Erin Zavitz Preserves Haitian History

The British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme has allocated funds to preserve a rare collection of Haitian newspapers thanks to a team of American and Haitian researchers including Montana Western’s own, Dr. Erin Zavitz.

Erin Zavitz

Montana Western Professor Erin Zavitz

This grant will provide equipment and employees to digitize the old newspapers. Natural disasters and a lack of preservation technology put historical documents in the country of Haiti at high risk.

On Jan. 12, 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake in Haiti killed hundreds of thousands of people. Much of the country’s infrastructure was destroyed including the United Nations Headquarters and the Parliament building.

The Bibliothèque Haïtienne des Frères de l’Instruction Chrétienne is the library where the newspapers Zavitz seeks to preserve are held. It was also struck by the 2010 earthquake and has received minimal repairs.

Tropical storms and hurricanes also affect the country, making it a difficult place to preserve fragile documents. Zavitz hopes she will be able to visit Haiti to help oversee the project. “I’m hoping to. I won’t be able to go until next spring or summer,” she said.

These documents are especially important to Zavitz because she uses them in her own work: “These are a pretty rare set of newspapers. For many of them, no other copies exist in the world,” she said.

She is currently working on a manuscript project entitled “Visions of Haiti’s Past: Commemorations and Representations of the Haitian Revolution.”

This project is based on her dissertation where she examined historical documents, literature, vodou songs, oral histories, and national holidays in Haiti to better understand how the Haitian people remember their country’s history.

This is not the first time Zavitz has lobbied for a grant: “I’ve successfully acquired funding for at least half-a-dozen,” she said.

For more information about the grant and the program, visit the Endangered Archives website.

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