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Caribbean model of memory.

In large and wealthy nations, collective memories, histories, and images are carefully gathered, displayed, and guarded in museums. But what can small, young nations do to preserve their historical record? The answer to that question has been worked out over the past seven years in Trinidad and Tobago.

The Eric Williams Memorial Collection (EWMC) was established at the University of the West Indies Library, St. Augustine, Trinidad, in 1998. The EWMC comprises the library collection and archives of Dr. Eric Williams, along with museum displays that include a re-creation of Ns private office, his "inner sanctum," furnished with all the personal memorabilia that bring to it the human qualities essential to preserve historical memory. Williams led his country to independence in 1962 and was the first prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago and head of government for a quarter of a century, until his death in 1981. The Jamaican novelist John Hearn wrote, "He summoned an entire people to school and taught so well and so imaginatively and with such passion that the people were still electing him twenty-five years after he held his first class."

The collection has served as a focal point for conferences in Trinidad as well as at other institutions (the Schomburg Center at the New York Public Library, Wellesley College, and Florida International University), as well as for research scholarships, history prizes, and traveling exhibitions.

The EWMC has been included in the UNESCO "Memory of the World" Register, which calls for the collection to be protected for the benefit of humanity. No wonder other nations and those directly involved in the lives of some of the principal leaders of the Caribbean are looking to the EWMC as they seek to preserve their own historical records.

From the start, the EWMC looked for opportunities to pro mote its mission and share its experience with other Caribbean library and archival collections, particularly in Jamaica, Barbados, and Puerto Rico, where there is interest in creating similar memorial collections that would combine "personal" exhibits of memorabilia, as well as scholarly centers of personal library collections and the archives of personal papers.

An essential factor in the establishment of these historic museums in the Caribbean is their association with the University of the West Indies (UWI). Perhaps the most successful, sustaining, and integrating Caribbean-wide institution, UWI has three principal campuses, in Trinidad, Barbados, and Jamaica. As with the EWMC, the development of similar programs and exhibitions in conjunction with UWI would also be a firm base for organizing academic programs in Jamaica and Barbados.

Over the past forty years, while the nations of the Caribbean were establishing their independence and were involved in the process of nation building, their history, and the need to preserve it for future generations, was, understandably, of secondary importance. However, as Erica Williams Connell, daughter of Eric Williams and one of the prime movers for the creation of the EWMC, sees it, "now is the opportunity to create several physical foci, using the EWMC as a model, which will enable the Caribbean to preserve and project its historical heritage."

For more information about the EWMC and its programs and activities, visit the collection's website:
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Title Annotation:!Ojo!; Eric Williams Memorial Collection
Author:Kiernan, James Patrick
Publication:Americas (English Edition)
Geographic Code:5TRIN
Date:May 1, 2004
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