To celebrate Archives Awareness Week, held the first week of April, the archives has installed a small exhibit outlining the values and uses of archives and highlighting a recent news item featuring a former York University Master’s student, Julia Gaffield. Earlier this year, Gaffield, now a PhD student at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, discovered the only known printed copy of Haiti’s Declaration of Independence, in a ledger of bound documents.
In an interview with the Globe and Mail’s Siri Agrell, the 26-year old recalled the moment of discovery:
“I was surrounded by complete strangers who were all very wrapped up in their own work… Inside I was bursting with excitement, but I’m not sure if anyone else in there would have been interested.”
The historical document itself was sent by the leader’s of the Haitian revolution in the days following the 1804 victory. The copy eventually was incorporated in a ledger of nineteenth century correspondence at the British National Archives. The director-general of Haiti’s National Archives, Wilfred Bertrand, has stated that efforts to locate a copy of the document had been unsuccessful, although, they had heard of rumours that one existed in London.
This event helps illustrate the power of archival research to inform current events, as well as empower a community. There are plans to repatriate the document to Haiti, as it struggles to recover after the devastating earthquake on the 12 January 2010.
Researchers at York University’s Harriet Tubman Centre continues to be leaders in identifying and digitizing archival material relating to the African Diaspora. In fact, the Harriet Tubman Centre scholars are involved in several projects funded by the British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme ,which supports the digitization of archival documents housed in institutions that are at risk by social and physical factors such as political conflicts, humidity, floods, format fragility and obsolescence. To date, the Harriet Tubman associates have digitized materials in archival institutions in Cuba, Algeria, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Jamaica, and Brazil, for the most part focusing on historical documents and archival collections that inform study of the African Diaspora and the transatlantic slave trade.
A YFile article regarding Julia Gaffield’s discovery can be found here.
A Globe and Mail article regarding the news item can be found here.