The future could influence the past. Yes, you’ve read right, though it’s the other way round usually. Digitization is the future of documentation and data storage, but sometimes it can play an important role in better understanding history. In fact, better understanding of history is the motivation behind many digitization projects.
Digitizing the Moravian Past of the Virgin Islands
The US Virgin Islands and the whole of Caribbean are well known as places where people who were once slaves settled. Most of the citizens of the Caribbean nations have their ancestry in Africa though their Western naming tradition, inherited from the European and American slave masters of their ancestors, would not indicate that.
Citizens of the US Virgin Islands have always wanted to know their ancestry, way back to their African roots. The only records possibly containing these details are maintained by the Moravian church in America since Moravian missionaries have carried out various activities among the early settlers in the Caribbean islands particularly what are now the US Virgin Islands. Strangely, not many of these records are preserved on St. Thomas, one of the major islands of the Virgin Islands. Instead, the Moravian Archives are located in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
Crucial and Exhaustive Details to be Unlocked
Now, the National Endowment for the Humanities has provided the Moravian Archives with a $37,982 grant to digitize the archival records with the aim of conserving them and making them more accessible to discerning people, particularly the historians of the Virgin Islands and the Caribbean Genealogy Library on St. Thomas. Currently the library only possesses three microfilms dealing with the Moravians. This grant should change that.
The Moravian records contain details of over 280 years on St. John and St. Thomas islands. Information painstakingly recorded by the Moravian missionaries contains ancestry of the slaves including their African tribe and the African region each of them originated from. Their original African names and other critical information are also claimed to be recorded, including marriage, baptism and death as well as diaries, letters, etc.
Digitization of National Archives by NARA
When it comes to the archives held by the US Government, it is the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) that conserves and provides access. These records play quite an important role in maintaining government accountability and protecting the rights of citizens. The NARA archival holdings amount to over 12 billion pages including charts, maps, still photographs, aerial photographs, sound and video recordings, and electronic material.
These are also being digitized to improve public access to critical archival material, facilitate transparency, and enable people to build a better future for themselves.
As you’ve seen, digitization is more than merely keeping in step with the times. The improved accessibility and preservation this provides can really make the world a better place and enable communities to get in touch with their past to make their future better.