Guest post by Timothy A. Thompson, Metadata Librarian, and Ana D. Rodríguez, former CHC Metadata Assistant
The CHC is continually working to publish new digital collections from its unique archival holdings. One of the most recent additions to the CHC Digital Collections is a group of rare historical manuscripts that sheds light on an important period in Cuban history. The Junta Provincial de Patronato de Matanzas Records contain official documents created between 1871 and 1889, when Spain was slowly moving to abolish slavery on the island. This blog post provides some historical context for the collection and then highlights a series of enhancements designed to make the collection more accessible to online users.
The abolition of slavery in Cuba involved a gradual process that unfolded over the course of nearly 20 years. The final stage of that process began in 1880, when the Spanish colonial government passed the “Ley de Patronato,” which declared a formal end to slavery but left the old system largely intact under a different name. The term given to the new, transitional system was patronato, which could be loosely translated as “sponsorship” or “apprenticeship.” With a stroke of the pen, former slaves became known as patrocinados, or apprentices, and former masters became known as patronos, or sponsors.
One of the documents in the collection illustrates the largely superficial nature of the transition between the two systems:
Detail from a document granting Francisco Ortega permission to relocate his patrocinado named Marcelo to the municipality of Macuriges, July 21, 1880. View full record for this image.
In this document (a “pase de tránsito” issued during the first year of the patronato period), the word “esclavos” has simply been crossed out, and the word “patrocinados” has been written above it.
To help make these historical documents more accessible to online users, the Libraries’ Cataloging & Metadata Services division undertook a pilot project for creating enhanced descriptions for digitized items. In the world of digital libraries, these descriptions are known as “metadata” (data about data). For example, this collection represents our first effort to include detailed metadata in Spanish for major descriptive fields like Title (Título), Note (Nota), Subject (Tema), Genre (Género), and Physical Description (Descripción Física).
It is also our first collection to feature three new fields: Sender and Recipient (for correspondence) and Geo Point (for coordinates and links to the the website GeoNames.org). Links in the Geo Point field will take users directly to a map for the location being referenced.
On the collection’s homepage, separate “browse” pages have been created for “Tema” (Spanish subjects), Subjects, Sender, and Recipient. Finally, four “Collection Highlights” have also been included on the collection homepage. These highlights are meant to draw attention to the human stories behind the documents in the collection.
We hope you will check out these new features, and we would like to enlist your help in evaluating them. If you can, please take a moment to explore the collection and then fill out this brief survey (available in English or Spanish). Your feedback will help us assess our pilot project and will contribute to shaping our descriptive practices for future digital collections.
Scott, Rebecca J. (1983). “Gradual Abolition and the Dynamics of Slave Emancipation in Cuba, 1868-86.” Hispanic American Historical Review, 63(3), 449-477.