This year I headed to Jamaica, the Caribbean Island, to dig through archives hoping to find resources for my Third Year Dissertation for Bath Spa University. Friends and family told me prior to the trip about how beautiful the beaches and holiday resorts were. As you can imagine I was very excited and fortunate enough to have been sponsored by the Bath and District branch of the Royal Commonwealth Society.
Upon arrival in Montego Bay (North West) the views were gorgeous, gloriously white beaches with palm trees and crystal clear water. “What a place to be doing research” I thought to myself. I spent 3 days in Montego Bay and the people were really friendly and helpful giving me directions through the town to the library and in finding the best place to eat. I thoroughly enjoyed Montego Bay.
Day Four saw a short flight to the capital of the island, Kingston. With the sponsorship I was granted I was able to find a room in a family home in Spanish Town for a week. When I say family home, I literally mean I was able to experience the Jamaican culture the proper way, not from a hotel room! The family of four were the most generous and humble people I have met. With the little they had, they couldn’t do enough for me. The husband drove me on the first day to the University of West Indies which was a 1 and ½ hour drive through rush hour traffic in Kingston and refused my offer of petrol money and every night at dinner the Mother always insisted I had the leftovers. It was an absolute pleasure staying with the family.
The University of West Indies was (see picture) was my main centre of research, I was able to look at microfilms and manuscript from the 17th Century. The University itself was very run down and in need of some government funding (which by the way the rest of Kingston needed as well) but the material inside has provided me with key sources and links to follow back home in England.
The other places visited were; The National Archive Centre of Jamaica and the National Library of Jamaica. Both were situated in Downtown Kingston. If you ever find heading for Downtown Kingston, make a sharp U-turn.
Not only will your car not survive the horrendous potholes covering most of the roads, but you will more than likely be approached by the local gangs telling you that you are not welcome in their neck of the woods. The 3 days I spent travelling to and from the Downtown region of the Capital, I was not only shocked by the awful conditions the people lived, but also scared. I didn’t want any trouble so I kept my head down the whole half a mile walk from the bus stop to the Research Centres.
Contrary to what people had told me before my Research Trip, Jamaica has two sides to it. The first side that people in the rest of the Commonwealth see is the spectacular beaches and people smiling, singing and dancing in grand holiday resorts, the areas that the government pump money. The other side, the darker side to Jamaica, appears to have been left to fight for itself. If I had not have stayed with such a wonderful family who made me feel safe and who introduced me to neighbours who were also very hospitable, I would have been tempted to try and move my flight forward a couple of days.
Thanks once again to the Royal Commonwealth Society for the sponsorship and allowing me to experience Jamaica properly and allowing me to find some key documents for my research.
Sam Hollinghead, Student Bath Spa University.