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Project Description

EAP 853: Creating a digital archive of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century criminal and notarial records in Mamanguape, São João de Cariri and João Pessoa, Paraíba, Brazil

Project Director: Marshall Eakin, Vanderbilt University

Co-Director: Courtney J. Campbell, University of Birmingham

Co-Director: Solange Pereira da RochaNúcleo de Estudos e Pesquisas Afrobrasileiros e Indígenas, Universidade Federal da Paraíba

paraiba digitalizationWith the support of a British Library Endangered Archives Grant (EAP 640), this project will digitize criminal and notarial documents located in the state of Paraíba in Brazil. The documents come from the semi-arid hinterlands (São João do Cariri), from the tropical coast (João Pessoa), and in between these two extremes (Mamanguape) and date from the mid-seventeenth through the late-nineteenth centuries. The project will capture and preserve approximately 100,000 images. The collection will include documents fundamental to studies of slavery and abolition; orphans and wards of the court; crime; and property ownership in the Brazilian Northeast.

Notarial and criminal records are fundamental sources for the study of everyday, lived experiences in imperial and republican Brazil. Letters of emancipation contained within notarial records provide data on the lives of the newly freed, while inventories of goods that are found within wills support the study of the region’s material culture. Land deeds indicate the prevalence of female property owners and land consolidation among families. Criminal records help understand how the poor navigated the legal system and provide perspective on the scale of banditry, on blood feuds between families, and on the expansion of the state during the early years of the Republic.

The documents in São João do Cariri are stored in collapsible plastic file boxes that are spread out across the floor of a room located within an active house of justice. Other objects are stored on top of the file boxes, which are covered in pesticide. The years written on the boxes do not correspond to the documents stored within.p In Mamanguape, the documents are also stored in collapsible plastic file boxes, held on metal shelving in two separate damp rooms that are accessible by a garage underneath the courthouse. Two of the sites where this project will work are not official archives, but rather active houses of justice that are not cared for by curators, and eventually the oldest documents will end up lost or in a shredder. The documents are unorganized, unaccounted for, and exposed to the elements. In some cases, they have been separated from their original volume and are stored as easily lost, loose files. There is no state investment in their preservation and no professional oversight of their care. Humidity, pests, and neglect threaten their perseverance. If an entire box of documents were to disappear, no one would notice.

Each of the following institutions will receive at least three complete copies of the archive: the Núcleo de Estudos e Pesquisas Afrobrasileiros e Indígenas (NEABI) da Universidade Federal da Paraíba (UFPB) in João Pessoa, Paraíba, Brazil; the Núcleo de Documentação e Informação Histórica Regional (NDIHR) da UFPB also in João Pessoa; and the Jean and Alexander Heard Library at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, USA. A complete copy will be deposited with the British Library and each participating institution will receive a digital copy of their own records. The complete archive will be made available for researchers worldwide here, on the Slave Societies Digital Archive (SSDA).

In addition to creating a digital archive of documents from Paraíba, this project will train students, professors, librarians, and archivists in the skills and equipment necessary to be leaders in the digitization of historical documents in the Brazilian Northeast.

paraiba team

Top of Page: Josilene Pereira Pacheco and Francisco Sávio da Silva  digitize a notarial record from the nineteenth century at the Arquivo Judicial da Comarca de João Pessoa in the city of João Pessoa, July 2015. Above, rightDocument storage at the Arquivo Judicial da Comarca de João Pessoa.  Above, left: Participants in the EAP 853 Orientation, held at the Universidade Federal da Paraíba in João Pessoa, July 2015. All photos by David C. LaFevor.