The History of European Archives and the Development of the Archival Profession in Europe

14 American Archivist / Vol. 55 / Winter 1992 European Archives in an E\ The History of European Archives and the Development of the Archival Profession in Europe MICHEL DUCHEIN About the author: Michel
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14 American Archivist / Vol. 55 / Winter 1992 European Archives in an E\ The History of European Archives and the Development of the Archival Profession in Europe MICHEL DUCHEIN About the author: Michel Duchein is a former Inspector General of the Archives de France. For an expanded introduction see the Gallery of Contributors at the end of the issue. Abstracts in English, French, German, and Spanish follow the article. As ANYONE WITH EVEN a superficial notion of European history would easily recognize, to speak of the history of European archives and of the European archival profession is little more than an illusion and little less than an absurdity. Despite the fact that Europe (or at least a part of it) has often achieved some kind of cultural homogeneity since the Middle Ages, there has never been any political or legal unity, even to the smallest degree, between countries whose language, religion, and other cultural factors have much in common. For this reason, each European country has followed its own path of archival development, linked narrowly to its governmental and bureaucratic system. Due to recent increases in international cooperation and awareness of basic similarities in archival problems shared by all countries, there has been a tendency at least to harmonize European archival legislation and practices if not to unify them. Many international symposia, study sessions, and task forces have focused on specific problems including the professional training of archivists and the conditions for public access to archives. Despite these efforts, we are still very far from any kind of archival European Community, even within the EC. This article will try to shed some light on the genesis and history of the evolution of archival theory and practice in the main European countries. It will also suggest some directions towards a certain degree of harmonization which can be expected (or at least hoped for) in the not too distant future. The Origins of Archival Practices in Europe As has occurred in all human civilizations, the practice of archival administra- History of European Archives 15 tion grew in Europe as a natural, organic phenomenon as soon as the practice of writing on perishable materials was invented. Ancient Greece had archival repositories. So did the Roman Empire, which is the starting point for every study of European legal, political, and cultural history. 1 These archives were all destroyed during the Great Invasions of the fifth, sixth, and seventh centuries A.D., however. Only a vague tradition of records-keeping survived in the more advanced, or less backward, of the new kingdoms born on the ruins of the Empire. These archives were in turn practically annihilated later, so that only a very few documents prior to 1000 A.D. survive in Europe. Even the Carolingian Empire, which purported to be a Christian revival of the Roman Empire, disappeared without leaving any significant number of archives, due to its economic and political collapse in the tenth century. European archives began to revive only in the eleventh and twelfth centuries when a new political and religious organization of the continent gradually emerged from the chaos. From that point onward, it is no longer possible to speak of European archives except in a purely geographical sense. All the new monarchies (German, French, English, and later Spanish), the great feudal powers, the Church, and the towns organized their own records-keeping independently so that little by little local or national traditions and methods were created, giving birth in modern times to the various archival systems which now exist. In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, local and national administrations began to emerge out of feudal practices, and with them archival repositories began to function. The French Tresor des Chartes had its first archivist, Pierre d'etampes, in The archives of the kingdom of Aragon were created in Nearly all the Italian and Flemish towns organized the conservation and management of their archives within the framework of their municipal institutions. Archival repositories such as these were defined as loci publici in quibus instrumenta deponuntur, i.e. public places where legal documents are kept. 2 This definition demonstrates that the legal aspect of records-keeping was then prevalent. To give just one example from many, private contracts between citizens in Flanders (such as commercial contracts, marriage deeds, last wills, etc.) were kept in coffers in the town hall. The very fact that they were there gave them legal force. For the same reason, public archival repositories in Hungary were called loci credibiles, which could be interpreted as places which give legal credibility to the documents kept within them. Such a notion had long-lasting consequences in many European countries. As late as 1937, Hilary Jenkinson stated in his famous Manual of Archive Administration that a character of authenticity was inherent to documents kept in the Public Record Office, and for that reason a guarantee of uninterrupted transmission was essential for a document to be recognized as part of a public record office. 3 However, such a notion never existed in many other countries, including France, where the fact of its being preserved in a public archival repository does not give a document any guarantee of authenticity. Since the beginning, the most common kinds of documents in archival repositories were titles of land property and other documents of economic interest. The monasa See for example Ernst Posner, Archives in the Ancient World (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1972). 2 L. Sandri, La Storia degli Archivi, Archivum 18 (1968): 108. 'Hilary Jenkinson, Manual of Archive Administration, 2nd. ed. (London: P. Lund, Humphries, 1937), 12. 16 American Archivist / Winter 1992 teries, which until the sixteenth centuiy were the greatest landowners in Europe, had wellkept archiva or munimenta, now a firstclass source on European medieval economic history. Other well-kept archives were those of royal chanceries, civil or ecclesiastical courts, and municipalities, all of which had a clearly evident character of utility for their owners. The Creation of the First Great Archival Repositories A decisive step was taken in the sixteenth century when progress in royal administration led to the concentration of archives in central repositories with specialized archivists and other staff to help. The classic example of this prefiguration of the modern national archives was the creation in 1542 of the Archivo de Simancas in Spain, where little by little all of the records of the councils, courts, chanceries, secretaries, treasuries, etc. of the Castilian Crown came together until they were concentrated there by The 1588 internal regulation of Simancas, Instruccion para el Gobierno del Archivo de Simancas, is perhaps the first known document of its kind. 4 Another significant date is 1610, when James I of England appointed Levinus Monk and Thomas Wilson as Keepers and Registers of Papers and Records, thus creating the famous series of State Papers which is now the core of the Public Record Office. That same year brought the creation of the Vatican Archives in their modern form. All these creations corresponded to the political phenomenon known as the birth of the administrative monarchies in Eu- A lnstrucci6n para el Gobierno del Archivo de Simancas, ed. Jos6 Luis Rodriguez de Diego (Madrid: Ministerio de Culture, 1989). See also R.H. Bautier, La Phase Cruciale de l'histoire des Archives: la Constitution des Depots d'archives et la Naissance de l'archivistique, Archivum 18 (1968): rope. As the local and central administrations multiplied and became more specialized, their production of records grew in importance. It became necessary to evolve systems for the conservation, arrangement, description, and general management of those huge, new masses of parchments and papers. Gradually, the profession of the archivist came to be recognized as a distinct activity, requiring a specialized savoir-faire. The Birth of an Archival Science Despite all these developments, an archival science did not emerge until the seventeenth century. In that era an interest in history as a science began to grow out of the Renaissance science of the diploms. (The De Re Diplomatica of the French Benedictine monk Dom Mabillon, first published in 1681, was a famous milestone of that earlier period). After the work of Baldassare Bonifacio, who in 1632 wrote the first known treatise on the management of archives, several treatises and manuals appeared on the subject in Italy, France, Germany, and Spain. 5 Already conflicting theories existed about the best methods for the arrangement and description of archives. In France, for example, J. Godefroy and J. de Chevrieres recommended a chronological order while archivists elsewhere preferred a methodical arrangement of documents either by place names or according to the juridical nature of the documents. 6 At the end of the eighteenth century, the whole field of archival theory and practice in Europe was being completely renovated. With the exceptions of Great Britain and Russia, the French Revolution and the Napoleonic conquests had provoked a complete upheaval of all governmental, 5 B. Bonifacio, De Archivis Liber Singularis (Venezia, [n.p.] 1632). 6 R.H. Bautier, La Phase Cruciale de l'histoire des Archives, 147. History of European Archives 17 administrative, and legal structures throughout Europe. By 1815, archival repositories as well had undergone a radical change, beginning with France in , followed by the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, and Spain. The French law of 7 Messidor Year II (25 June 1794) was indeed revolutionary, both in the chronological and institutional meanings of that term, in so much as it proclaimed for the first time the right of citizens to have access to public archives. 7 Until then, archives had been carefully closed or at most open only to a few privileged researchers whose use was generally for official purposes. 8 After the French Revolution, the notion that research in archives was a civic right was increasingly recognized, even in such conservative countries as the Austrian Empire and the Kingdom of Prussia. The Revolution and the Napoleonic wars had more or less abolished all previously existing administrative structures in the above-named countries. All their archives, therefore, had to come under the control of new forms of government, but at the same time they had lost their practical and immediate relevance since they were associated with defunct institutions. As a result, their historical significance came to predominate, which was a new feature of archival practice. This transition in the role of the archives had important consequences for the future. With the suppression of most of the monasteries, tribunals, and other places where pre-revolutionary archivists had learned their trade, it became necessary to create special schools in order to train archivists in reading old scripts, interpreting old documents, and understanding old languages and spellings. This was needed all the more because the knowledge of old administrative and legal practices was rapidly disappearing. The first school to attempt to meet this need was the Scuola del Grande Archivio in Naples, established in Later came the Archivalische Unterrichtsinstitut in Munich, in 1821, and today's Ecole des Chartes in Paris, started in 1821 and revived in 1829 after a brief hiatus. As the nineteenth century progressed, many other schools or institutes throughout Europe followed these early models, and were either independent or connected to archival institutions or universities. It would certainly be erroneous to think that this kind of teaching was what we now consider archival science, or archivistique, or archivology as we call it in most European languages. It was essentially a discipline in legal and institutional history, paleography, philology, diplomatics, sigillography, and heraldry. Special emphasis was placed upon the Middle Ages. The very name of the Ecole des Chartes reflects the significance of the study of medieval documents, including charters. Many elements of today's archivistique were hardly considered in the archival schools of the first part of the nineteenth century, which were not so much schools of archival science as schools of historical science. The theory of accessioning and selecting new records was nevertheless beginning to take shape. As early as 1731, the Reali Istruzioni (Royal Instructions), given in Turin to the archivist of the Royal Archives of. Sardinia, stated that useless papers were to be destroyed. 9 Identical practices existed in other archival repositories, sometimes with written rules as their basis. However, these practices did not follow any rational principles. The French Revolution regrettably gave great impetus to the destruction of papers, on the political and ideological 7 M. Duchein, Requiem pour Trois Lois D6- funtes, Gazette des Archives 104 (1979): It is significant that to this day the Vatican Archives are still named Archivio Segreto Vaticano. 9 E. Lodolini, Archivistica: Principi e Problemi (Milano: Franco Angeli, 1984): 234. 18 American Archivist / Winter 1992 grounds that all documents of servitude and fanatisme (meaning the royalist regime and Christianity) were to be destroyed in order to erase the memory of barbarism. As a result, many documents of historical interest relating to the royal and feudal administration and to the Catholic Church were burnt between 1794 and 1796, accompanied by the public's rejoicing. 10 This can hardly be considered a first step towards the modern theory and practice of archival appraisal, however. From Historical Archives to Modern Archives The modern administration of archives in Europe really began when it became clear that archives could no longer be considered only historical repositories. It was realized that they also had to receive, more or less regularly, papers originating from functioning institutions. Of course such a practice had always existed in those archival repositories which were linked with administrative bodies. For instance, in 1720 an Instruction issued by Peter the Great had regulated transfers to the Russian Imperial Archives. 11 However, after the great revolutionary and post-revolutionary changes in the years , the link between current records and archival repositories had been severed, causing the archives to lose their organic contact with active administration. Napoleon I recognized the need for archives to continue as a living institution. In 1808 he initiated an important series of regulations on transfers by publishing a circular ordering the regular transfer of the papers of the Public Works Division of the Prefectures to the newly-created Archives departementales. All European countries 10 L. de Laborde, Les Archives de la France pendant la Revolution Franqaise (Paris: J. Claye, 1866). R.H. Bautier, La Phase Cruciale de l'histoire des Archives, 148. gradually developed the practice of transferring papers from administrative offices to their archival repositories, but the methodology of such transfers, and above all the theoretical problems which they raised as to the notion of closed and open archival series, were slow to emerge. For a long time, the predominant emphasis in the keeping of archives was a historicist one. For some countries, this orientation lasted almost to World War II. For example, in Spain the Archivo Historico Nacional, created in 1866, was devoted exclusively to documents from defunct institutions; all new transfers were excluded. In England, the Public Record Office did not regularly receive new documents until several decades after it was opened in However, the increase in the bulk of papers produced by all governmental and administrative offices was such that by the 1850s nearly all the European countries had to face the quadruple problem of the transfer of these papers to archival repositories, of their appraisal, of their arrangement and description, and of their opening to public research. It was then that most of the national archival institutions took their modern form, which in several cases has lasted until the present day. With the regular transfers of records from functioning institutions, Europe became two cultural zones. There was one zone with a registratur system, and one zone without such a system. The registratur is a practice in use in Germany and central Europe by which each administrative document is registered with a registry number corresponding to a methodical schedule known as the Aktenplan. Already at the point of its creation or reception, each document belongs to a file which is prenumbered in a predetermined system. In contrast, in nonregistratur countries such as France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Great Britain, or Spain, the files produced by administrative offices do not have a predetermined num- History of European Archives 19 ber or classification schedule so that archivists have to arrange and classify them after their transfer to the archives. R.H. Bautier is very clear, if perhaps a trifle overly pessimistic, when he writes that the archival division of Europe is such that it is nearly impossible for archivists of one zone to really understand the problems of the other. 12 It is true that it is very difficult for a Frenchman, for instance, to grasp the principles of the registratur system. The non-registratur system is probably equally difficult for a German. It is fairly easy to guess whether the archival system of any non-european country was created by archivists from the registratur or nonregistratur school. The Principle of Provenance and the Modern Bases of Archival Science The main theoretical debate, which was really the basis for archival science as we know it today, arose during the 1850s. Centering on the method of arrangement, this debate is not entirely settled even now. The men of the eighteenth century were fond of classification systems in chemistry, zoology, botany, and astronomy. This appealed to the mind of the Enlightenment era when everything had to be clearly defined and ordered in logical schedules. Archivists of that school conceived of the arrangement of archives as distributing the documents into classes or series corresponding to legal or administrative concepts. The first classification schedule (cadre de classement) for the French Archives nationales was conceived in 1808 by Pierre Daunou. It completely dismembered the papers originating from the royal government and religious institutions in order to distribute them into legislative, administrative, judicial, and historical sections. The same principle was adopted in many other countries, with the 12 Ibid., 146. same deplorable results from the point of view of the integrity of archives. Prussia, Austria, Milan, and others followed this path. The principle of provenance, or respect des fonds as it was originally named in French, was defined for the first time in 1841 by the archivist, diplomatist, and historian Natalis de Wailly. He wrote in an official circular of the Minister of the Interior that all documents which come from a body, an establishment, a family, or an individual form a fonds, and must be kept together... The documents which only make reference to an establishment, a body, or a family, must not be confused with the fonds of that establishment, body, family 13 This principle was soon recognized as the only sound basis for archival arrangement. Not long after its recognition, there emerged the corollary principle of respect for original order. This second principle was identified as Strukturprinzip by the German archivists of the Royal Archives of Prussia a
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