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Project Description

EAP 060: Diaspora collections at the major archives of the province of Matanzas, Cuba

Oscar Grandío Moráguez, York University

mtDuring the nineteenth century, Matanzas became the center of Cuban sugar production, which influenced a high demand for slave labour. The territory became the major destination for African slaves in Cuba. This explains why Matanzas currently holds the most valuable documents related to the history of enslaved Africans and their descendants in Cuba. Matanzas' records are among the longest serial data available for the history of Africans in Cuba. The region's archives are very rich in all kind of information on the African populations living in Matanzas, beginning in the early 16th century to the end of the 19th century, including demographic statistics, information on ethnicity, resistance, occupations, property, economy of free and enslaved Africans, etc. Colonial Spanish administration, churches, estates, and notaries offices originated this documentation.

These materials are unique and their condition perilous. Most of the collections are about to disappear, due to the extremely bad conditions in which they are deposited. Cuba's weather is hot and wet, which makes conservation a difficult task. Matanzas' archives lack financing and therefore do not have access to the necessary technology. The reality is that the vast holdings of this region are deteriorating at an alarming rate. Nature and negligence are together creating an urgent need to rescue this important part of Cuban and slavery history. Conservation work and infrastructure reform at the Matanzas' archives would take much time and resources. Unfortunately, in the short and middle term, the only strategy available at the Matanzas' archives is digitization. 

With the support of a British Archive Endangered Archives Grant, this project explores the most important archives in Matanzas Province, Cuba, containing the most important collections on African slaves and their descendants. These archives are: 1) Archivo Provincial de Matanzas, 2) Archivos Parroquiales de Matanzas, 3) Archivo Histórico Municipal de Cárdenas, 4) Archivo Histórico Municipal de Colón.

docsThe project identifies the bodies of endangered, rich, under-utilised, and at-risk documents on Africans and persons of African descent in the archives above mentioned. It focuses on training in digitization techniques to the staff on the archives above mentioned. During this phase, some of the documents already identified have been digitized. 

The project also generates a detailed inventory of the documents identified as at risk. The digitization of some of these documents will be continued as part of the training process of the archival staffs. This facilitates the feasibility of a future major project of digitization of all the material already identified. 

The last objective involves the creation of a database with all the material identified and all the documents digitized. The database and copies of all the material will be delivered to the British Library and the archives involved in the Pilot Project.

Above, right: Oscar Grandio Moráguez and members of the Matanzas team digitize documents outside of an archive. Above, left. Storage of documents in a Matanzas archive. All photos this page by Oscar Grandio Moráguez.