Early Caribbean Digital Archive
Reviewed by: Asma N. and Ostap K.
Review started: February 24, 2021
Review finished: April 25, 2021
Data and Sources
- Early Caribbean Digital Archive (ECDA) is publicly available archive for accessing, researching, and contributing pre-20th-century Caribbean archival materials
- Started by Nicole Aljoe and Elizabeth Maddock Dillon in 2017
- Aljoe and Dillon were inspired by a symposium on Early Caribbean Society. They wrote and received an interdisciplinary program development seed grant from Northeastern University to create a digital archive of early colonial Caribbean texts.
- ECDA is also a project of Northeastern University’s NULab for texts, maps, and networks; supported by the Digital Scholarship Group
- Its project collaborators include the Digital Library of the Caribbean (dLOC); John Carter Brown Library (Brown University); and Slavery Images, a public scholarship resource that visualizes the African Slave Trade and life-after in a colonial context.
- 57 early Caribbean texts, including novels, travel narratives, natural histories, colonial documentation, Obeah narratives, and Slave narratives
- ECDA outlines their recombinatory method as “recovery” to organize and place different text in relation to others on a given topi
- 30 out of 57 archival items are prefaced by scholarly introductions providing useful information about the production and reception history of the texts and their significance
- ECDA is looking for contributions: you can suggest or contribute archival materials, author a scholarly introduction, or curate an ECDA exhibition
- ECDA consists of pre-20th-century Caribbean texts, maps, and images including different types of documentary prose (travel narratives, oral histories, diaries), fiction, and poetry
- Their recombinatory method is a decolonial practice that addresses the archive’s historical role and helps them to avoid a monolithic presentation about the Caribbean
- It is divided into the following parts: About, Archive, Classroom, Exhibits, and Blog
Digital Tools Used to Build It
- Created using CERES: Exhibit Toolkit
- Partnership with Internet Archive, HathiTrust, Google Books, and Documenting the American South
- Site is in English
- Archive materials are in multiple languages, though you cannot search by language
Relationships in the archive are key to the founders of the Early Caribbean Digital Archive (ECDA), Nicole Aljoe and Elizabeth Maddock Dillon. In 2017, Aljoe and Maddock received a grant to start their archive on early colonial Caribbean texts such as images of artifacts, slave narratives, and related literature on the period. The resources are diverse, and the site is an inviting platform for un/affiliated patrons interested in accessing institutional data on the topic. Through its recombinatory archival methodology, Aljoe and Maddock allow for different modes of text to be in relationship, which expand the boundaries of an archive and the oral history of the colonized Caribbean. This is the ECDA’s primary mission.
The recombinatory methodology is contingent on relationships to information that mirrors that of computer code. The ECDA decolonizes our understanding by decentralizing power—or a predominant archival form of it—through different recombinations of information (in relationship to a theme, location, etc.) and its use of technological pathways that enable this work. Recombinations include diverse and previously unconsidered data points (such as accounts and materials) that provide a holistic narrative of the colonial Caribbean, which is apart from how it’s been represented. This address of the archive, and the power given to it by supremacist agendas to determine what is (and is not) knowledge and immaterial, is significant. This effort bolsters the archive as a site where decolonial methods are needed; Aljoe and Maddock ask for the user to consider it within and outside the context of the ECDA.
The description and intent behind the method’s purpose was brilliant; however, the systematization of it slightly pales in comparison. Information falls into columns (a possible method of Tidy Data) on the archive and across its tabulations, but it’s hard to find the pulse on what’s lively and ongoing and completed on the ECDA’s website. The wireframes felt dated beside their content and mission, and it contributed to its atemporality as well, which can be conflated as inactive. The wireframes favor that of a general WordPress that work well in settings of coursework (displaying and organizing information), and that may be a nod to its pedagogical roots. However, the ECDA would benefit from user experience development that optimizes system directory options with visual aids, and that include modalities like viewers that better synthesize different data points so relationships are apparent.
None of this subtracts from the value of the archive or its mission, but it doesn’t enhance them enough. Overall, the user should consider that the ECDA’s approach to recombination still relies on the user’s considerations for what data may be related or in conversation with another data point across tabulations and collections. This may be good in the long term for researchers (who are already obligated to longitudinal study), but the unaffiliated public unaccustomed to this method might still perceive this as a limitation on their access.
It is an interesting and valuable attempt to bring together a selection of materials regarding one place and time—in this particular case, the Caribbean. Personally, we see that anyone interested, first of all, in digital humanities can enrich from this resource: the way it is constructed may serve as one of the possible examples for any similar projects in the future. More specifically, the resource seems to be very flexible in terms of inviting and becoming a platform for people interested in the topic, and one does not have to be officially affiliated with any institution. The second category of people who might find this resource beneficial are those interested in the Caribbean in the broadest sense. By browsing the books and other sorts of printed materials representing various periods and available in the Archive section on this platform one can delve into a world unfolding in front of them. Brought together, this array of materials does look like a place that reminds one of a collection that was thoughtfully curated, although these materials are pretty wide in their themes and scope.
On platforms like this one, we think it’s really helpful to know if this is an ongoing project and whether the readers are dealing with something that is being constantly updated and therefore should expect materials to be added. This detail may bring new audiences in since viewers would know that the platform is in its phase of development and unseen items might be available for perusal. (On the Decolonizing the Archive page, seeing that the option bibliography is coming soon, we may assume that this is a project that is going on now.)