Digitisation of endangered African diaspora collections at the major archives of the province of Matanzas, Cuba (EAP184)

Aims and objectives

This project will be focused on four archives in Matanzas Province, Cuba, containing some of the most important collections on African slaves and their descendants in the Americas. These archives are: 1) Archivo Provincial de Matanzas, 2) Archivos Parroquiales de Matanzas, 3) Archivo Histórico Municipal de Cárdenas, 4) Archivo Histórico Municipal de Colón. At the archives, during a previous pilot project, approximately 48,000 files were identified as endangered, rich, under-utilised, and at-risk documents on Africans and persons of African descent. The aims of this project will be to digitise and list these documents.

The project also aims to continue the training of local staff at the targeted archives in such areas as manuscript preservation, archival management, manuscript digital photography, and creating manuscript catalogues and databases. These tasks will improve the knowledge and skills of local staff.

During the nineteenth century, Matanzas became the centre of Cuban sugar production, which influenced a high demand for slave labour. The territory became the major destination for African slaves in Cuba. The region's archives are very rich in all kinds of information on the African populations living in Matanzas from the early 16th to the end of the 19th century, including demographic statistics, information on ethnicity, resistance, occupations, property, economy of free and enslaved Africans.

During the pilot project, a detailed inventory on the physical condition of the documents was created. Almost all the documents and collections are suffering from severe mould, insect damage, iron gall ink corrosion, water damage, and fading. Most of the materials are stored in archival rooms with broken windows and with ceilings that are almost collapsing, thus the documents are exposed to wind and rain. Heat, humidity and dust are extremely high inside the rooms where the materials are kept.

These materials are unique and their condition perilous. Most of the collections are about to disappear, due to the extremely bad conditions in which they are deposited. Cuba's weather is hot and wet, which makes conservation a difficult task. Matanzas' archives lack financing and therefore do not have access to the necessary technology.

The reality is that the vast historical holdings of this region are deteriorating at an alarming rate. Nature and neglect are together creating an urgent need to rescue this important part of Cuban and slavery history. Due to the deteriorating conditions of the documents targeted by this project they must be digitised and preserved soon otherwise they will be lost forever.