Collection Spotlight: Decolonization: Politics and Independence in Former Colonial and Commonwealth Territories

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Oct. 10, 2023, 10 a.m.
Decolonization movements of the 20th century in their own words.
photo of Nelson Mandela next to black green and yellow ribbons of color

by Winn Wasson, Social Science Librarian

Over the past decade, publishers have undertaken a significant number of projects to digitize the archival collections of major libraries and museums. Syracuse University Libraries has a large collection of these digital archive databases. That said, the digitized books, manuscripts, photographs, letters, pamphlets and other materials usually come from archives in the United States and Western Europe (particularly the United Kingdom) and thus reflect the information that these countries produced and the priorities they have held over the past few centuries about what should be collected—that is, what has been deemed “important enough” to be “worth” collecting from a largely Western vantage point.

This has meant that even when publishers have created digital archival databases of materials related to non-Western cultures, those materials usually reflect a Western colonialist and imperialist mindset, stemming from the times when the materials were created and when they were collected. Thus, there has been a dearth of digital archival material on non-Western cultures that has the people of non-Western cultures speaking about themselves in their own voices. Over the years, librarians at Syracuse University Libraries have pointed these issues out to publishers, and this persistence is now yielding results.

The Libraries recently added the digital archival database Decolonization: Politics and Independence in Former Colonial and Commonwealth Territories, from GALE Primary Sources, to our collections. In building this database, GALE sought to assemble material that told the story of the decolonization efforts of the second half of the 20th century through the voices of the native peoples of Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Caribbean who were struggling to liberate themselves from European colonial rule. Many of the artifacts in the database come from African trade unions and highlight the role that these organizations and the African labor movement played in agitating for achieving independence for their countries. The collection also includes a substantial amount of material produced by Indigenous peoples in Oceania and the Americas.

While much of the material is in English and is about former—as well as current—British colonies, the collection includes materials about and from countries formerly—and often currently—ruled by other European colonial powers and a significant amount of documents written in languages other than English. This includes a sizable number of documents in the native languages of the peoples agitating against colonialism and imperialism, not just documents in the languages of European colonialists. As a cautionary note, given the subject matter, many artifacts in these collections do include images of violence and its aftermath. That said, Decolonization: Politics and Independence in Former Colonial and Commonwealth Territories can be a useful resource to individuals looking to explore this momentous time in history from the perspective of and in the words of the peoples leading these struggles. To provide feedback or suggest a title to add to the collection, please complete the Resource Feedback Form.

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