Archival Collections

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Archival Collections

Manuscript collections and archival documentation for the study of African-American culture and history are extensive and located in all the countries of the African Diaspora. An overview of relevant collections cannot be limited to North America or repositories limited to the English language. African Americans came from various parts of western Africa, and some people even came from southeastern Africa. A consideration of these origins is essential in understanding the cultural and biological composition of the African-American population, and indirectly a survey of the available documentation on the origins of African Americans in Africa inevitably touches every part of the Americas and indeed Europe as well. A full understanding of the richness and complexity of the African background must consider the various contexts in which people of similar background found themselves, both in Africa and wherever they went in the Americas. The assumption here is that archival materials have to be examined in a global context, compatible with the aims and missions of various UNESCO initiatives, including the "Slave Route" Project and the Memories of the World Program. The dignity and humanity of Africans and their descendants require satisfactory programs of archival preservation and documentary accessibility.

Increasingly, primary source materials are accessible via the Internet and in other digitalized forms, although variations in copyright policy and other restrictions on use limit access in many cases. Hence a survey of available resources can only be a guide, not a complete list of materials, collections, or repositories. It was once said that Africa and its people had no history, and then it was said that large gaps in the past could not be filled because of a paucity of sources. In fact, however, the problem is that there are so many sources that there is a problem of accessibility and, indeed, of preservation. Not only are the sources voluminous, but they are found in every country of the African Diaspora, and in virtually every repository and library in Europe, the Americas, Africa, the Middle East, and even some places in Asia.

The formation of the African Diaspora was a global phenomenon, often tied to slavery, but not always. The associations between Africa and its population with Europe and the Islamic countries of the Middle East and North Africa predate the development of the slavery systems of the Americas. Africans and people of mixed African and European descent were present in the Americas from the beginning of European subjugation and colonization of all parts of the Americas, from Canada to Argentina. Moreover, the development of the African Diaspora included the forced and voluntary movement of Africans to southeast Asia, the Philippines and Indonesia. The forced settlement of convicted criminals in Australia included Africans and their descendants. While a focus on the Caribbean, Latin America and North America is warranted, the global

dimensions of African settlement and dispersal have to be remembered. Further, the archival sources for these components of the African Diaspora contain information on the dispersal of Africans everywhere. There are few places where the settlement of Africans and their descendants was not a part of the history of the modern world. The African Diaspora was a global population movement.

It has sometimes been suggested and even claimed that only minor or specific parts of archival holdings at the major archives in the Americas were related to issues of slavery and hence to the heritage of Africans and their descendants. In fact all archival holdings are potentially relevant, and in many cases it is impossible to distinguish materials that are specifically of interest to the study of the African Diaspora from general holdings of repositories. In summary, the archival materials that are crucial in the reconstruction of the history of Africans and their descendents in the Americas are voluminous and widely scattered. Moreover, knowledge of the extent of these archival holdings is increasing rapidly, raising issues of accessibility, which sometimes has become easier, but not always. Nonetheless, the quantity of documentation that is availablewith the expectation that much more material will become accessiblehas created problems associated with searching and otherwise identifying materials of interest on any specific topic. Major archival holdings exist in all the western European languages, especially Portuguese, Spanish, French, English, Dutch, German, Danish, Italian, and Latin, but also in Arabic and in several African languages. Moreover, the chronological depth of the documentation introduces methodological issues of interpreting the meanings of words, deciphering difficult handwriting and archaic vocabulary, and overcoming problems of damaged documentation.

African Americans came from several specific parts of Africa, including the western Sudan in the interior of Senegal and Sierra Leone, the coast of lower Guinea, from modern Ghana through Nigeria, and finally from the region of modern Angola and Congo. Hence the archives on these regions of Africa are essential in documenting the African-American experience. Major holdings are in Dakar, Senegal; Freetown, Sierra Leone; Accra, Ghana; and Luanda, Angola. The archives in Nigeria include the National Archives in Ibadan, Enugu, and Kaduna. The

National Archives of Angola are particularly noteworthy in terms of the antiquity of documentation, the quantity of information, and the difficulty of access because of the fragile condition of most documents. In all these cases, there are also major repositories with information in Europe and the Americas, especially Brazil and Cuba. Furthermore, the archival holdings in Mali, especially in Bamako and Timbuktu, are rich in Arabic source material, much of which is indigenous to West Africa and relating to the slave trade across the Sahara as well as to the Atlantic coast. Various missionary archives, especially the Church Missionary Society, also have extensive holdings that deal directly with issues of slavery.

Major archival holdings exist in every country in North and South America, and in the islands of the Caribbean. For Martinique, Trois-Ilets and Rivière-Pilote concentrate on the history of the Diaspora. The Archives départementales de la Martinique preserve documents and have initiated a program for the conservation and digitization of records on slaves and former slaves. In other former French colonies there are collections of registers of baptism and separate registers of the enslaved population. Although many of these registers have not survived, there are some for parish of Casse-Pilote (from 1789), Macouba (from 1687), and for the nineteenth century for Carbet, Trinité, and Sainte-Marie, preserved at Centre des Archives d'outre-mer, Aix-en-Provence (Archives nationales de France).

Some holdings, such as those of Jamaica and Barbados, are vast. Detailed materials on land transfers, inheritance, legal matters, maps of plantations, and other materials are well preserved in the National Archives in Spanish Town, the Island Records Office, the National Library of Jamaica, and the Goveia Library at the University of the West Indies. In other places, the holdings are mixed. In Trinidad, very little has survived, while in Tobago there are excellent early records but in very bad condition.

Archival holdings in Cuba are extensive, located in major archives in Havana, Matanzas, and Santiago, and also in numerous churches, the ecclesiastical sources of Matanzas, Havana, Regla, and Guanabacoa. The Cuban National Archives in Havana and in Matanzas have extensive holdings. In Puerto Rico there are at least three centers that focus on documentation, including Centro de Investigaciones Historicas, University of Puerto Rico, Archivo General de Puerto Rico and the Centro de Estudios del Caribe. Nueva Granada; selection of archival documents on slavery, Archivo de la Nación, Colombia, Sección Colonia, Negros y Esclavos. Materials are supplemented by archives in Spain, especially the Archives of the Indies in Seville and in other locations. Much of the available archival materials for Central America, where the African presence was important from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries, is available in digital form through the ProQuest Central American Archives Collection (15441821). The Instituto de Historia de Nicaragua y Centroamérica at the Universidad Centroamérica has undertaken the digitalization of materials on the Mosquito Shore of the Caribbean coast.

In Brazil, there are several major national archives, such as Arquivo Nacional in Rio de Janeiro, which is the largest archive in Brazil. The archive has a good collection on slavery and the slave trade, particularly in the nineteenth century after the relocation of the Portuguese royal family to Brazil in 1808. The archive also has material on the eighteenth century and most especially a large collection of emancipation documents. The Biblioteca Nacional, also in Rio de Janeiro, is especially rich on the eighteenth century, while the Arquivo Historico at Itamaraty has the papers of the Ministerio das Relacoes Exteriores of Brasil, which houses the records of the Mixed Commission for the Suppression of the Slave Trade. In addition all bishopric and archbishopric jurisdictions have ecclesiastical documents, those in Rio the Janeiro and Sao Paulo being especially important. Every state also has an archive, such as Arquivo Publico do Estado do Rio de Janeiro and Arquivo Publico do Estado da Bahia. Those archives have information of the state administration and also political and judicial documents on slave resistance and prisons. The numerous municipal archives also have historic information. Finally, the records of the Santa Casa de Misericordia contain information on members and charitable activities. Among the Portuguese archives, the Arquivo Ultramarino contains extensive materials on Brazil. Virtually every archive in Brazil, even in areas that were not as central to slave society, has information on Africans and their descendants. For example, there are some sixty-nine archives of various sizes in Maranhão in northeastern Brazil. While the Arquivo Público do Estado do Maranhão is in good shape, materials are stored in inadequate space, making it difficult to access documents. The conditions at the other archives vary enormously, many in very bad condition. Similarly there are ten archives in Belém, the capital of the State of Pará.

The major repositories in North America include every archive and important institution in the United States and Canada. The Schomburg Center, Howard University, the Carter Brown Library at Brown University, Amistad Research Centre at Tulane University, the Huntington Library, the Library of Congress, the National Archives of the United States, National Archives of Canada, and other repositories have substantial holdings and are accessible online. The Public Record Office in London, Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, Archives de Indias in Seville, among other repositories, have undertaken extensive digitization programs or allow digitization of documents and therefore expanded accessibility. The Public Record Office, for example, has recatalogued materials relating to the Caribbean for easier access. There are also substantial holdings in the Netherlands, Denmark, and elsewhere. These archives contain shipping records, records of slave sales, births, deaths, marriages, court records, baptismal records, missionary archives, and newspapers, including fugitive slave advertisements and slave sales. The UNESCO "Slave Route" Project and Memories of the World program have resulted in extensive archival preservation and identification. The British Library Program for Endangered Archives is also notable. Collections of oral data, including testimonies of the enslaved and formerly enslaved, contain extensive information. The WPA project in the United States is an important example.

Various databases have been developed to organize the extensive amount of documentation which can serve as useful tools in accessing primary materials. The Voyage database developed by David Eltis, David Richardson, Stephen Behrendt, and Herbert Klein has information on the archival sources for every known ship that transported enslaved Africans to the Americas. For a first approximation at a list of these sources, reference can be made to the 1999 published version of the database by Cambridge University Press. Biographical materials of enslaved Africans and their descendants are numerous, most especially for North America but also common in many parts of the diaspora, and information is being assembled in text format for all individuals who can be identified. This and other projects of data management and storage are the focus of the Harriet Tubman Resource Centre on the African Diaspora at York University (Canada) and the Wilberforce Institute for the Study of Slavery and Emancipation at University of Hull (United Kingdom). Data management also includes images of enslavement and the era of slavery, for which there are numerous websites that allow easy access to primary materials. A guide to primary materials can be found online at A Roadmap to African-American and Diversity Resources (ARAADR) (<>).

paul e. lovejoy (2005)