Website Review “Public History in the Caribbean”

Having the desire to explore Caribbean Public History I took it upon myself to explore two very different projects. One is about the second coming of Woodstock in Puerto Rico in the form of the Mar y Sol Music Festival. The other is on Guadeloupe and deals with cemeteries, heritage and memory. Given the diversity of the Caribbean I wanted to look at websites that highlight to very different subjects that might generate intrigue.

Mar Y Sol

The Mar y Sol website to me is quite a find. Established by Reniet Ramirez Rivera, this site becomes his passion project. This website chronicles an incredible music festival that took place at a beach in 1972 Manatí, Puerto Rico. A festival that received a rather strange reaction in the island. I have always loved the 1969 Woodstock Music festival. I must have been around twelve or thirteen when my brother was playing music on the car radio and he played what to me seemed like a long guitar solo. It  turned out to be The Star-Spangled Banner, by Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock. Hendrix opened the Woodstock door for me and he let artist like Janis Joplin, The Who, Richie Havens and many others come in with him. After seeing the Academy award winning documentary on Woodstock, I was struck with all the layers behind this event. Learning that the second coming of an event that I loved so much happened in my own backyard, made me fill up with intrigue. Being the curious person that I am, the first thing I did was ask my original google source, my mother. I will never forget how she described it to me, as the “festival in Manatí that her father once drove her and her siblings to see the naked people walking around.” She proceeded to tell me how later, the “hippies” were stuck in the island and could not leave. How the Governor at the time had to “pay” for their plain tickets back home (not really true). It sounded like an adventure and I wanted to know all I could about it.

This is where the Mar y Sol Festival Website is crucial. This is a historical event that gets some distortion within the island that still needs much clarification. Reniet Ramirez began by simplycollecting everything he could find on the event and later put it online. The site serves as a way of preserving the memory of this great festival in which artist like: The Allman Brothers Band, B.B. King, Alice Cooper and many others were present. There were also several local Puerto Rican bands of the time such as Banda Del K-rajo and Fran Ferrer y Puerto Rico 2010. It is also the place where a young Billy Joel did a great rendition of The Rolling Stone’s Jumping Jack Flash the year before he made it huge with Piano Man. The Mar y Sol Websites helps tell the story of these artists as well as the people who were present. This event was not as well documented as Woodstock. This site collects the different memories of people who went and participated in the festival. This is a project collects memories in the form of, personal testaments, photographs, newspaper clippings, recording and videos to piece this great story together.

The site makes most, if not all its content available to download. I highly recommend listening to the all the recordings specially the bootleg Billy Joel recordings. The page though not as sleek or elegant as it could be, is incredibly easy to navigate. It has on the side of the main page a very simple menu that allows the user to fined what they are looking for. From photos, performances, interviews, videos, memories of people and most importantly, it has a section on false information. This part of the site deals with false information that has surfaced after the festival, such as, performances that did not take place, false posters and even videos. Reniet Ramirez does his best to search for the truth of this festival.

The website is available in both English and Spanish which is great because it really expands its audience. The project grew to the point that Ramirez was able to organize the 40th anniversary of the event. The project seems very fruitful with this addition, where photos of the reunion and a documentary is available, all in the website. This website is a great example of an ever-growing project of public history in Puerto Rico. It has links to social media, in which you can find the sites facebook page. Although it has not had much movement recently, it is still a great website that offers growing insight on this event and the people who made it possible.

Memoires de Guadeloupe

The other website I chose to look at is the Memoires de Guadeloupe. This is a very intriguing site as it has several layers to it. This site that has an elegant design and great homepage. As it states in its homepage it is the first regional and collaborative effort that works with both commentary proceedings and Heritage remembrance.  Working with several cemeteries in the island of Guadeloupe it helps users find where loved ones are buried. Using a very user-friendly platform, it helps the user navigate the system and given the sensitive material, it is not present distastefully. The site permits you to do a search based on cemetery or person. It provides the GPS location of the Cemetery and, if the person is in the system, provides the area in which the deceased are buried. The site offers users the information of the people who work on the cemetery and its hours. Under the “Professionnnel” window the site  provides information for funeral homes, florists and stonemasons. I feel like this is a very good addition to the site, although it only gives you location and does not provide a number in most cases. You can create an account for the site, which I did. With it you can purchase credits to buy ornaments, which I assume are for the deceased graves. This part was one that was a bit discouraging, because It forces you to buy credits, but does not say what you can buy with them unless you buy the credits.

The page has a link in the header which highlights the legal aspects of the code of local and regional authorities. One aspect I love about this page is in its aspect of heritage. It lets users who have an account the opportunity to publish information of the deceased. Information that would have been lost or glanced over in many cases. It of course requires the user to provide legal certification of death, that can be uploaded as a PDF or JPEG. This legal document is verified, but they do not publish it. This the part of the website that I enjoy the most, the site provides stories of people. The kind that would be lost were it not for projects like this. It also highlights some interesting news about the world of cemeteries. This site provides a great service to the people of Guadeloupe. It does not only provide names and news, for many it provides closure. Collecting and providing information of burial sites and even where ashes were spread. This is a great public history project that I feel is very important.

Last Thought and Sad Note

I feel as though even though both pages are very different, they both provide a great service. The best part of both these sites is that, for the most part, they are very user friendly and they are made to keep growing. They both use social media to further collect and promote new information can be added. However, the problem with this is that both sites have not had much movement in the last few years. The latest news segment in the Guadeloupe site, for example, is from 2016. However, these are still important projects that are very important and need to continue providing this information to the public. The main page of Memoires de Guadeloupe said it best on its home page: “The love for one’s roots is one of the essences of life.”

11 Replies to “Website Review “Public History in the Caribbean””

  1. The Mar Y Sol website is very interesting. I had never heard of this music festival and this website will be a good resource to learn more. I must say that I am not the biggest fan of the layout. The first thing I saw when I went on the website was an add for t-shirts and albums. At first glance, it appeared like a retail site selling festival memorabilia. I feel that the history could be emphasized a bit more. I like Memoires de Gaudeloupe. It is like Find a Grave in concept but with the feel of Ancestry.com.

  2. These websites present two interesting viewpoints on the use of the internet for digital history – with one as the passion project of one individual and the other as a place where many users can contribute. Building off of what Gail wrote – I think it is interesting that both of these sites that have the potential to be a windfall for historians or history buffs do not present themselves much like history sites. In the second case, I would guess that is because the site sees itself as more of a resource for the community rather than as a document of the past. I wonder if there is any information about the relative success of sites with a significant historical component that really lean into that in their public image – I could see it going both ways. Also, Gail, I love “Find a Grave crossed with Ancestry.com” as a description for the second site.

  3. Both of the sites provide an interesting online platform to maintain/create/build on community relations in their own ways. Especially so for peoples in the diaspora.

    The Memoires site is beautifully done and I think fills a lacuna that, for those who live at distance, can feel a thread of digital connection to ancestors. However, the information on some cards seems a bit wonky (a recently deceased individual has their death date listed as 2019).

  4. In addition to the obvious retail objects advertised on the front of the Mar Y Sol website, which I agree confuse those entering the site, the design of the homepage and sidebar also makes the page look like one deceptively unconcerned with history. However, in going through the pages it is really impressive the amount of information available and how much effort has been put into making the content easily readable, accessible, and downloadable. To give the site more legitimacy, the “about” page should also be connected with the introduction or linked more prominently to the home page. The Memoires de Gaudeloupe definitely does not have the same problems of looking unprofessional, as color scheme and organization of the pages lead users immediately to the important information defining the purpose of the site. It is interesting that this latter website serves so many functions, making it a useful historical resource for many audiences.

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