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  • Decolonizing the Caribbean Record: An archives reader ed. by Jeannette A. Bastian, John A. Aarons and Stanley H. Griffin
  • Kristy Warren
Decolonizing the Caribbean Record: An archives reader
Edited by Jeannette A. Bastian, John A. Aarons and Stanley H. Griffin. Sacramento, California: Litwin, 2018.

In Decolonizing the Caribbean Record: An archives reader, editors Jeannette A. Bastian, John A. Aarons and Stanley H. Griffin have assembled authors versed in archival practice and theory to unsettle normative views held concerning archives by considering the range of sources available in the region for a wide audience including archivists, researchers and students. This includes sources often seen as marginal to the written record—which is dominated by colonial and government collections—such as oral testimony, sound recordings and creative design. This important project connects to wider current efforts to decolonise both “the mind” and physical spaces within formerly colonised societies to further the goal of “undoing colonialism” by excavating and reclaiming Caribbean histories from still-pervasive “colonial ideologies.” The structure of the volume shows both past and present successes as well as the challenges involved in attempting to continue the decolonial process. In doing so, the volume reminds us that decolonisation is not something that happens in one moment and then is solved; rather it is an ongoing process and must include the use and critique of recordkeeping and archival practices.

In forty chapters organised into five sections, the Reader comprehensively contests the silences inherent in the public record, which was created to facilitate colonial rule and therefore largely excludes voices of the enslaved, the indentured and their descendants—a silence replicated in much work on Caribbean histories—and exacerbated by the fact that many records were removed from their places of production to overseas sites of European colonial administration. That most of the writers are from the Caribbean is key to the assertion that the volume is an attempt to reclaim the documents, objects and sound records to reconfigure the region’s past as part of decolonising processes. It does this in a multi- and interdisciplinary way. Most contributors have both archival training/experience and knowledge of the region’s history, heritage, archaeology, culture and literature. Additionally, the Reader provides examples of how recordkeeping and archival practice are a key part of the process of decolonising Caribbean societies by underpinning good governance and providing access to a wide range of collections for analysis and interpretation.

In his foreword, Professor Emeritus Woodville Marshall provides a framework through which to approach this wide-ranging volume and emphasises that its value is that it “tells history”: specifically, a history of how archivists in the Caribbean worked to ensure official records concerning the Caribbean past are held in and accessible to the region. In Part 1 the Reader engages the links between archives and the creation of nation states. Recordkeeping practices are explored in Part 2 through pieces that give cases concerning practice and regulations that archivists need to know in order to work within global, regional and governmental policies and legislation. Part 3 turns to the importance of access to, use of, and community engagement with Caribbean archives.

This volume is part of a Caribbean tradition recognising that the past cannot be constructed through government records alone. This is shown in the introduction where the editors draw on not only the work of traditional archival practice and history but that of Barbadian poet and educator Kamau Brathwaite and St. Lucian poet and artist Derek Walcott in order to define what is needed to write Caribbean histories. It is also seen in the examination of private archives and community outreach in Part 3. The value of community as both the producer and consumer of archival material can best be seen in Part 4, which covers a range of archival “forms and formats.” Here, the definition of archives is broadened beyond the paper sources explored in the first three sections. These include a range of community collections and relics of the past that encompass oral testimonies, monuments, music and other sound recordings and text. It is also the longest section of the Reader.

The Reader’s final section (Part 5) is concerned with diaspora archives, including...


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