Symposium - Archival Encounters: Colonial Archives, Care and Social Justice With Françoise Vergès, Kaiama L. Glover and Tami Navarro

The symposium “Archival Encounters” is devoted to the ways in which we encounter colonial archives and how we might engage archives from feminist, antiracist and decolonial perspectives. The symposium departs from the context of the archives of Danish colonialism in the former Danish West Indies, digitized in 2017, to reflect upon the political, epistemological and ethical challenges posed by colonial archives in the present. Taking this context as a starting point, the symposium wishes to open up this debate to transnational conversations about contested colonial heritage, colonial legacies and social justice. The symposium will discuss and reflect upon the limitations of knowing beyond the archive; the ethics and responsibility of encountering materials antithetical to black life; the importance of transnational exchanges to challenge colonial legacies; how to deal with contested materials and questions of ownership, custody and restitution; and how to care for and curate colonial heritage in ways that confront the coloniality of the present.


  • 13:15-13:25: Introduction

  • 13:25-13:50: Through a Glass Darkly: Retracing Black Life in the Danish West Indies - Tami Navarro

    What is the role of social justice vis-à-vis colonial archives? When the Danish sold the then-Danish West Indies to the United States in 1917, they took much of the archived history of these islands with them to Denmark—where they remain today.

    As we attempt to grapple with the presence of Black residents of the then-Danish West Indies in documents and imagery in these Danish colonial archives, we are confronted with the reality that their lives and experiences remain hidden from view and largely unexplored. While scholars such as Tina Campt and Dixa Ramirez have urged us to ‘read’ images of Black subjects to encounter an interiority often denied to them, this project is a complex one—with Ramirez invoking the complicated temporality of ‘ghostings’ in images—and driven by individual research interests. As we attempt to read images which depict Black residents of the Danish West Indies, we are confronted with racist tropes, but also—for many Virgin Islanders—with the possibility of encountering community members and ancestors.

    As much of the archival documentation of the Danish West Indies (now the United States Virgin Islands) is held in Denmark, my presentation engages with the question of how archives are situated—and experienced—in different contexts. That is, rather than viewing archives as static repositories of information, I push us to consider significance of the context within which archives exist. Toward this end, several colleagues and I have recently formed the Virgin Islands Studies Collective (VISCO) in part to create space for the recontextualization of archives of the Virgin Islands: As an example, while historical figures like ‘Queen’ Mary Thomas are remembered in Danish archives as colonial subjects, troublemakers, and prison inmates who led uprisings, they are celebrated as cultural heroes and forebears in the Virgin Islands. In this presentation I will engage with these questions of race, remembering, and social justice as they relate to the unfolding history of the US Virgin Islands. 

  • 13:50-14:15: Caribbean Digital Community: Toward Archives of the Future - Kaiama L. Glover

    This presentation will lay out the material, social, and ethical implications of creating and/or nurturing communities and archives of the Caribbean and its diasporas. In a geo-cultural space often marginalized by mainstream institutions and lacking resources for robust technological development, how might scholars – especially those sited in the so-called Global North – establish and sustain connections with regional collaborators? In what ways might digital engagements with past and future archives acknowledge and facilitate such transnational connections? And what are both the affordances and the pitfalls of such digital engagements?

  • 14:15-14:40: Memories of Struggles and Visual/Sonic Archives - Françoise Vergès

    How do we de-racialize, decolonize visual/sonic archives? How will a decolonial restitution of memories of struggles look? Should we not look at buildings such as the musée des colonies in Paris or the musée Tervuren in Brussels as colonial archives and from there wonder if they should not have been kept as archives? Françoise Vergès will seek to answer these questions presenting her own work at imagining a museum without objects in Reunion Island, in her current work in the collective "Decolonizing the arts" in Paris and as a decolonial antiracist feminist.

  • 14:45-16:00: Roundtable with Tami Navarro, Kaiama L. Glover and Françoise Vergès, moderated by Daniela Agostinho




The symposium is organized by Daniela Agostinho (Department of Arts and Cultural Studies) within the postdoc project “Archival Encounters”, funded by the Mads Øvlisen Postdoc Fellowship, Novo Nordisk Foundation.