Reynaldo Ortiz-Minaya, doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology at Binghamton University (The State University of New York), needed access to a rare manuscript compilation of Cuban colonial court documents for his dissertation research. One option was to travel to the repository, Harvard’s Houghton Library, and laboriously transcribe pages or request facsimile copies of selected pages. Instead, Edward Shepherd, Director of Collections at Binghamton University Libraries, reached out to Mary Wilke, CRL’s Membership Liaison and Outreach Services Director. CRL directly supported Harvard’s digitization of the manuscript.
Ortiz-Minaya’s research had led him to a volume in the J.A. Escoto collection at Harvard. Descriptions of sentences for prisoners convicted of homicide during slave resistance movements noted their transfer to a penal colony in San Juan, Puerto Rico, which Ortiz-Minaya indicates “became a colonial showcase of punitive disciplinary regulation, modeled . . . after the slave plantation system itself.” The court transcripts and newspaper clippings digitized with direct support from CRL were an essential resource for Ortiz-Minaya’s dissertation: From Plantation to Prison Cell: Visual Economies of Slave Resistance, Criminal Justice, and Penal Exile in the Spanish Caribbean, 1820–1886.
These digitized documents are now available not only for Ortiz-Minaya, but also for other scholars who will be able to access the resource on Harvard’s digital collections platform. Additional colonial Caribbean materials also available online through other CRL initiatives and partnerships include: Haitian and Cuban documents digitized with CRL support by the Law Library Microform Consortium; Puerto Rican civil court documents digitized through LAMP; and a large group of heavily used Brazilian documents mounted on CRL’s server in a early digitization project.