Netherlands restores Guyana’s Dutch archive

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A report by Ray Chickrie for Caribbean News Now.

Guyana, the former British Guiana, was a Dutch colony before it became a British possession in 1831 and, as a result, over half of Guyana’s National Archive is in Dutch. After an agreement between Guyana and the Netherlands to preserve and translate the Guyana Dutch Archive, which was in tatters, the final segment of the project was completed and handed over to Guyana two weeks ago.

To celebrate the achievement, the Dutch ambassador to Guyana, Jacob Frederiks, was in Georgetown. In addition, the head of the digitization department of the Netherlands’ National Archives, Arjan Agema, flew to Guyana to hand over the archive.

“A large portion of documents related to Dutch history is now preserved and digitized following a collaboration which began in 2016, between Guyana and the Netherlands,” a press release from the government said.

The Dutch have been interested in this project for some time and completed the digitalization and placed the Suriname National Archive online in collaboration with the government and University of Suriname about 15 years ago. However, the previous government refused to work with the Dutch on the project and made references to “Holland’s colonial ties to Suriname and the frontier dispute with Paramaribo”. The then interior minister said, “We won’t let any of our archive out of the country.”

However, better sense prevailed and, with the vast technology and experience of the Netherlands, the project commenced and is now completed.

“The repaired and preserved documents were handed over to the National Archives, October 1. Following a decision made by President David Granger, a team from the National Archives of the Netherlands took historic documents and maps, which they repaired and then made digital copies,” the government press release said.

Agema explained the documents are accessible on the Netherlands archives’ website. He noted that very soon these will be accessible on Guyana’s National Archives website.

Agema said: “We are happy now to bring back the paper material as well as the scanned material so we can now show it. Nearly 100,000 scans on the internet, which helps the researcher for history and, at the same time, the material has been conserved for a long period. It was very brittle and damaged and now it is conserved so it can be kept for years.”

As part of the partnership, 12 staffers from the National Library, Deeds Registry and the National Museum, University of Guyana Library, ministry of foreign affairs, General Registrar Office and the National Archives were trained in paper conservation techniques.

Meanwhile, the United Nations has agreed to fund the digitalization of the Chinese, Portuguese and Indian indentureship records at the archive.

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