Found(ations): A Vernacular Digital Archive

The Vernacular Digital Archiving Project—Found(ations)—is a long-term project in Caribbean Rhetoric,* Multimodal Composition and Digital Humanities—a living documentary project that emerges from deep vernacular participation in humanistic inquiry and the interplay of numerous themes and approaches that help us engage and understand Caribbean expressive culture in productive ways. It asks, and tries to answer questions of who we are, from whence do we come, and what are we to do with the knowledge we produce.

It is as personal as it is public.

As a project in vernacular humanistic inquiry, the project attempts to enact that understanding—the active inquiry into what it would require to be who we are through the exploration, collection, and reflection on the documents we and those before us have created. The way I see it, this inquiry is collaborative work because (a) all knowledge-making is collaborative, and (b) it deliberately blurs the lines between author/audience/text to create a functional digital archive of Caribbean rhetorical practices and texts. Out of this concern for praxis comes the initial call: “I remember. I know. I am not forgotten.”

I was here, once.

As a result of this positioning, visitors and researchers will find that every project, every form of inquiry undertaken here, will possess more than a bit of reflection—and they will, likewise, be invited to reflect on where they and their work stand. It is a key component of my work and how I understand the successful operation of rhetoric as a field of study and as a useful conduit to the practice of conscious citizenship. To me, reflection ensures (as much as any other mindful practice) that the collection, curation, and distribution of vernacular data is an active, rather than passive, exercise. Consciousness, thus, becomes a doing, as well as a being.

An activity , as well as a condition.

In my own case, I was inspired by the idea of collecting my family archives and the basic fact that there is so much about them that, to my great disappointment,

I do not know.

An hour-long recording of my grandmother’s voice is now a family treasure, but I had no idea she had been a teacher, no idea of the choices she made, no sense of her politics. In an attempt to fill those gaps, and to ask other questions about Caribbean discursive activity, I launched an interactive transcription project that uses Granny’s recording: In Vena, Veritas. Another recording of my aunt, Lystra, is as resonant as the house on Carib Street in San Fernando, where I spent the first 10 years of my life. As is the laughter of her sister, Maureen, whose letters comprise the After Effects archive, but whose voice remains only in my memory. My mother is getting older, as mothers do. I won’t go on, but it ought to be clear that I feel as though I am starting from a point of disadvantage—lived lives set such high precedents that the one who follows them is under a great deal of pressure to catch up. But direct your attention here, and you have missed amazing things elsewhere. The urgency, at least on this point, should be quite clear.

That said, the scope of the project will continue to grow, and the process of soliciting, collecting, and collaboratively evaluating documents, has become a bit more involved: in addition to family members, public spaces (the market, the rum shop, the wharf), isolated communities (villages, enclaves, and even their classrooms), and discarded archives from libraries are now included.

* Caribbean rhetoric builds on the sense of the familiar (doxa) in order to underscore shared interests and shared benefits that are probable in a given situation, meanings that have been acquired through experience and cataloged as a living archive of knowledge and expression that can then be activated, revised, and applied for particular consequences. All are based on a fundamental desire to be a part of the world and improve the quality of life while here. (Tropic Tendencies, 7)

I am drawn to the idea that the oral traditions provide only partial records of vernacular life and the rhetorical activity that helps to define it. I publish much of my archiving work on this site to provide my audience with an example of the relative curatorial simplicity afforded by programs like this one. Not ignoring the fact that many whose records require archiving do not have access or expertise in this area, once the decision is made to digitize an archive, the process of creating one is not as prohibitive or intimidating as it once was. This means, also, that those who possess the skill can help those who do not, thus encouraging a sense of productive engagement.

As this collection of archives develops, so will research and teaching opportunities at the graduate and undergraduate level, both local and abroad. More than that, though, is the probability that this project will take root and inspire others to do similar projects on their own. And isn’t that what it’s all about in the end? Roots? Routes? Ourselves as the namers, shapers, makers, and doers in our own lives. The tellers of our own stories. Tradition enacted is what a living archive ought to be.

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