Press conference on the creation of the Barbados Heritage District featuring Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley. (PMO)

The digitisation of millions of pages of historical documents and records, dating as far back as 1635 in the Archives Department, will position it to serve the needs of its clients.

Chief Archivist, Ingrid Thompson, made this assertion today, while speaking during a press conference at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre to give an update on the Reclaiming Our Atlantic Destiny Project (ROAD) Project”, and plans for the Newton Enslaved Burial Ground.

She stated that providing digital records would “set the foundation” for the department to introduce a suite of new revenue generating opportunities for Barbadians to benefit from.

Emphasising that it had the second largest collection of records within the hemisphere under the British transatlantic slavery period, Ms. Thompson told her audience that through those records researchers and others would get an accurate historical account of the people who came before us through forced migration. Those accounts, she noted, would also provide a connection for future generations to Barbados’ history and lessons of the past.

“These records and stories to be told from them form the basis of the several projects which you have been hearing of today. These stories bear so much relevance not only to Barbadians throughout the diaspora, but to so many millions throughout the global community with whom we have so many connections and shared experiences.”

The Chief Archivist continued: “This Archives [Department] preserves the memory of our country, and the journey of our ancestors from their several destinations to and from Barbados. We will digitise these invaluable national assets in an effort to ensure we are able to properly protect nearly 400 years of Barbados’ documented history. We know that any loss will have significant local ramifications and given the critical relevance of Barbados’ experiences to world history, the effects will also be felt globally.  Digitisation positions the Archives Department to better serve the needs and demands of its increasingly diverse and digitally oriented clients.”

Ms. Thompson expressed the hope that as the records unearthed aspects of our history, it would also raise the national consciousness among the population on the heels of the island’s Republic celebrations. 

Deputy Director of the Barbados Museum and Historical Society, Kevin Farmer, speaking of the historical significance of the Newton Burial Ground during a press conference today. (PMO)

She thanked Minister with responsibility for Culture and National Development, John King; Permanent Secretary, Jehu Wiltshire, and the staff of the Archives Department for devising ways to use the archival documents for the benefit of all. 

Meanwhile, Deputy Director of the Barbados Museum and Historical Society, Kevin Farmer, spoke of the historical significance of the Newton Burial Ground, which was created in 1660, and the importance of preserving it.  

He reasoned that the Newton Burial Ground was the cemetery for the slaves who worked at the plantation. With the displacement of slaves at Emancipation, their sites for villages and burial grounds “underwent a system of erasure”.

Mr. Farmer told his audience that the remnants were recovered in 1970 through the oral history of a descendent, who spoke to researcher Jerome Handler and Frederick Lang.

He added: “Newton Burial Ground, as excavated, is the only excavated communal enslaved burial ground used by a singular plantation in this hemisphere. The rarity of the site’s authenticity and integrity is unparalleled. Its significance resides in how it memorialises us, our ancestors in and outside of our island, wherever they are in the diaspora.”

The Deputy Director continued: “It allows us a space to pay homage to our ancestors to acknowledge their sacrifice as part of any vision system of forced migration that changed the world, and enduring their legacy for future generations is of critical importance to the continued construction of national identity in this age of Republic.”

He thanked all those who assisted in the journey over the last 40 years, including the Ward Family for donating the Burial Ground, and museum and government officials.

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