Thomas A. Hale
Edwin Erle Sparks Professor Emeritus of African, French, and Comparative Literature
December 18, 2017
When I started to do research on Césaire in 1971 for my doctoral thesis in French at the University of Rochester, I didn’t know about the existence of Le Progressiste. By the summer of 1972, which I spent in Paris, I managed to see a few copies at the Bibliothèque Nationale. But it was not until my visit to Martinique in January 1973 that I was able to examine nearly every copy from the founding of the journal till the present, when I was in the midst of my thesis research. I consulted those copies at both the Bibliothèque Schœlcher and at the headquarters of the Parti Progressiste Martiniquais. The newspaper was important for several reasons.
Starting with the first issue in April 1958, it provided detailed information on the founding of the Parti Progressiste Martiniquais and the many challenges facing Césaire during this period. In the years that followed, the newspaper was especially useful for information on local events, ranging from changes in zoning regulations in Fort-de-France to interviews with Césaire, and news of his activities outside of the island. These included speeches at the Assemblée nationale, interviews in many countries, and the dates and purposes of his travels.
Realizing how important the newspaper was for understanding Césaire and politics in Martinique, I decided obtain a subscription. From then on, for many years, the copies arrived regularly. They turned out to be an extremely valuable source of information for Les Écrits d’Aimé Césaire, the modest commented bibliography that I published in 1976. I maintained the subscription long after I had finished the thesis in May 1974, but there were gaps in the collection here and there because of problems with the mail. Finally, during a long period from 1980 to 2000, as my research interests shifted to the oral tradition in West Africa, I no longer subscribed on a regular basis. But I did maintain my interest in Césaire thanks to invitations to contribute to special issues of journals and requests to participate on particular projects, for example the traveling exhibit “La Force de Regarder Demain” and the three-part film series on the author by Euzhan Palcy. These activities prompted me to keep up my subscription to the newspaper. Le Progressiste was especially important after I met Kora Véron around 2003 and we embarked on a 10-year project to produce Les Écrits de Césaire: Biobibliographie Commentée, a much larger and more comprehensive version of its antecedent that I published in 1976.
In 2012 I retired from Pennsylvania State University after 39 years of teaching African and Afro-Caribbean literature in the Department of French and Francophone Studies and also the Department of Comparative Literature. By 2014 my wife and I began to radically downsize in preparation for moving from a large house to a small cottage. The challenge of disposing of several hundred feet of books on shelves was great, but even harder was what to do with documents and journals. The Library at Pennsylvania State University had launched a new program called “ScholarSphere” to acquire special collections of retiring faculty members — for example a collection of posters about student demonstrations at the University of California in the late 1960s. The Library agreed to take several boxes of articles and other items by Césaire that I had accumulated for research on the writer. But the librarian in charge of the Scholar Sphere project felt that Le Progressiste should go to a special collection elsewhere. She quickly did an Internet search and discovered that the University of Florida had one of the largest collections of Caribbean and Latin American materials in the world. I wrote to the director and he enthusiastically agreed to take my collection of 1,172 copies of Le Progressiste along with single copies of other journals published in Martinique.
What I didn’t realize at the time of the donation was that one of the students who graduated from our doctoral program in French, Hélène Huet, had taken a job at the University of Florida Library as the specialist in the Romance languages. I knew her well when she was a graduate student because she took a seminar with me on Francophonie and Françafrique. She was one of the librarians assigned to Le Progressiste collection. She invited me to present a paper on the importance of Le Progressiste at a two-day seminar, Sept. 21-22, 2017, on “Collaborating Across the Divide: Digital Humanities in the Caribbean.” There I learned that my collection of Le Progressiste would be accessible not simply from the University of Florida but also via this regional initiative called the Digital Library of the Caribbean. It is a consortium of 50 partner institutions in the Caribbean, nearby countries, and in other parts of the world that have significant research interests in the region.
If Césaire were alive today, he would be delighted to see such a project involving people in the Caribbean working together for the common good.
500 East Marylyn Ave., A4
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European Studies Librarian at the University of Florida
The Smathers Libraries’ Digital Services started the digitization of Le Progressiste in January 2017. It was completed in April 2018 and 1488 issues are now available online in dLOC. The digitized issues range from 1958 (year of the first publication) to 2009. They offer Caribbean Studies a major new resource pertaining to the history of Martinique, France, Négritude, and/or Francophone politics.