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Stabroek News editorial on the National Archives of Guyana

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  • John Wilmer
    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
    Message 1 of 2 , Jul 1, 2005
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      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.
    • Jon - Budmart.co.uk
      Hello John They should name the Berbice Bridge after President Jagdeo as he will proberly be long gone and so will most of us by the time it is actually built.
      Message 2 of 2 , Jul 1, 2005
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        Hello John
         
        They should name the Berbice Bridge after President Jagdeo as he will proberly be long gone and so will most of us by the time it is actually built.
         
        I don't think its a good idea to name President's College after Burnham as he was a Tyrant and brought unstability to Guyana, we are all still feeling the effects of his legacy today !
         
        The naming of Buildings and Streets should be restricted to famous names who actually done something for Guyana.
         
        How about a Quelch Street after J J Quelch for example as he had done a lot to preserve Guyana's Heritage and Flora and Fauna and others like him rather than Presidents or others who are less deserving.
         
        I think Villages etc. should name Streets and Buildings after local Personalities who again actually achieved something for the local Community.
         
        Regarding the National Archives, i have no qualms about the Building being named after Dr Rodney but the Archives should still be refered to as the National Archives as that what it is.
         
        Just as a Company building can be named after anyone but it doesn't change the name of the Organisation who occupy it.
         
        Rather though than dwelling on unimportant issues such as the name for the building, they should be looking at how to preserve the documents which are far more important.
         
        Regards
         
        Jon


        John Wilmer <lance2703@...> wrote:

        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.




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