Diversity in the Stacks aims to build library collections that represent and reflect the University’s diverse population.
From 1838 until the end of the Indian indenture system in 1917, more than a half-million South Asians were brought to the Caribbean to labor on British, French, and Dutch sugarcane plantations. There, Asian, African, indigenous, and European customs commingled and gave rise to a distinct Indo-Caribbean culture that continues to flourish in Trinidad & Tobago, Guyana, Suriname, Jamaica, and other Caribbean islands.
Over the past five years, Penn Libraries has been broadening efforts to collect materials related to South Asian diasporas, supported by both increased interest on campus as well as financial contribution from the Singh Family Fund. The increasing representation of Indo-Caribbean peoples in our collections is revealing histories, communities, and cultural expressions that have remained underrepresented in most research libraries and understudied in scholarly discourse.
Our recently acquired collection of Indo-Caribbean postcards is of particular scholarly appeal. Produced from the late 1800s to 1975, the postcards depict staged vignettes from Indo-Caribbean life and speak to the exoticizing interests of American and European audiences. Produced by a variety of studios for the tourist market, these postcards were sent to a wide range of locales, including the U.S., Iceland, Tunisia, France, Holland, and Germany. Penn professor Rupa Pillai, whose research focuses on Indo-Caribbean communities, has been utilizing these postcards as a pedagogical tool to engage undergraduate students with the ongoing legacies of indenture. (Pillai will be teaching an undergraduate course titled The Asian Caribbean this spring semester).
In coming years, the Penn Libraries expects to expand our Indo-Caribbean collection in the areas of literature, ephemera, and non-English materials in regional Hindustani dialects as we strive to highlight the diversity of voices that too often remain at the periphery in collection development and academic research.