Montserrat's History Being Digitized

Document tagged as Glendon 1897 in the MNT Archive Project. (MNT Photo)
Document tagged as Glendon 1897 in the MNT Archive Project. (MNT Photo)

SALEM – A three-month project to protect some of the island’s most endangered documents is complete and now available for searching online. The collection comprises more than 140 files separated into images to capture elements of Montserrat’s history in a digital format.

According to Sarita Francis, Director of the Montserrat National Trust (MNT) the project was done in collaboration with the British Library and is the first part of an ongoing effort to preserve historical documents from various entities on island. Montserrat in written records and photographs: preserving the archive for the nation and the Montserrat diaspora is the name of the project now available for viewing on the British Library website.

The project summary noted that “Montserrat has suffered from harsh environmental conditions, natural disasters and an indifference to preserving the country’s archive. Inappropriate storage and handling has resulted in material being lost or rapidly deteriorating, creating an urgent need for proper documentation and storage. Recent volcanic activity has destroyed most of the previous storage facilities.”

The project included the identification of archival material held throughout Montserrat, assessment of the condition and the preparation of a long term plan for safe storage, digitisation and increased public access and awareness of this endangered resource.

Archivist Nigel Sadler worked along with staff and volunteers of the trust to digitise the collection of original material held by the Montserrat National Trust (MNT). This comprised 18th and 19th century estate plans and deeds; 20th century letters, newspapers, land deeds, wills, receipts; and collections of slide photographs from the 1980s, including a 1986 buildings survey which show many buildings no longer standing after the 1995 and 1997 volcanic eruptions.

The project was able to work on some of the 18th century records held at the Montserrat Public Library, a collection in private ownership, and a section of material in very poor condition held by the Government Registry Office.

The Montserrat National Trust is the principal heritage organisation and the project enabled staff to develop skills, undergo training and raise the NGO’s profile.

Mrs Francis said they were very pleased with the outcome of the project and are hoping they will be successful in receiving approval for additional funding to continue the project. The plan is to employ young people and others underemployed to continue the digitisation program which would encompass documents in all of the major government offices and churches.

She explained that while space has been allocated at the national museum for an archive store, it would need to have proper temperature and humidity controls installed before it can be used.

View the archived documents here…;r=41#project_outcome