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UGA to collaborate on Haitian library conservation project

Alan Flurry

History faculty member Jennifer Palmer, along with Julia Gaffield of Georgia State University and Conservateur-en-Chef of the Bibliothèque Hatïenne des Pères du Saint-Esprit Patrick Tardieu, will collaborate on a project to digitize materials printed before 1820 during the colonial, revolutionary, and early independence periods in Saint-Domingue (now Haiti). The materials are housed at the Bibliothèque hatïenne des Pères du Saint-Esprit, the oldest library in Haiti, and are at risk of deterioration or loss due to the significant damage sustained by the library and its collections during the 2010 earthquake.

The project, “Endangered Colonial Imprints in the Bibliothèque hatïenne des Pères du Saint-Esprit: The Archives Décoloniales of the Age of Revolutions,” is one of the 2019 Digital Collection Fellowships funded by the Omohundro Institute (OI) awarded to three projects, each a collaboration between historians of early America and a special collections library or archive. Each project was awarded $5000, the maximum amount possible. 

"The Bibliothèque hatïenne des Pères du Saint-Esprit (BHPSE) includes unique documents printed in Saint-Domingue from 1764-1814, the first fifty years in which a printing press was on the island," said Palmer, an associate professor in the department of history. "The library was destroyed during the 2010 earthquake, although a heroic team of volunteers erected a scaffold and managed to save the collection just before the building collapsed. The library has been closed since 2010."  

The team anticipates that from 160-250 printed items will be conserved then scanned, cataloged, and uploaded as part of the project.

"It is essential to preserve these documents and make them accessible to the general public, as they are an important part of the history of Haiti, the Caribbean, and the Atlantic World," Palmer said. "They also shed light on the history of slavery and the process of nation-building during the Age of Revolutions. Our project will support the digitization of this print collection, which comes from the period of Haiti’s transition from a colony to a nation, including early printed books, laws passed by Toussaint Louverture, and records of controversy between Louverture and his rival André Rigaud."

Once digitized, the documents will be made freely available to all on the web site  "We anticipate that they will be useful to researchers, teachers, and students around the world.  We also hope that accessibility to these documents will encourage people outside of Haiti to learn more about Haitian history," Palmer said.  

The Omohundro Institute is an independent research organization sponsored by the College of William & Mary. The fellowships are part of the OI’s Lapidus Initiative, a series of programs designed to promote the creative use of digital tools and materials for scholarly projects.

Image: Julia Gaffield, left, and Jennifer Palmer.

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