Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

290Stabroek News editorial on the National Archives of Guyana

Expand Messages
  • John Wilmer
    Jul 1, 2005
    • 0 Attachment
      Link:

      http://www.stabroeknews.com/index.pl/article_editorial?id=23254696

      Text:

      Renaming
      Friday, July 1st 2005
      The season for renaming things has rolled around again it seems. First it
      was the suggestion that the new National Archives building (presuming that
      such a structure ever actually sees the light of day) should be called after
      Dr Walter Rodney, and then it was that President's College should be renamed
      after its founder, President Forbes Burnham.

      In a very general sense the old adage 'if it ain't broke don't fix it' also
      applies - suitably adapted - to the renaming of buildings, institutions,
      thoroughfares, structures, settlements or whatever. In other words, unless a
      name has unusually offensive connotations, it is better left alone; there
      are always new streets, housing schemes, etc, mushrooming all over the place
      which are in need of christening.

      In a general sense too, the longer established a name, the more caution
      should be exercised before that name is abandoned. Encapsulated within the
      diverse nomenclature of our land is the history of this nation; it forms
      part of our connection to what has gone before. We live in villages some of
      which were named by our forefathers, and others of which take their names
      from the estates where our forefathers worked. We traverse rivers, for
      example, whose toponyms derive from the ancestors of one or another of the
      Amerindian nations, and which provide us with a link to an indigenous past.
      We should not dispense with such a heritage lightly.

      Having said that, however, the arguments which are applicable both in the
      case of President's College and the Guyana National Archives are not related
      to connecting with the past as such. In fact, in the case of the first, the
      issue of renaming probably would never have arisen at all if it had not been
      for an initial mistake on the part of the board of the school which proposed
      that the portraits of all Guyana's presidents should be hung in President's
      College instead of that of President Forbes Burham alone. This followed a
      report (which the board subsequently denied) that a suggestion had been made
      to remove President Burnham's portrait altogether.

      A flurry of letters to the newspapers accusing the board and the government
      of attempting to erase Burnham's memory from the face of the land then
      produced a release from GINA saying it was possible that President's College
      could be renamed after its founder. And all this because the board chose to
      see Burnham's picture in political terms, rather than historical ones; it
      was there because he founded the school, not because of his presidential
      status.

      While there probably are portraits of presidents (at least the present one)
      in some of our schools, ideally no politician's image in his capacity as a
      member of government should be hanging in our educational institutions;
      these should as far as possible be free of politics. Interestingly, a recent
      PNC statement explained that the appellation 'President's College' was
      chosen in favour of one containing President Burnham's name partly because
      of an argument advanced by the former Prime Minister, Dr Ptolemy Reid. He
      thought that the institution should be spared from the vagaries of partisan
      politics in the future, to allow the college to blossom as a truly national
      institution. It was a wise piece of advice, and one which the current board
      would do well to note. The last thing a school needs is to find itself at
      the centre of political controversy. In short, leave the picture where it
      is, and forget about the name change.

      And then we come to the archives. Our premier repository for public records
      does not have a name as such, or at least, it is a generic name so to speak.
      But that is the case with nearly all national archives in almost every
      country. It is simply not convention to give such archives a specific name,
      because they are the primary records generated by government as well as a
      variety of quasi-governmental and official sources. They do not belong to
      one party or another, neither do they reflect the work of one individual or
      another. They provide the raw data from which historians and others work,
      but they are not created by historians. Belonging to the nation they collect
      (or should collect) official records indiscriminately for the state, without
      regard to partisan considerations.

      The Cheddi Jagan Research Centre, in contrast, while containing some
      extrememly valuable material from a researcher's point of view, is still not
      a National Archives. Its inspiration derived from one party alone - the PPP
      - and its bias in terms of its collection policy relates primarily to that
      party and the man who led it. It is entirely proper, therefore, that it
      should be named after Dr Jagan.

      Dr Walter Rodney was an extremely modest man who would have been embarrassed
      by the thought had he been alive that anything would have been named after
      him. However, that fact notwithstanding, it is entirely proper now that he
      is gone for this generation to cast around for ways to honour him. That is
      not the issue. The issue is that whatever is chosen it cannot be the Guyana
      National Archives.

      As this country's most eminent historian Dr Rodney was a thorough
      professional who worked in many archives around the world, including those
      in England, and in various countries in Africa and the West Indies. His
      inherent modesty aside, it is reasonable to suppose that he would have been
      very uneasy about naming the National Archives after any individual, but
      would have been especially uneasy if that individual were himself; it would
      simply have run counter to his sense of professionalism, and his
      understanding of how national archives are intended to operate.

      In this year of the twenty-fifth anniversary of his death, it is good that
      the administration has challenged people to ponder how Dr Rodney's name can
      best be inscribed in the material heritage of this nation. There are no
      doubt other possibilities apart from the Guyana National Archives out there,
      and after a period of public debate and consultation with the late
      historian's family, something appropriate will surely be found.
    • Show all 2 messages in this topic