Building our partnership with the University of the West Indies

This International Archives Day we celebrate the work of our colleagues at the University of the West Indies at their Cave Hill Campus.

In May we spent a week with them learning about the archive and records systems in the beautiful island nation of Barbados.  We worked with Halcyon Wiltshire Busby and her colleagues to explore ways our services might work together to support the goals of the Glasgow Caribbean Centre for Development Research

The Centre was established in 2019 when an historic Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) committing the two universities to work together was signed in Kingston, Jamaica on 31 July and in Glasgow on 23 August 2019. The MoU was one of a series of recommendations that emerged from a report, ‘Slavery, Abolition and the University of Glasgow‘, which looked closely at the University Archive to reveal the institutional links with historical slavery.

Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli and Professor Sir Hilary Beckles at the Glasgow signing of the MoU

Our relationship with the team at UWI began in 2018 at meetings of the ICA Section on University and Research Institutions in Spain and Scotland. In addition to meeting old friends and new colleagues, our goals for the visit were to:

  • consider what an information governance framework for our shared Glasgow Caribbean Centre for Development Research might look like and how we might look to secure its archival legacy
  • discuss the potential scope of shared archival and records services for our universities joint Masters in Reparatory Justice
  • understand something of the wider heritage collections environment in Barbados and the role of the University Archivists in that environment
  • identify ways in which the University of Glasgow collections might be used to support Humanities Research in Barbados and the wider Caribbean Community.
Sharon Alexander Gooding (UWI Cave Hill), Professor Frank Coton (University of Glasgow), and Sonia Black (UWI Mona) at graduation in Glasgow, Summer 2019

The Cave Hill team’s records management service is particularly impressive.  Operating an electronic document & records management system for over 25 years, the team, its policies, and its procedures are well embedded within UWI Cave Hill’s administration.  This work ensures that the records of the campus’s management and administration are well-maintained and will be ready for processing through a digital preservation system when the time comes for them to become archives.  As the Cave Hill campus approaches its 60th anniversary, and the University of the West Indies its 75th, the value of the service and its collections as a corporate heritage resource is being more fully recognised. It took us over 500 years to get to that point, by which time the information governance regimes were well entrenched so we have a lot to learn from the methods in place at Cave Hill.

Complementing the focus on administrative record keeping, the Campus Archivist works in partnership with the Library and the wider Barbados cultural heritage sector to document and make Bajan history and culture more accessible for academic research. On the campus itself there is a large amount of collecting activity for the University, the nation and the wider Caribbean.  The Campus Archive Program manages and provides access to the archives of the Federation of the West Indies and of the British West Indian Airlines.  Within the Sidney Martin Library, the personal papers of Dame Ruth Nita Barrow, former Governor General of Barbados, and Dame Mary Eugenia Charles, former Prime Minister of Dominica are available. The exciting initiatives that are coming out of History at UWI made us think of the beginnings of the Scottish Business Archive and the Scottish Theatre Archive so there are many possible conversations to be had in coming years. The UWI Cave Hill Archivists evidently have an important part to play in the development of the national infrastructure.

During our visit we met with teams at the Barbados Department of Archives and the Barbados Museum and Historical Society.  These two services manage and provide access to a significant portion of Barbados’ archival record; government, organisational, and personal records.  The Department of Archives’ in-house facilities for the large-scale conservation, digitisation, and indexing of records were, in our opinion, world class and we know a lot of academics at the University of Glasgow who will be excited to see the results of their endeavors. Work on the construction of their new conservation labs was nearing completion, and it was interesting to hear about plans to develop a new garden space within the grounds to support the wellbeing of its researchers and staff dealing with the emotions involved in accessing archives detailing the legacy of slavery inflicted by the colonial authorities. 

Barbados Department of Archives
Barbados Museum & Historical Society

At the Barbados Museum & Historical Society we saw a range of their exhibition spaces, including their new, interactive, children’s gallery and their latest Road to Republic exhibition. At the Shilstone Memorial Library the team provides access to a wide range of archives, manuscripts and library research collections.Their expert knowledge has been built up over many years of excellent service.  There are clear overlaps with our collections relating to the sugar machinery industry and we hope to continue the conversation and find ways to cross reference the collections to support research on the history of Barbados.

The drive and vision of the information management and heritage professionals we met in Barbados was impressive. We’re now looking forward to finding practical ways to work together for the benefit of our user communities. Improving access to collections which can provide new insights into the history and heritage of Barbados, the wider Caribbean, and Scotland’s part in the British Empire is in all our interests. As archivists we know very well the important role of understanding the past to allow us to move forward together.

Moira Rankin & Clare Paterson

Senior Archivists, Archives & Special Collections

Morgan Lewis Sugar Mill at St Andrew, Barbados’ last windmill used for sugar production.


Categories: Archives and Special Collections, Library

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