The conservation and disclosure of archives

The (historical) information on European national movements resides in records and documentation. Until now, however, there has not been any coordinated effort on a European level to collect records, documentation and information on this subject, to conserve it and to disclose it for research. At the same time there is also a need for advice and support for the conservation and disclosure of the sources.

Moreover, because of the specific history of the origin and context of the sources, their conservation and disclosure are exposed to a host of dangers. As a rule, national movements are very heterogeneous in their composition and they generally do not have a central leadership. In the course of the history of their origin and evolution they usually do not have a central depository for their records and documentation. National movements consist of private citizens. They operated and campaigned by means of clubs, associations, organisations… The private character of most archival sources on the subject constitutes a serious drawback for their collection, disclosure and conservation, so that many sources are at risk of being lost forever.

As the sources created by the national movements are those of their intermediary structures and the people linked to them, as a rule no provision has been laid down in law to transfer those sources to official archival institutes. Moreover, because the status of the sources pertains to private law, archival institutes specialised in private law archives need to prospect extensively to research and collect the sources. Finally, in some cases the keepers of the records operated clandestinely for a longer or shorter period. In many cases the authorities took no interest in those sources for a long time and in some cases there was no interest until today. It must also be noted that in the beginning and again in some cases even until today, the keepers of the archives were rather suspicious of the official bodies and/or archival institutes.

The situation varies according to the various national movements, but generally no concerted effort has been made to collect the records, documentation and information in a scientific manner and to conserve them and disclose them for research.
For instance, over the past twenty years the growth of historic research into the national movement in Flanders is in part due to the presence of an institute such as the ADVN. It ensures the conservation of records, iconography and literature produced by and concerning an important section of 19th and 20th century society; it centralises all information on this subject and also supports and stimulates relevant scientific research. But there are also national movements where the conservation of the records, their disclosure and use for scientific research leaves much to be desired. And there is a vast spectrum of variations and levels of sources and relevant research between these two extreme positions. Therefore there is a real danger that many sources be scattered, neglected and/or destroyed.

See for example the publication on the archives of nationalist and regionalist political parties.

So, at the moment, the archival situation for the research of national movements in Europe is far from ideal. This calls for a series of archival measures directed at the sources created by the national movements.