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T&T steelpan newspaper history now on the Web

.. Just a click away
Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Student research assistant Aniya Teneille Carty with computer screen of clipping.

The history of steelpan as chronicled in Trini­dad newspapers is now only a click away. As a result of a grant from UWI and collaboration between students at UWI and the UWI library, more than 4,000 newspaper articles related to the history of steelpan in T&T will be uploaded to the Web. 


Many articles can already be viewed now with more being added in the next several months. 


The project is the brainchild of steelpan historian and arranger Dr Jeannine Remy, senior lecturer in the Department of Creative and Festival Arts (DCFA) at UWI, St Augustine. 


“Since my first visit to Trinidad in 1989, I did my doctoral research in this same library. Even then I was worried about their preservation. I copied the quota I was allowed never thinking I would actually be part of their preservation some 25 years later.” 


Every second semester for the past eight years Remy has taught a course in steelpan history UWI, St. Augustine. The course teaches skills in primary source research and requires students to conduct oral history interviews with pan pioneers and comb through Trinidadian newspaper sources spanning back more than 60 years. 


“I realised the value of teaching the students about the state of the sources available on the topic of the steelpan as our national instrument,” Remy noted. “I never dreamed that I would come back to Trinidad to teach the topic I was so interested in researching. As a foreigner appreciative of Trinidad’s national treasure, I knew that one of my goals in life would be to help organise these precious documents, give back to the culture and make the documents available for researchers around the world to enjoy.”


Each year Remy’s students are trained by Special Collections Librarian Lorraine Nero in using the newspaper clipping files and microfilm of Trinidadian newspapers at the UWI library—especially those documents held in the West Indiana Collection. 


Students are taught not just to locate these materials but to analyse the content and create bibliographic entries on these sources. The fragile condition of the older clippings and the need to get quicker digital access caused Remy to think about preservation. Her solution was creating a digital database of all the articles and have it available not just to students but to the public. 


The process of digitising historic documents is common practice in libraries around the world. Indeed, UWI’s library had already digitised a number of smaller special collections available such as carnival costume designs and photographs from celebrated designer Carlyle Chang’s collection and the Goldberg collection of early postcards of Caribbean life.


In 2011, Remy approached the UWI library with her plan to digitise the documents and create a database and they agreed that something had to be done in order to preserve the information. However, the library did not have the financial budget to fund such an ambitious project. Both parties agreed to work together seeking an outside grant and as a result, Remy sought and was awarded a faculty research grant to complete the project in December 2012. 


Since the project’s start, Remy has worked closely with the Special Collections staff at the UWI library and her students to archive and digitise the material. 


The tedious work requires scanning the articles, create and catalog a metadata form which includes a summary and keywords for each article to make it searchable, and link all this information to the UWI library Web site. 


Librarian Marsha Winter supervises the work from the library side while Remy supervises it from the faculty side.


The primary student research assistant for the project is Aniya Carty who is thrilled for the opportunity to work on the project.


“I felt privileged being the one and working on this project helped bring everything that I learnt in class to life. Through this project, I learnt to appreciate my culture, it is one of a kind! What is amazing is that the history continues as the steelpan continues to develop even today.” 


The project is ongoing as each article must pass quality checks before it is uploaded and made accessible to the public. The aim of project co-ordinators is to upload more than 1,000 articles to the Web in the next few months. The articles can be accessed by going to the collection itself at the UWI Web site


Interestingly, the articles are also searchable by major online search engines like Google and Bing. One need only enter in the search terms you want to use and add “uwispace” to limit the search to the UWI digital Steelpan Newspaper Collection. In addition to the articles from the UWI library collection, the UWI digital Steelpan Newspaper Collection included articles gifted from Remy’s personal collection as well as those of a number of her students and colleagues.


“Almost every day it seems, Dr Anne Osborne is bringing me a new clipping,” Remy said.


Going forward, her plan is for current and future students to continue working on the project and expanding the collection. 


Remy is excited for people to try the UWI digital Steelpan Newspaper Collection and check out what is up on the Web so far.


“The history of steelpan is complex and making these newspaper clippings easily available will help scholars, students and pan jumbies the world over get the first-hand reports from Trinidad newspapers to help understand Trinidad’s national instrument and how the music of pan has evolved.


“I am delighted that I got this research grant because it offers a real service, making readily available much that was not.” 


One scholar who has started to look at these online clippings and is excited about the collection is pan player extraordinaire Mia Gormandy. After earning her masters degree in music at Northern Illinois University, this All Stars steelband veteran is now a PhD candidate in ethnomusicology at Florida State University where she is planning a dissertation on pan in Japan.


“This resource is invaluable not only to graduate students doing research on steelpan, but to undergraduates, professors, or anyone interested in learning more about the steelpan. To have such a resource readily available not only provides supporting evidence for any steelpan research topic, but also draws new perspective on history, which may sought to answer new questions about our steelpan fraternity. I applaud Dr Remy for taking the time to put this together as it is and will continue to be an important resource for steelpannists, especially in the world of academia.”


More info


UWI digital Steelpan Newspaper Collection is just one of the historical collections that the library at UWI is looking to digitise and make accessible to the public on the Web. Nero further notes that the Special Collections department is always seeking donations of material of historic significance. Nero can be reached at [email protected]. If anyone has clippings or photos or other steelpan memorabilia that they want to contribute to this project, it is not too late and they should feel free to contact the library. The UWI Library continues to explore the acquisition of funds to support the digitisation initiative. Sponsors interested in contributing to this effort can contact the Campus Librarian, the Alma Jordan Library at 662-2002 ext 2009.



Ray Funk is a retired Alaskan judge who is passionately devoted to calypso, pan and mas. Andrew Martin is an ethnomusicologist, percussionist, pannist, and associate professor of Music at Inver Hills College in St Paul, Minnesota.


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