The ability to conduct effective archival research is contingent upon several factors, including; institutional collection policies, (who decides what the collection priorities are?) Academic affiliation, (what access is there in academic institutional archives for public historians and community researchers who are unaffiliated?) Effective indexing and cataloging (how is this impacted by limited human resources in the archival sectors?) Digitisation and transcription, (to what extent have the archival and academic communities adopted digital migration measures for collections?) Disparate collections (how practical is is to travel to the various locations that house segments of related archival materials?)
These are practical questions that span the breadth of subject areas and the entire academic and archival sector. However, when contentious and problematic histories are the subject (such as enslavement and colonialism) these barriers often become defensive harbours for deliberate, – as well as incidental – discriminatory practices.
These include; limited or absent collection prioritisation of Black history. The rejection of contentious archival deposits that might show British or western society in a bad light. Furthermore, the lack of diversity in the higher echelons of the sector and the broader Academy, when combined with the prevalence of analogue archival materials, behind layers of bureaucracy, has resulted in limited access and a lack of research, by comparison to other subjects during similar periods, such as the Napoleonic wars, or the Industrial Revolution.
These barriers were all encountered by Malik Al Nasir when he sought to trace his ancestry back through plantation slavery in Demerara. Malik took to purchasing archival materials related to his ancestral slave owners know as Sandbach Tinne and Co., in order to wrench control of the archival materials necessary to uncover his own enslaved and colonised history.
To confront these questions and begin to eradicate these obstacles, Malik created The Sandbach Tinne Project.
Now reading for PhD in history at University of Cambridge, Malik is working with museums, galleries, records offices and universities in the UK, USA and the Carribean, in an ambitious project to identify disparate Sandbach Tinne collections and to unite them digitally in one authoritative digital dataset, that can be researched, curated from and interacted with by academics and the public alike.
In his talk, Malik discussed the development of the project that will act as not only a pilot for a multi-agency approach to decolonisation of archival materials, but that will attempt to begin to decolonise the archival sector in the process.