A Decade of Collaboration with Moravian Archives
Above: Pages from a Speaking Book, containing a catalog of female members of the Moravian Church in Antigua, 1839-1844 (All images courtesy of the Moravian Archives, Bethlehem, PA)
Frequent hurricanes, high humidity, and the swarming presence of insects and other pests take an inevitable toll on paper collections. In the Caribbean islands of the Eastern West Indies, the 18th and 19th century records of the Moravian Church were relentlessly buffeted by the extremes of the tropical environment. Dating back to the first arrival of the Moravians on the islands in 1732, the records they kept contained detailed and unique information on the free and enslaved people of color in the region. But because of their condition, the information remained inaccessible—with most of the records too fragile to be digitized or exhibited.
Manuscript volumes from the Eastern West Indies Records Preservation and Digitization Project of the Moravian Archives began arriving at CCAHA for treatment in 2018. Senior Conservation Assistant Jilliann Wilcox recalls that the volume she worked on contained pages that “were so, so brittle.” Thousands of broken, loose fragments were scattered throughout the volume. Along with other members of the team assigned to these treatments, Jilliann’s formidable task was to prepare the volume for digitization.
Many projects at CCAHA start slowly, often taking years to unwind. CCAHA’s involvement with the Eastern West Indies project for the Moravian Archives started in 2010 when two of CCAHA’s preservation specialists visited the site to conduct a preservation needs assessment and the collection caught their attention. Laura Hortz Stanton (now CCAHA Executive Director, then Director of Preservation Services) remembers returning from the assessment very excited about the collections.
For context – the Moravian Archives collects, preserves, and makes available the records of the Moravian Church in North America and the Caribbean, starting from the 18th century to the present. The Moravians came to the Caribbean to bring Christianity to the enslaved population of the region, leading to the establishment of the first Afro-Protestant mission churches in the Caribbean, as well as in the Americas as a whole.