Preserving and digitising the historic newspaper, The Barbados Mercury Gazette (EAP1086)

Aims and objectives

We propose the digitisation of the Barbados Mercury and Bridgetown Gazette, a newspaper printed bi-weekly in Barbados from 1783 to 1839. The newspaper is bound in volumes and housed at the Archives Department. It is the most complete set of the Gazette and the only copies known to exist. Other copies are on diazo microfilm which has deteriorated to where the files have been lost. As the only copies known to exist, and given the tropical climate, these materials are of both exceptional vulnerability and significance. This project will be a collaborative effort by a team of practitioners and scholars, based both in Barbados, as well as abroad. The project is led by principal applicant, Ms. Ingrid Thompson, Chief Archivist (Ag), Archives Department; co-applicant Ms. Amalia S. Levi, archivist and cultural heritage professional, who will be the project archivist and coordinator; and co-applicant Dr. Lissa Paul, 18th century scholar and professor at Brock University, Canada (please see relevant CVs of applicants). It is previewed that a Master’s student in Cultural Heritage studies will be hired as the assistant for this project. 

The project is envisioned as covering three phases: 1) Set-up and planning, 2) Digitisation, and 3) Wrap-up and dissemination. At the start of the project, there will be an opening event, and training workshop. Activities will spread over the course of two days. The first day, which will be open to the public, will include lectures that will aim to introduce the project to lay people; discuss the significance of the gazette for the study of the history of the island; outline the importance of large-scale digitisation projects and open access to GLAM collections for cultural heritage; and introduce other particular topics of relevance. The second day will consist of a morning and an afternoon session. The morning session will be by registration and will be geared towards professional archivists, librarians, or curators in the island, who would like to learn more about digitisation of holdings in their institutions; developing proposals and seeking funding; project management; content selection; digitisation specifications and metadata creation; and long-term preservation of digital collections. The afternoon session will be dedicated to the training of the project leader and assistant on the equipment and relevant processes. Colleagues from the Digital Library of the Caribbean have confirmed that they will be able to provide guidance on digitisation processes and requirements; help set up the scanning station; and train local personnel that will be staffing the project.

The Archives Department will allocate a room in its buildings for the set-up of a scanning station and work space for the project. It will also provide logistical support by appointing staff to help retrieve volumes from storage and carry to the conservation department, where each individual volume will be unbound. Pages will be brought to the scanning area and will be copied. After quality control and metadata creation, pages will be brought back to the conservation department to be rebound. Beyond digitisation, this process will offer basic conservation to these volumes, since it will replace deteriorating binding.

At the end of the project, an event will be organized to celebrate completion; discuss “lessons learned” and future possibilities. Copies will be sent to the British Library and dLOC. The project team will widely disseminate the project through appropriate means (such as social media, conference presentations, local press, scholarly articles, etc.). The people involved in this application are all excited at the possibilities that the project will open up. The newspaper is crucial for understanding Barbados’ 18th and 19th century history, particularly because these were formative years for the island. More particularly, the newspaper sheds light on the everyday life of a slaveholding society; Bussa’s 1816 rebellion; and the events that led to the abolition of the slavery on the island (1834). Digitisation of the newspaper would offer the opportunity to unearth an untold history of resistance by the enslaved people of the island in the early nineteenth century. In a digitised version of the paper it would be possible to bring these people into focus, to map clusters of resistance, for instance, and access other kinds of fine-grained data that could push the history of resistance farther back into the historical record. As Bussa’s 1816 rebellion made clear, an established network of resistance must have been in place and well-developed for the rebellion to have succeeded in shutting down the island.

The digitisation of the Barbados Mercury Gazette would contribute significantly to other projects, especially those by historians Hilary Beckles and David Marshall, dedicated to recovering the names and identities of the enslaved people whose contributions, courage and sacrifice are in danger of disappearing with the microfilms.Thus the importance of this project lies in the Endangered Archives Programme’s principal objective, namely to facilitate scholarship and research, by identifying this valuable pre-industrial resource, preserving and digitising it in order to make it available to international scholarship. Moreover, the digitisation of this newspaper will enable scholars using innovative methods (such as algorithmic criticism) to access a resource that had been out of reach previously. The digitisation of the Barbados Mercury Gazette will promote research on the history of Barbados, British colonial history, and the transatlantic circulation of information.

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