing interpretation, context and links to other pertinent material.
We will document this project at every step and will regularly share our work.
Thank you again, British Library and Arcadia!