Topics of Artistic and Literary Archives of the Caribbean

Panel 2 ALA-ICA joint Conference, Mexico City, 27 November 2017, 4:30 pm, Topics of Artistic and Literary Archives of the Caribbean: Diasporas, Gender Politics, Hidden Archives, Languages, Large and Small Islands and the Digital Future, presented by the Section for Literary and Artistic Archives (SLA)

Moderator:
Sebastian Gurciullo (Public Record Office Victoria, Australia)

Participants:
Deborah Jenkins (ULP Archival Consultancy, U.K.)
David Sutton (SLA Chair, University of Reading, U.K.)
Heather Dean (University of Victoria, Canada)

Rapporteur:
Catherine Hobbs (Library and Archives Canada)

This conference session provided a multi-faceted view of literary and artistic archives of the Caribbean, their acquisition history and future prospects.

Our first speaker Heather Dean, building on Helena Leonce (Trinidad & Tobago), Cheryl Sylvester (Grenada) and Alison Donnell (U.K.), presented the acquisitions history and pressures for literary archives in the Caribbean during the latter half of the twentieth century.  Dean’s presentation linked the emergence of a rich vein of Caribbean literature to national independence achieved in Caribbean nations from the 1950’s to early 1970’s.  This movement also led to the establishment of national libraries, national archives and universities (particularly University of the West Indies campuses) across the region.  Central to the establishment of special collections was Dr. Kenneth Ramchand who led scholarship of Caribbean archives but also promoted acquisition of Caribbean literary archives in the home countries as institutions were being founded.  Global interest in Caribbean literary figures such as Derek Walcott and V.S. Naipaul has lead to competitive acquisition abroad, meaning that national repositories in the Caribbean now exist in a competitive cultural context.  Dean’s discussion also touched on the recovery of women’s voices and the interconnectedness between literature and other art forms such as dance and carnival.

Our second speaker Deborah Jenkins presented the archives linked to Black writing and publishing acquired by London repositories over the last three decades.  Jenkins elaborated the roles and collection emphases of the British Library and other active repositories, including The Black Cultural Archives (created in 1981 to address the imbalance in representation of Black people in Britain), the George Padmore Institute (established in 1991 to focus on the Black community of Caribbean, African and Asian descent in Britain and Europe) and London Metropolitan Archives.  Jenkins explored this growth of archival activities in a post-diasporic urban context where community ties and political action play a central role the literary activity.  She touched on the impact on these archives of the 1997-2007 cultural agenda in the U.K. and how these archives approach challenges of engagement and interaction.

Our final speaker David Sutton addressed recent developments in acquisition of Caribbean literary archives.  Sutton mentioned the key example of Cuba, the effect on archives of diasporic lives, the power of the market and the politics of location.  He addressed the role of U.S., Britain, Canada and France, in systematically collecting the archives of non-nationals, with a strong interest in Caribbean figures.  He presented the efforts of the Diasporic Literary Archives Network to address needs of migratory and split literary archives across the world, particularly around the politics of location and the possibilities of the digital.  He also detailed practical guidance provided to Caribbean repositories.  He shared recent success stories: the Monique Roffey papers now at UWI St Augustine and the Anthony C. Winkler papers at the National Library of Jamaica as well as the consolidation of the archives of Cuban writer/musicologist Alejo Carpentier from four separate repositories. Sutton suggested ways to elicit hidden archival threads (including women’s voices).  Finally, he addressed the ethical and practical considerations for dealing effectively with the politics of location including raising international awareness and respect for less wealthy nations, and the need for solidarity work with newer acquiring countries.

Thought points brought out from these discussions by Catherine Hobbs included:

  • the roles of art and literature in forming and maintaining culture
  • movements toward multiple diasporic movements in people’s lives creating more complex ideas of provenance and the politics of place
  • suppression and rediscovery of hidden women’s voices in macho cultural contexts
  • tensions inherent in post-colonial nations’ acquisitions policies around such cultural records (and the need to obviate tensions and interactions)
  • pressures of the global publishing economy and global scholarship on so-named “post-colonial literatures”
  • needs for archivists to intuit the appropriate place for these archives and consider innovative solutions drawing on the articulations of archives creators (concerning place and connections with other art forms).

Please feel free to contact the SLA Section Chair (David Sutton d.c.sutton@reading.ac.uk) if you would like further details on the discussion.

Posted on behalf of Catherine Hobbs

About Sebastian Gurciullo

Webmaster, Section on Literary and Artistic Archives, International Council on Archives
This entry was posted in International perspectives, News and events. Bookmark the permalink.

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