Creating a Digital Archive of Ecclesiastical Documents in the Siete Villas of Cuba
Following practices the PI has developed since 2005, Professor Gregorio Cano and graduate students would assist in the collection, digitization, creation of metadata, and preservation of some of the most important historical documents related to the African diaspora in the Western Hemisphere. This will generate new scholarship, democratize access to historical sources, and will create international partnerships between Cuban universities and UTA. The importance of this emerging relationship for the near future cannot be overstated. As the political rift between the United States and Cuba closes, there will be rich possibilities for joint research in a range of fields. By establishing this anchor in Cuba before it is more widely drawn into international networks, UTA will be ahead of almost all other American institutions. Beyond the field of History, these ties could be important for other departments dealing with digital technology including Political Science, Modern Languages, Anthropology/Sociology, Education, and Health Sciences, among others.
Cuba is the largest Caribbean island and was among the oldest slave societies in the New World. It was an early center of Spanish imperial expansion, a key trade hub, and an archetypal plantation society, using forced African and Asian labor to produce sugar, coffee, beef, tobacco and other commodities. These, in turn, fuelled the conquest and colonization of the Americas and contributed to the Industrial Revolution in Europe and beyond. Cuba remained a European colony longer than almost any other society in Latin America (until 1898) and contains some of the most complete and oldest documents in the hemisphere.
The rupture between the Cuban state and the Catholic Church since 1959 has impeded the preservation of these important papers. The withholding of state funds, paired with bleak economic conditions in general, and especially since the early 1990s, has left these documentary collections in deplorable conditions. High humidity levels, natural disasters such as hurricanes and floods, and general material scarcity compound the threats to these records. The worst economic circumstances in modern Cuban history have coincided with increased academic attention to the slave trade, adding further urgency to the preservation and dissemination of these sources. The collective work of historical research and writing on the slave trade will continue to generate groundbreaking revisions to our understanding of race, slavery, and global history; the loss of these documents would do irreparable damage to this important work.
This project contributes to the largest database of its kind. It has also led to several collaborative publications, conference papers, and professional presentations. The next scholarly papers/presentations are scheduled for the American Historical Association annual meeting in January 2016 and the Association of Caribbean Historians in June 2016. The PI hopes to include graduate students as co-Is in future publications.
Principal Investigator: David LaFevor, Assistant Professor, Latin American History
Co-Investigator: Ana Gregorio Cano, Assistant Professor, Modern Languages