BBC Archives - A living memory of the Caribbean donates to UWI

By Joel Henry

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Over the last two decades the Caribbean has experienced events of such historic significance that they have become engraved in both our physical and mental landscapes. From the chilling 1990 coup in Trinidad and Tobago, to the Olympic triumphs of Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt and the recent tragedy of the earthquake in Haiti, the last twenty years have been filled with moments of celebration, sorrow, laughter, discovery and change. Through it all BBC Caribbean has reported these events for the benefit of its listeners. And now the entirety of their broadcasts, some 3,000 hours of audio recordings, has been donated to The University of the West Indies for the benefit of students, researchers and anyone else with an interest in what was happening in the region.

On November 4, 2011 at the Mona Campus in Jamaica, Former Head of BBC Caribbean Debbie Ransome officially handed over the archive to UWI Vice Chancellor Professor E. Nigel Harris. In total, The UWI received 180,000 minutes of audio covering 12,000 15-minute programmes representing the period from 1988 to 2011.

Speaking at the ceremony, Professor Harris said, “The UWI is honoured to have been selected by the BBC to house the rich chronicle of major news stories, interviews and developments in the region…. We owe the BBC a deep debt of gratitude for not only declaring their confidence in The UWI as the repository of this valuable information, but also for helping the region to chronicle its history.”

The donation was the idea of Ms. Ransome herself and it required the hard work of several people – members of staff from the Alma Jordan Library at UWI St. Augustine in particular – to copy and transport the huge digital archive from the UK. Now the librarians are undertaking the laborious task of cataloguing the broadcasts.

In its final incarnation the BBC Caribbean covered the Pan Caribbean for the world. However, due to a 16% cut in funding from the UK government, the BBC World Service decided to close several of its services in 2011, including the Caribbean service. As Head of BBC Caribbean Ms. Ransome was tasked with winding down the operation:

“Last year at this time I was called into a meeting with the World Service bosses and tasked with organising the closure of BBC Caribbean. This broke down into three tasks. I had to determine the last broadcast date. I also had to think about our Internet legacy (now maintained at the BBC Caribbean webpage). And I had to think about what to do with the archive. I didn’t want to just leave the broadcasts to sit in a BBC archive outside of London.”

Ms. Ransome, a British citizen with deep roots in Trinidad and Tobago, decided to contact The UWI and see if they would be interested in the archive.

She explained, “UWI was the obvious place. I really wanted it to be available cross-campus and region-wide. I emailed the Vice Chancellor (Professor Harris) and he got back to me within a few hours. The speed at which he replied showed me his enthusiasm.”

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