Archival Science

, 9:113 | Cite as

‘Play mas’: carnival in the archives and the archives in carnival: records and community identity in the US Virgin Islands

  • Jeannette A. BastianEmail author
Original paper


Over the past several decades, scholars concerned with post-colonial and indigenous populations have focused on archives as one method of excavating the cultures and lives of marginalized peoples. The limitations of textual and bureaucratic records, combined with the recognition that an archive can consist of interrelated knowledge constructs composed of many different kinds of documentation, have led these scholars to seek ‘archives’ beyond the walls of official buildings. For archivists likewise engaged in documenting post-colonial and other communities, expanding the definitions of what an archive could be, and suggesting new ways of seeing ‘records’, offers the potential of creatively representing and preserving the cultural expressions of these communities. This paper examines carnival as a cultural archive. Carnival, an annual tradition in many Caribbean islands was initially created by both enslaved and freed Africans as a counter-narrative to the festivals of the colonizers. In the US Virgin Islands, carnival began in the eighteenth century when the islands were Danish colonies. It was briefly revived at the beginning of the twentieth century and again in 1952 as an annual public celebration, which it remains today. While carnival produces traditional records, the week-long event also embodies the continuum of a local culture through a variety of non-traditional records that transmit genealogies, folkways, food customs, and history.


Carnival Archives Virgin Islands Performance Community Record Memory Culture 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Graduate School of Library and Information ScienceSimmons CollegeBostonUSA

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