Let’s keep our archives alive

Terrence Honoré -
Terrence Honoré -


WHAT IS THE connection between retention of records and the progress of our nation? It’s a key consideration given the important roles of history and archives in the development of every country. The question is whether adequate attention is being paid to preparation and preservation of archives in Trinidad and Tobago.

Archives involve recording and archiving information for future reference. They have value to any nation as they provide evidence of activities which occurred in the past, they tell stories, document incidents, and identify justifications for decisions and actions. They provide an important reference that is of cultural, historical or evidential importance to our present decisions. Our archives are like windows to the past that help us to make decisions in the present.

Dr Eric Williams in his life’s work emphasised the importance of documenting the history of our nation. He supported the convening of the Historical Society of Trinidad and Tobago, an idea which seemed to have been forgotten along the way. His legacy in this regard has been disrespected and the importance of history and archives mostly discarded.

In a recent conversation with a close friend, he was dismissive about the need to keep records, or collect archival information, or protect elements of the past. In his view, like many nationals, it's a waste of time to go back in time…to collect old things when the new things are right before us.

His position reflects the degree of miseducation in our society that has schooled many of us to like only new things, foreign things and to discard the old, yet important things. The absence of this enlightenment in our school curriculum is detrimental to our existence. A nation that fails to preserve its past is a nation that has lost its way without knowing it.

We have followed a line of reasoning that has taken us away for the reality of the importance of knowing the past and teaching it to our children. The core issue is the gap in the curriculum that has left us with a lack of appreciation of our history. Along the way, we lost important connections to our natural heritage. Our nation has evolved with limited reference to our previous stages with all their considerations.

Again, we must remember the deep passion that our leaders like Williams had for our history. His concern created his legacy, as he sought independence from the shackles of colonialism. He spoke volumes about where we are as a people and the direction we should be taking as a nation.

Today what we face is not a new dilemma, it's an issue that has plagued us for many years. We have come this far, but we have left the past behind, and failed to preserve much of the legacies left by those who went before us, leaders who gave us a foundation on which to build our nation. We can’t continue to pull down the pillars of our nation’s historical architecture and condemn our past to the dust.

But the question is asked: What do we gain if we retain symbols and items from our past? It is simply that we must seek to preserve what we have so that those who follow will know and use the wisdom to grow. We must distil what we can from the past and not be only intoxicated by the present.

Therein lies the challenge – that we seem to lack the willingness to do what other developed countries perform as a norm. They are particular to preserve every element of their past. While we continue to neglect our history, preferring to cherish only what we have in front of us, instead of appreciating what has been experienced before.

We modelled our recording system on British and North American models but have failed to follow on to emulate their meticulous approach to archiving museums and such like. Our methods have been lacking in terms of retention and storage to make documents available at a national level.

However, I do commend the ongoing efforts of our National Archives. I first visited the institution back in the 1980s as a young history student from UWI. I have witnessed its improvements over the years as the vanguard organisation for the discipline. Its few dedicated members of staff continue to be committed to the ongoing effort of digital archiving, creating a repository for research and provision of vital data. But its efforts need to benefit from a greater commitment by the powers that be.

To neglect our archival responsibility is a denial of the substance of our existence as a people. We have evolved into being a party-hearty people who seem to care little about where we came from, where we are and even less of where we are going as a nation. Only to know when the next big party is planned.

The way of celebration is a given. And yes, we have been dancing in the sun since "massa day done," but that must be balanced and tempered with the knowledge of what we have learned along the way.

The recently established Ministry of Digital Transformation and other agencies should include digital archiving to their operational framework. Surely, one National Museum and Art Gallery in the country is unsatisfactory.

We are seriously struggling in this regard. We are waiting patiently on the pan museum. But still no permanent Carnival museum to highlight our artistic theatre for tourists to see. Not even a dedicated museum heralding the history of oil exploration.

Its pathetic how we pocketed all the money but failed to have very much to show the next generation. Even the much-heralded sugar museum in Caroni is slowly rusting away.

We must review our archiving systems and prioritise the process of preserving our past. All institutions and organisations should make archiving a priority. We need to develop a culture of effective documentation and archiving. We need an overarching organisation to drive this process beyond digitisation to digital archiving.

Next to prayer and dedication to God and country, we must be diligent in our efforts at recording our history and keeping our archives alive.


"Let’s keep our archives alive"

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