The promise of the digital archive is one of infinite access and endless accumulation—a democratization of knowledge. But the shape of the archive has always been determined by relations of power. Foucault, for instance, defines the archive as the site of the “law of what can be said, the system that governs the appearance of statements as unique events.” Do the new affordances of digitization change or merely reinforce existing divisions between speakable and the unspeakable pasts and futures? This paper turns to the newly-founded Early Caribbean Digital Archive project (a digital collection of pre-1900 texts and images from the Caribbean) to consider how the silences of the archive might be addressed and redressed—not simply by way of accumulation, but by way of strategies of digital remix and curation, aimed at changing the structures of knowledge that have rendered the history of the Black Atlantic and the Caribbean a “deep crypt,” (in the words of Simon Gikandi) in which the voices of the enslaved have been silenced and immured within the archive of early capitalist modernity.
Elizabeth Maddock Dillon is Professor of English at Northeastern University and a Visiting Distinguished Fellow at the Advanced Research Collaborative, CUNY Graduate Center. She is the author of New World Drama: The Performative Commons in the Atlantic World (Duke UP: 2014).