Perspective and Decolonial Archival Work

This section illustrates the significance of perspective carries in archival work and it speaks to the ECDA’s mission of decolonization by looking beyond what was written or illustrated about them.

Perspective is a critical element to consider in this exhibit. Journals and images created by colonizers in  the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries reflect a cultural background that was not opposed to enslavement and sometimes explicitly pro-enslavement. Colonizers were looking at these celebrations from an outsider perspective, othering everything these westerners saw, making West Indian culture seem minuscule, savage, or wild in comparison to their own beliefs and practices. One may ask why look at these celebrations to understand the significance of performance and orality in Caribbean culture? Because there is such little information about Carnival, we can use these texts in order to gain insight into the power and traces of rebellion these celebrations represented. 

Even though these texts are incredibly biased and influenced by a colonial standpoint, the texts are some of the only historical records we have. We can use the texts to understand this insider versus outsider perspective manifested in these celebrations, the lack of cultural literacy colonizers (especially western travelers) had towards Afro-Caribbean culture, and how rooted traces of resilience and rebellion are in maintaining one’s culture. By examining these documents with a decolonial lens we can pull a record from them and gain some idea about the importance of the origins of Carnival and the way in which it was rooted in rebellion from the start. Understanding technologies of resistance from the past allows us to develop them for our future because cultural resistance is embodied and rooted in this celebration of freedom. 

But the digital archive, we believe, offers new possibilities for re-archiving (remixing and reassembling) materials from existing archives as well as archiving new materials. This is not just the promise of recovery—not simply a question of finding materials that have been hidden in the past. Rather, this is a formal possibility—one linked to the new affordances of the digital archive which invite (if not require!) us to disrupt, review, question, and revise the colonial knowledge regime that informs the archives from which we draw most of our materials - ECDA

The perspective given in these texts forces us to look more closely at how nuanced and complex these rituals actually were by looking beyond what was written or illustrated about them. Especially when looking at these texts in conjunction with primary sources written by people of color as well as secondary sources, these texts are put in perspective and in conversation with each other allowing us to gain more insight into the text’s significance.

This exhibit engages with and expands existing scholarship about these ideas of rebellion and power as well as works to put these texts in conversation with one another. Because many of the primary texts used were created by colonizers visiting or living in the West Indies for a few years, the perspective given is very limited in scope and extremely biased. The limited perspective given oftentimes is why we must actively work to decolonize these texts. By reading these texts through a decolonial lens, agency and power are returned to the people they are written about. Through investigating the limited perspective in the pieces and drawing meaning from them outside of Western social standards, Carnival, and the historical people who practiced it, is revealed to have a much deeper meaning and history than one would think at first glance of these texts.

In the context of this exhibit, decolonizing means to: 

(1) Understand that these texts are based upon the authors’ perspective of Carnival and these perspectives are not representative of the true nature of this celebration

(2) Observe the language, tone, and approach taken by the author and the use of “us” versus “them” language

(3) Investigate these sources hand in hand with what scholars have said about Carnival today in order to gain more background/a more encompassing view 

(4) Minimize systems of hierarchies or colonial lens at which texts like these are often looked at and look beyond them 

(5) Incorporate views or perspectives of indigenous people living during this time period. 

Further Reading:

“Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society.”

Juanita De Barros, Audra Diptee, and David Vincent Trotman. Beyond Fragmentation : 

        Perspectives on Caribbean History. Princeton, Nj: M. Wiener Publishers, 2006.

Linda Tuhiwai Smith. Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. London: Zed, 


Rectenwald, Miranda. “Research Guides: Decolonization & Transregional History Sources: Archive