Decolonizing the Archive


Our main mission is to work towards a “decolonization of the archive.” But what is the archive, and what does it mean to “decolonize” it?  Why is “decolonizing the archive” important?

Our idea of the archive comes from the  “Postcolonial Studies” group, such as Edward Said, Gayatri Spivak, Partha Chatterjee and Sara Suleri, who argued in the 1980s that the West had “Orientalized,” or created powerful derogatory stereotypes of non-white people prevalent throughout its literature, art and culture, or “archive.” The “Postcolonial Studies” group argued for a rereading of this literature, art and culture, or what V.Y. Mudimbe termed the rereading of the “colonial library,”–a cultural repository of information that had become the “archive” for representing people of non-European descent.

Digitizing ‘Chinese Englishmen‘ aims to contribute to the “decolonization” of this archive, to provide alternate ways of representing people of non-European descent, and to show how the nineteenth century British Empire connected the British with the peoples of its colonies in unusual ways. We work towards this “decolonization of the archive” in three ways. First, Digitizing ‘Chinese Englishmen’ creates an alternate repository of information about people of non-European descent under the nineteenth century British Empire. Second, by showing how these ‘Chinese Englishmen’ often felt strong connections and values towards Victorian values and principles, the project extends the concept of British Victorian identity past narrow geographical boundaries–effectively creating alternate maps of imperial Englishness (Simon Gikandi).

Third, as the project continues to develop, we will explore how different forms of social media can affect the knowledge represented within this archive. We presently encourage active comments on the posts and materials on the website, using a policy modeled after the the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Profhacker column. We also maintain an active twitter account (@CEnglishmen), and any tweets with the hashtag #CEnglishmen will show up on our site’s twitter widget, thereby providing a forum for the public to view comments about the website. In the future we may explore incorporating tools which will allow for paragraph-level annotation and commenting. We also plan to actively develop an easy to navigate mobile version of the website, which will hopefully increase global participation in this archive. Through all of this, we hope to provide an avenue to reread and expand the cultural repository of representations of non-white people in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

There are a number of projects about the African diaspora that have inspired this one, including Africa is a Country and The African Flying Machine Rests, both of which provide alternate images of Africa and its diaspora from mainstream news outlets.




  1. Can you add a section here on the technical aspects of the project? Platform, etc. Also, selection of the materials used would be helpful. Otherwise, looks like a great start!

  2. I agree with Katherine. This looks like a fascinating project. Are you looking to include TEI markup for the issues of the magazine? This would allow tons of potential stuff, like text-mining the entire corpus to determine how people are addressed in the magazine or what kinds of articles are written about them. I also wonder if (re: the idea of alternate maps of Englishness) you could create a GIS project tracking where these people lived, etc.

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Decolonizing the Archive