24.01.2013 - Communication & Information Sector

Rescue project for Dutch archives in Guyana

Images of endangered records - © Nationaal Archief

The Dutch records in Guyana, registered as UNESCO Memory of the World in 2011, are in a very poor condition. Ink corrosion, insects and the tropical climate have made the documents very fragile over time. The Rescue Project of Dutch Records in Guyana is an example of how the UNESCO Memory of the World label can act as a catalyst for international cultural cooperation.

Guyana's mutual history with the Netherlands is little known. On 2 June 1621, the Dutch West India Company (DWIC) was granted a charter for a trade monopoly in the West Indies by the Dutch Republic and was given jurisdiction over North and South America, the Caribbean and West Africa. After the loss of 'Dutch Brazil' in 1654, sugar became the raison d'être of the European colonial enterprise in Guyana or the Wild Coast, the long expanse between Brazil and Venezuela.

Significant quantities of written heritage of the Dutch presence and colonial administration have been preserved in Guyana. Guyana has approximately 10 to 15 metres of Dutch archives from the 18th and 19th century (the exact amounts are still unknown). The Dutch records in Guyana are part of the DWIC archives. In several former DWIC countries (like Guyana) there is no or at best only little written information available for this early modern period. The uniqueness and universal value for mankind of the DWIC archives was officially recognized and listed on UNESCO’s Memory of the World international register in 2011.

Aware of the huge value of this archive and alarmed by the accounts of several researchers visiting Guyana to work on the Dutch archives, the Nationaal Archief (National Archives of the Netherlands) paid a visit to the National Archives of Guyana in May 2012 to see the condition of the records and to make a plan. Over time, ink corrosion, insects and the tropical climate have made the records very brittle and stained. The holdings have suffered deterioration resulting from inadequate storage facilities. If no action is taken, increasingly more of the records will turn illegible and fade into fragments.

The visit also made clear that there is a large need for capacity-building in the field of conservation in Guyana. Therefore the proposed Rescue project for Dutch Archives in Guyana not only aims to preserve the Dutch documents held at the National Archive of Guyana but also to equip it with the infrastructure and knowledge to manage a pre-digitization conservation project.

Activities will focus mainly on preservation and creating digital access to these archives. The ultimate goal of the project is to make the Dutch records in Guyana accessible to a global community of researchers and to whomever is interested in Guyanese/Dutch 'mutual history'.

Together with the National Archives of Guyana, the Nationaal Archief will actively search for (complimentary) financial aid for training, consultancy and acquisition of digitization equipment. Neighbouring partner and holder of some of the DWIC, the Nationaal Archief van Suriname (National Archives of Suriname) has offered its assistance and advice. 

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