On February 8, 2017 an interview with Dr. Pat Franks, Svetlana Ushakova, Pamela Lutzker and Inna Gogina was posted to the ISchools website. In the interview Dr. Franks discusses the inspiration for the IDNA project and researchers discuss their experience during the international research process, the challenges they faced and the countries which they profiled.
I started this project focusing on the national archives of some Pacific island nations. Not being able to actually visit these archives, I was often distracted by the very beautiful pictures of these coral islands presented by Google during my research; images of blue water and a vibrant sky dotted with big white clouds provided a much needed virtual vacation from the cold, wet winter I was experiencing in Seattle. But this beautiful, warm paradise can wreak havoc on historical documents and artifacts. As archivists, librarians, and museum professionals, we are well aware of the risks that these institutions face, including extreme weather, natural disasters, war, aging infrastructure, and the very modern concern of hardware and software degredation and obsolesence. Archives have always faced some level of risk and accordingly, many archives have some sort of disaster plan to deal with the those disasters most likely to affect their archives.
A particular risks to the national archives of the Pacific island region (including Micronesia, Melanesia, and Polynesia) is the environment, as the tropical climate of these island nations presents a challenge to the preservation of analog records and to the maintenance of hardware necessary to house digital records. Hot, humid environments are the archenemy to archival preservation. Paper and water just don’t mix.
Not only does the environment pose a challenge to the archives of Pacific island nations, but Matthew Gordon-Clark points out two new risks to these island national archives in his 2011 article “Paradise lost? Pacific island archives threatened by climate change”: rising sea levels and extreme weather events. As sea levels rise due to global warming, those low-lying Pacific islands are at particular risk of damaging or losing their archives to encroahing sea levels and storm surge water (the author mentions Tuvalu, Marshall Islands, Tokolau, and Kiribati at greatest risk). Even those island nations that sit well above sea level still risk damage to national infrastructure due to rising sea levels, which will impact all areas of governement and life. Additionally, extreme weather events (stronger and more frequent hurricanes, for example) pose a myriad of risks to all Pacific island countries and their national archives. This very real possibility should be considered by the national archives of these nations, especially if they have the opportunity to relocate inland to higher ground.
Indeed, changing weather is an issue for all nations and cultural heritage institutions world wide, not just those in the Pacific, and should be addressed in disaster plans to ensure that we preserve those documents and artifacts that are most important to our countries. Until then, let us hope that these seemingly idylic Pacific islands remain so.
Gordon-Clark, M. (2011). Paradise lost? Pacific island archives threatened by climate change. Archival Science, 12(1), 51-67.
I discovered the concept of anarchic archives while conducting research on Angola’s National Archives: Arquivo Histórico Nacional/Arquivo Nacional de Angola.
In a blog post entitled “Field Notes from Angola: Of Archived Archives and Anarchic Archives”, Schenck (2015) describes her experience climbing “a mountain of documents” in the “dusty dark” with the sole guidance from an archivist: “You can climb it and see whether you find anything that might interest you.” She goes on to ponder exactly what constitutes an archives, describes the different places her historical research took her, and offers tips for future researchers in Africa.
When I told my IDNA colleagues about Schenck’s experience, I was surprised to discover that anarchic archives are a common phenomenon not just in Africa, but all over the world. Indeed many researchers and archivists, including IDNA’s Dr. Pat Franks, have sifted through trailers and dug through attic boxes for vital information contained in these orphaned, scattered archives.
Another example of anarchic archives comes from “Anarchic Archives: The Potency and Problems of Maritime Archaeological Archives” (Ransley and Satchell, 2014). Ransley and Satchell argue that maritime archives in the UK are unkempt due to the conditions in which the archives are created (oftentimes at sea) and the “messy politics of archive production” which gives “a sense that these archives are created within an ungoverned, ambiguous legal (and physical) environment” (p. 2). They describe the resulting archives as “dispersed, un-curated and insecure”.
How Can National Archives Help?
Most national archives’ collections and focuses are limited to government records. It is not uncommon for national archives to also collect cultural and historical records of enduring value, but it would be impossible for these institutions to track and secure all records created in a country. This means that, while national archives are often a starting point for researchers, they may not be the finish line. In fact, a researcher may travel to many different offices, institutions, and even private homes to find certain information. This is especially the case in war-torn, post-colonial, and developing countries.
One way national archives can improve researchers’ experiences with anarchic archives is assistance in locating and contacting the archives. National archives often have contact information for state and provincial archives. Additionally, national archives may have contact information for other archives that hold records related to the national archive’s collections and mission.
Schenck describes another way the Angolan National Archives, her “home base” during her time in Angola, assisted her research: “The director wrote the invitation letter necessary to apply for my visa and provided me with a valuable letter, certifying my bona fide status as a researcher.” The director’s letter gave Schenck credibility that helped her gain entrance into anarchic archives as well as government offices.
The State Archival Service of Ukraine is a national government agency that oversees the network of 2,677 institutions, including 9 central state archival institutions, 4 research centers, and 24 regional archives—among others. The agency is responsible for preserving and providing access to, 58 million items, receiving over 414,000 requests per year. More than 25,000 researchers visit its research rooms every year.
It is with great enthusiasm and awareness of the importance of the task that I began working on the entry dedicated to the national archive of the country where I was born, for the International Directory of National Archives. During my work, I learned about the history of the Ukrainian archives, the core functions of the national archives government agency, its physical and digital makeup, and the services it provides to the public and the government of Ukraine. A native ability to speak Ukrainian and Russian has been a helpful tool in my quest for the most up-to-date information about the archives for the IDNA entry. It allowed me to access the information not only on the official agency website but also in the online mass media and other publications describing the archives in Russian and Ukrainian languages. I am excited about having brought the draft to completion and look forward to seeing it in the new publication! ~Inna Gogina
Svetlana Ushakova is the first the IDNA project team to complete a entry for inclusion in the International Directory of National Archives. The Federal Archival Agency of Russia is routed in the 16th century when the first Russian archives was established; however, archival materials date back to the 11th century. In addition to a fascinating history of archives in Russia, this entry provides information about the responsibilities of the Federal Archival Agency, the services it provides to government departments, its physical and digital infrastructures, and how the public can gain access to the holdings. 1 entry down–195 to go!