Skip to main content

Journalist Laura Trevelyan calls for urgent preservation of the Caribbean’s endangered historical archives

7 March 2024

Woman in lecture theatre
Former BBC journalist Laura Trevelyan (PgDip 1991, Hon 2022)

Former BBC journalist Laura Trevelyan says the British government and its leading research institutions should make a financial commitment to preserve endangered archives in the Caribbean.

Speaking at the inaugural Sir Tom Hopkinson lecture in Cardiff University, Laura, whose ancestors were absentee slave owners in the Caribbean island of Grenada until the abolition of slavery in 1834, challenged Britain’s institutions to openly discuss their connections to the slave trade and move swiftly to safeguard the future of rare historical documents.

Laura, a former student of the University’s School of Journalism, Media and Culture, said: “There is an urgent need to preserve the endangered historical archives across the Caribbean. These paper records of ship manifests, of censuses on plantations, of births and deaths of the enslaved, of newspapers, are snapshots of information about the lives of the slaves which help build a picture of the actual people involved.

“Scholars have argued that the injustice of slavery is compounded by the fragmented nature of these archives. There’s a pain in not knowing who your ancestors were and where they came from.

“For descendants of the enslaved, these records are not easily accessible. Very few Caribbean archives are digitized or available online. Increasingly hot temperatures and financial challenges are making the work of Caribbean archivists extremely difficult.

“The bicentenary of the abolition of slavery in 2034 is an opportunity– a chance to tell the story of slavery from the perspective of the enslaved, in a way which links the past to the present, for future generations.

“I would argue that Britain’s government and its leading research institutions should make a financial commitment to preserve the endangered archives in the Caribbean.”

She added:  “Digitizing documents alone is not enough, though. Without interpretation by scholars, ancient papers don’t come alive.

“Imagine if this vast, interactive Caribbean online archive could be connected to those Caribbean archives which already exist in the British Library and elsewhere in Britain’s universities.”

In February 2023 Laura and six members of her family returned to Grenada to deliver a public letter of apology for the role of their ancestors in slavery. She personally donated £100,000 towards education projects in Grenada.

Laura said: “Britain has a selective memory of its involvement in that gruesome economy. We have a duty to confront the past – as journalists, and as citizens of a democracy. Societies are not healthy if they shrink from the past – or twist history.”

Head of Cardiff University’s School of Journalism, Media and Culture Dr Matt Walsh said: “I’d like to thank Laura for speaking about such an important topic. As a notable news journalism alumna of our school and a distinguished journalist with 30 years’ experience, Laura was the perfect choice to honour the memory and journalistic career of Sir Tom Hopkinson, the original founder of today’s School of Journalism, Media and Culture in Cardiff University.”

Share this story

The School is a world-leading centre for media teaching and research.