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User Guide to the Barbados Ephemera Collection

User Guide to the Barbados Ephemera Collection

RECOGNIZING THE TENSION BETWEEN COLONIAL LEGACIES AND POSTCOLONIAL REALITIES

The Barbados ephemera collection is now fully available online thanks to a grant from the Modern Endangered Archives Program. The majority of materials in this collection cover the decades following the Independence of Barbados (1966) and the subsequent transition from colony to independent state.

Online accessibility to this collection opens new pathways for the study of 20th and 21st century Barbadian history and culture, as well as those of the wider Caribbean region. Usually, digitization initiatives in the Caribbean focus on colonial materials due to their fragile nature, importance to scholarship, and environmental conditions. As a result, more recent collections remain inaccessible because they have not been processed and lack an existing catalogue or inventory. Even recent collections however are endangered and vulnerable to disasters, as proven by the 2018 fire of St. Lucia’ Folk Research Center.

As such, it is even more exciting to see over 1034 objects now online as part of the Barbados ephemera collection. The bulk of this material follows the country’s Independence in 1966 and its first decades as an independent nation (1970-1990). Of particular importance are material (such as brochures for cultural events) that reflect the increasing national consciousness and pride, and the transition from colonial world views to pride in one’s own culture. For example, numerous brochures and booklets of theatrical or dance performances offer a good coverage of the vibrant theatrical scene in Barbados particularly as the country transitioned from being a colony in the 1950s to more recent decades. Comparing the themes of the plays across decades offers many interesting insights: from plays catering to the (mostly white) upper class in the 1950s to plays in the 1970s reflecting the Black Power movement and giving prominence to the Barbadian “nation language” (Kamau Brathwaite); from plays centering canonical authors (e.g. Shakespeare) to plays promoting local playwrights; and from plays as faithful productions of the original to adaptations that made them more appealing to local audiences.

Items in this collection, now openly available for use by scholars, teachers, Barbadians and others around the world, reflect and document the lives of ordinary people beyond elite voices at a foundational period in the history of Barbados. The release of this collection is of particular importance since it coincides with Barbados’ transition to a constitutional republic as of November 30, 2021. This ends 55 years of constitutional monarchy with the Queen of England as its head of state (since Independence in 1966), and nearly 400 years of association with Great Britain (since the colonization of Barbados in 1627). While this collection is specific to the history of Barbados, the items reflect broader global movements of the 20th century, including civil rights struggles, women’s rights, workers’ and other social movements, identity formation, political aspirations and realities.

Having the collection available online as a whole allows researchers to approach it comparatively. Engaging with the collection, users will realize how entrenched colonialism is in the post-colony. In fact, ‘reading’ the collection between the lines, the tension between the postcolonial reality with colonial legacies is palpable, and at times cringe-worthy, even offensive. This is something that users should keep in mind when using the collection. Furthermore, users should not browse material for what they are, but should ‘read’ them against the grain. Even ‘simple’ brochures of events or performances can reveal the struggle and social activism of the wider population who did not see themselves reflected in or represented by elite productions. In Derek Walcott’s words in the prologue for the play TI-Jean and his brothers, “we present to others a deceptive simplicity that they may dismiss as provincial, primitive, childish, but which is in truth a radical innocence.”

We encourage you to explore these ideas in the collection by browsing all objects or by reading these two thematic guides to the collection.

The project was executed following the post-custodial archives model, and the physical collection is housed at the Barbados Department of Archives. Digitization of this collection was performed on-site by the non-profit HeritEdge Connection, with the kind permission of Chief Archivist Ingrid Thompson. The digitization team consisted of project archivist, Amalia S. Levi, and project assistants, Rechanna Carrington and Ebony Spencer.

Go back: Independence and Beyond: Ephemera from the Barbados Department of Archives >