2017 marked the centennial for Denmark’s sale of the former colonial territories “The Danish West Indies” to The United States, today the US Virgin Islands. On this occasion, the Danish National Archive, the Royal Danish Library’s Photo and Map Collection, as well as other archives and collections in Denmark, undertook a mass-digitisation of their archival records from St. Croix, St. Thomas, St. John, Ghana and the transatlantic enslavement trade. From January 30 – February 9, 2018, the Uncertain Archives Research Group organised and held a symposium and workshop Archives that Matter, inviting artists and researchers across geographies and academic disciplines to explore, confront and critically engage with the colonial archival records. The events were funded by the DARIAH Theme 2017 call on Cultural Heritage and Humanities Research.
The symposium was organised in Copenhagen and was attended by more than 70 people from various disciplines and backgrounds, while the ensuing workshop was attended by 20 people. The symposium and workshop facilitated a much needed and complex debate around the ethical, aesthetic and political dimensions of the digitisation of the colonial archives and paved the road for new ways to design a trans-locational digital platform for access, sharing and disseminating colonial archival material in the future.
The organisers of these events were Katrine Dirckinck-Holmfeld, Nanna Bonde Thylstrup and Daniela Agostinho (Uncertain Archives Research Group).
Among the speakers of the symposium were Nana Oforiatta-Ayim (GH), Oceana James (USVI), David Berg (USVI), Dorothy Amenuke (GH), Mette Kia Krabbe Meyer (DK), Koraljka Kuzman Slogar (CR), Kim Jacobsen (BE), Mathias Danbolt (NO/DK), Lene Asp (DK), Temi Odumosu (UK), Annarosa Holm (DK) and Miriam Haile (ER/ NO/DK).
Moderators of the symposium were Marianne Ping Huang (DK) & Michael Wilson (US).
Finally, workshop participants & speakers were Michael Wilson, Poul Olsen, Jeannette Ehlers, Nana Oforiatta Ayim, Dorothy Amenuke, Oceana James, David Berg, Mathias Danbolt, Yong Sun Gullach, Anders Juhl, Annarosa Kroyer, Carl Michael Richardt, Astrid Nonbo Andersen, Nina Cramer, Mai Takawira, Lotte Løvholm, Dalida María Benfield, Mette Kia Krabbe Meyer.
The conversations led to some interesting observations and suggestions. It highlighted, for example, the need:
– to be explicit about how we tell the stories and how to create other aesthetic, narrative and curatorial strategies for the display, circulation and dissemination of colonial archival material.
– to move beyond “methodological nationalism” within Danish and European memory environments and create collaborative research infrastructures across and between former colonizing- and colonized countries.
– to create awareness of the available digital archives and organise workshops for local users on how to access, use and reuse the archival material.
– to create new digital platforms for dissemination of the archival records, to engage civil society, young students and other interest groups in using and accessing the material and also to create alternative forms of accessing the material online.
The symposium and the workshop also set objectives for future collaboration and engagement among the participants and the speakers, which resulted in planning future workshops/summer universities on these subjects and submitting research applications to establish future collaborations.