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  • Decolonizing the Caribbean Record: An Archives Reader ed. by Jeannette A. Bastian, John A. Aarons and Stanley Griffin
  • Patrick Bryan (bio)
Jeannette A. Bastian, John A. Aarons and Stanley Griffin, eds. Decolonizing the Caribbean Record: An Archives Reader. Sacramento, CA: Library Juice Press, 2018, xii + 828 pp. US$65.00. ISBN: 978-1-63400-059-8.

In his 1999 study, Writing West Indian Histories, B.W. Higman discusses briefly (within the larger context of Caribbean historiography) the growth of Caribbean archives as well as the role of Caribbean historians (especially at the University College of the West Indies/University of the West Indies) in promoting the development of Caribbean archives. Apart from Higman's study, the close and practical association between historians and archivists in the Caribbean has not been translated into a systematic discussion on the development of archives in the Caribbean. Decolonizing the Caribbean Record offers within its forty essays, the history, theory and practice of Caribbean archives from the point of view of archivists, of whom several are historians.

The essay by John Aarons and Sharon Alexander-Gooding provides a comprehensive overview of the growth of Caribbean Archives–including the British, French, Dutch and Spanish Caribbean, from the start of the twentieth century up to contemporary times. Other essays tell the stories of outstanding Caribbean archivists such as Clinton Black and John Aarons (Jamaica), Michael Chandler and Christine Matthews Rocheford (Barbados), Gail Saunders (Bahamas), and Hugh Payne (Guyana). Although Ken Ingram was officially a librarian rather than an archivist as such, his fruitful and patient work in accessing and repatriating overseas archives for Caribbean history, receives apt recognition in James Robertson's essay.

Other essays that focus on the post-1950s period take into consideration the role of metropolitan archivists in preserving documents of the colonial period, and the existence in situ of municipal or local government records. In the case of Surinam, the metropolitan [End Page 263] power kept the Surinamese records until 2010 when a custom-built archive in Surinam made it possible for the Surinamese archives to find a proper home in Surinam. The volume generally views the post-1950 period as most significant for the foundation of professional archives in the Caribbean.

The development of post-1950 Caribbean archives coincided with the expansion of historical writing by Caribbean authors and historians, who wrote for Caribbean people from a Caribbean perspective, long envisaged by C.L.R. James and Eric Williams. The professionalization and repatriation of archives in the post-1950s marched in step with movements for self-government and self-identification in the Caribbean. Caribbean archivists generally associated their work with nation-building (Verna Penn Moll, 127), which demonstrated specific inter-territorial nuances. In the British Caribbean, the political context of the 1950s and after was the gradual constitutional disengagement from the United Kingdom towards a new self-representation and cultural identity. In the case of Puerto Rico, the archives became an instrument of resistance to assimilation by the United States of America, and sometimes reinforcement of the island's Iberian heritage (Joel Blanco-Rivera and Marisol Ramos).

The essays also demonstrate some of the financial, technical and legal aspects of preservation: the shortage of resources, Caribbean climatic conditions, fires and natural disasters (which made necessary specific modes of preservation of documents), and the shortage of trained archivists and appropriately equipped buildings. The autonomy of archivists is limited by the national legal framework, by copyright and intellectual property rights and by the reality that "physical custody of material is usually separate from copyright ownership". There are also legal contradictions between, for example, the Access to Information Act and the Official Secrets Act.

Archivists have turned increasingly to new technology (audio-visual for example) for the recording of events in the daily life of ordinary people. They have also turned to private archives, an "untapped Treasure" (John Aarons, 431–58), primarily because they cover aspects of history that other types of records do not. Archivists also recognize ecclesiastical records as a major source of data for the writing of history. In his essay on private archives and the restrictions that go with them, Aarons mentions the acquisition of the papers of Louise...


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