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ECDA | About
The Early Caribbean Digital Archive (ECDA) is a highly interactive digital scholarly lab for the collaborative research and study of pre-20th century Caribbean literature. The ECDA seeks to engage scholars and students in a shared, critical study of the textual, material, and cultural histories of the Caribbean by providing them innovative digital technologies and platforms for generating new and understudied knowledges of the Caribbean’s rich body of materials. Our approach to this digital archive solves major challenges facing scholars of Caribbean literature; currently no such pan-Caribbean digital or analogue archive of pre-20th century materials exists. Our site will foster a shared and informed engagement with the Caribbean and its literary, aesthetic, cultural, and political impact on the study of the pre-C20th century Atlantic world.The project will not only preserve original texts, but will also reframe the literary history of the early Caribbean as one where something new is preserved—voices beyond the imperial history of the Caribbean.
The Early Caribbean Digital Archive (ECDA) seeks to engage scholars and students in a shared critical study of the textual, material, and cultural histories of the Caribbean by providing them with innovative digital technologies and newly emerging platforms for generating knowledges of the Caribbean’s rich body of materials. The project began in 2011 out of a discussion held by The Early Caribbean Society (ECS) regarding the lack of public access to and institutional support of digital collections devoted exclusively to the collaborative study of the texts and cultural contexts of the pre-20th Century early Caribbean. This continued absence of a robust digital archive has largely been the result of the history of Empire and Colonialism in the Caribbean region, where the negative longstanding impacts of imperialist/colonialist practices is visible in the fragmentation and division of Caribbean print materials among archives in Europe, North America, and the Caribbean. Writings from the Caribbean offer critical perspectives of the broad movements of history and culture in the Atlantic world. In an effort to respond immediately the needs and imperatives of the wide range of scholars already engaged in generative, collaborative scholarly work in the interdisciplinary field of Caribbean studies, scholars at Northeastern University’s NULab for Texts, Maps, and Networks began building the ECDA in the spring of 2012.
Over the past year the ECDA has identified a corpus of digitized texts as well as implementing platforms and tools for performing analytics and visualization worengaging establishing key transnational, multi-institutional, and transdisciplinary partnerships based on growing support for the guiding initiatives and visions of the ECDA. In the past year the ECDA has partnered with the Digital Library of the Carribean (dLOC) and is housed at Northeastern’s NULab for Text, Maps, and Networks in the building of this digital text analytics research lab.
We argue the practice of digitizing and performing digital analyses of the materials of the Caribbean raises important questions about both digital humanities practices and methodologies as well as practical questions regarding the establishing of cross–cultural, transnational, multi-institutional, transdisciplinary digital humanities collaborative building partnerships. The ECDA | Omeka makes possible the compiling and transcription of primary source materials, innovative research possibilities for bibliographic and political histories of the site’s cataloged items, provocative developing and designing of curated exhibits, and a public and interactive platform for offering original research and analyses of the bibliographic, political, and cultural histories of these materials.
The ECDA has two primary related, overarching goals: the first is to uncover and make accessible a literary history of the Caribbean written or related by black, enslaved, creole, and/or colonized people. Although the first step in this process is through digitization, the ECDA is motivated by more than a digitization or cataloguing initiative. Instead, the project will enable users—both scholars in the interdisciplinary study of the Caribbean as well as undergraduate and graduate students— to viewthe materials as networks of related texts. Therefore, our second goal is to build and manage an open-access interface, what we are calling a digital text analytics lab, for providing interested publics access to both texts of the Caribbean and our analytical and visual tools.
Uncovering a literary history of the colonial Caribbean is crucial because there is currently a gap in archives (especially digital archives) devoted solely to pre-20th century Caribbean writing. It is quite difficult, for instance, to find full runs of eighteenth-century Caribbean newspapers (which were numerous) collected in a single archive: rather, many libraries hold scattered issues, but these issues are not brought together in any single location.
Further, national Caribbean archives (such as the National Library of Jamaica or the National Library of Haiti) do not have the financial resources to collect and/or digitize historical publications from their countries. The primary documents that tend to be studied about the colonial Caribbean often occlude those written or related by native, creole, black, and/or enslaved people. In turn, with a few exceptions, the story of the colonizer is the story that is told. With the ECDA archive and interface we can see, for example, not only how a text like John Stedman’s “The Narrative of a Five Years Expedition in Surinam” (1796) tells the first-person account of a Dutch soldier’s encounter of colonization and slavery, but we can also uncover the embedded slave narrative of his mistress Joanna, whose story and history is a vital part of the text. Although American slaves narratives, like Frederick Douglass’s or Harriet Jacobs’s iconic text, were published and disseminated widely, narratives written by enslaved Caribbeans are often told from within the pages of a travel narrative, recounted or represented by others like Stedman, or included as appendices to other narratives, like the slave narrative of Louis Asa-Asa that follows The History of Mary Prince: A West Indian Slave Narrative. Our collection will emphasize the multi-voicedness of the Caribbean and contribute to the scholarly study of the genre of “slave narrative” by allowing scholars to uncover many such experiences of slave life within the Caribbean. The ECDA is looking for ways to productively complicate ideas of authorship and representation within such texts. Embedded slave narratives aren’t normally given authorship or credit. In this way, we are not only preserving original texts, but reframing the literary history of the early Caribbean as one where something new is preserved—voices beyond the imperial history of the Caribbean.
Accordingly, an archive that brings together materials from the early Caribbean would be of tremendous value to scholars who work in this area: no such pan-Caribbean digital or analogue archive of pre-20th century materials now exists. However, beyond the work of simply collecting such texts in an accessible digital format, we propose to develop an innovative interface for the archive that will enable users not simply to access materials but to view such materials in relation to networks of related texts.