5 December 2018

Guyana: Dutch Series restored, digitised and published online

Training in Guyana

Important historical documents about the former Dutch plantation colonies of Berbice, Essequibo and Demerara, housed at the National Archives of Guyana, are now available online on the website of the National Archives of the Netherlands.

The Dutch Republic possessed several colonies in the Guianas, a region on the Northern coast of South America. To the west of Suriname were three lesser-known Dutch colonies: Berbice, Essequibo and Demerara, where enslaved Africans produced sugar, coffee and cotton for European markets. By 1814, the British had taken possession of these colonies, merging them into British Guiana, nowadays called the Republic of Guyana.

Memory of the world
The ‘Dutch Series’ is the oldest archival collection in Guyana, dating from 1685 to 1827. The series is listed on UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register and contains information about the Dutch colonial administration, purchases and sales of slaves, ‘runaway’ slaves and slave revolts. The collection has been subject to various threats: fire, vermin and flooding. In addition, tropical storage conditions have accelerated chemical processes such as acidification and ink corrosion. The collection has become particularly vulnerable and archival researchers can no longer consult it without causing damage. After hundreds of years, only 25 meters is left of the Dutch collection.

Working together to restore shared memory
In 2015, Guyana and the Netherlands agreed that the archives would be shipped to the Netherlands for restoration and digitisation, after which they would be returned to Georgetown. On 12 October 2018, the restored archives and almost 98,000 scans were handed over to the National Archives of Guyana during a festive ceremony. As part of this collaboration, staff members of the National Archives of Guyana and other Guyanese institutions were trained in paper conservation techniques during a two-week workshop given by experts from the National Archives of the Netherlands and the National Archives of Curaçao.

You can access the documents online.