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Digital archives military archives

Digging into the Archives

Concise Presentation of some Archival Institutions and Portals that hold collections related to Military History

by Doctor Anna Batzeli post-doctoral researcher.

Anna Batzeli obtained her PhD at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (Greece). She is working as a postdoctoral researcher on different case-studies in the modern history of Greece and the Balkans. Anna has published two books and several papers. Her publications can be found at: https://auth.academia.edu/AnnaBatzeli

The Committee asked Anna how she found CAM blog and contacts:

“I am highly interested in war and military history, having published articles and papers covering case studies from the Bulgarian-Serbian War (1885-1886), the Balkan Wars (1912-1913), World War I & II. I came across CAM’s website while seeking for information on Military Archives and found CAM’s Military Archives Guide. This Guide is useful for war and miliatry historians, wishing to acquire information on institutions holding collections related to their research”.

The Committee of Military Archives thanks our friend Anna Batzeli for her commitment and her participation to this project

The aim of this piece is to briefly present twelve archival institutions and portals that hold collections related to military history, and can be of a great use for military and war historians. The presented institutions cover a wide spatial and temporal range, offering both a national and a transnational outlook of past events. They also allow historians to piece the puzzles and recreate warship and family/personal stories. The great majority of the presented archival institutions and portals provide free access to digitalized collections. These collections not only facilitate the research of historians, but they can further be used for educational and awareness raising purposes. 

A. Archival Institutions and Portals (based in Europe):
▪ The Archive of Athens War Museum (Greece)
Figure 1: Material from the Photographic Archive (source: warmuseum.gr).

The Archive of Athens War Museum is divided into three sections: the Historical Archive, the Photographic Archive and the Film Archive. The Historical Archive holds material covering a wide period ranking from the Greek War of Independence in 1821 till the Cold War and it is consisted by a wealth variety of documents (such as diaries and testimonials). The Photographic Archive has a collection of over 35,000 photographs and the Film Archive is one of the largest of its kind in South-East Europe. Both the Photographic and the Film Archives have items dating from 1897 till the present time.

Uboat.net (Germany)

Uboat.net is a digital archives portal that provides access to materials related to World War I and World War II. As stated by its name, Uboat.net focuses on naval operations. In particular, Uboat.net provides access to items and information related to the German submarines, including technical and operational information, and biographical data about their commanding officers. The portal also includes a special section on the Allied forces.

▪ Historisches marinearchiv (Germany)
Figure 2: Document related to the sinking of “Athenia” by U-30 in 1939 (source: historisches-marinearchiv.de)

The historisches-marinearchiv.de is a database of naval history related projects. Currently the database provides access to  seventeen thematic projects, which cover topics related mainly to the World War II period:

  • ASA – Allied Submarine Attacks in Europe,
  • ASS – Achievements of the Axis Submarines,
  • Inland shipping (a collection of databases about the shipyards, companies and ships on German inland waters),
  • German crew lists from WWII,
  • German flotillas in Greece (World War II),
  • German small combat weapons (World War II),
  • German landing craft (World War II),
  • German Luftwaffe vehicles from World War II,
  • German anti-mine vehicles (from the imperial era till today),
  • German speedboats in WWII,
  • German submarine commanders 1939-1945,
  • Dunkirk wrecks (a database of the ships and wrecks that remained in Dunkirk after the Operation “DYNAMO”)
  • Duikboot (a multilingual World War II submarine database),
  • Preserved ships from German navies (a list of the vessels that are still preserved today from the four eras of the German Navy: Imperial Navy, Kriegsmarine, Volksmarine/Bundesmarine and German Navy),
  • Greek ship losses (during World War II),
  • MTB and MGB battles (a list of the battles of British Motor Torpedo Boats and Motor Gun Boats, based on the existing literature),
  • Transport ships during Operation “Weserübung (World War II).

Finally it should be added that the historisches-marinearchiv.de database is constantly expanding with new material and projects and supplemented by specialists articles, experiences reports and other publications. 

▪ Online Collections of Ireland Military Archives

The Online Collections of Ireland Military Archives are divided into sixteen topics, which can be grouped into six categories:

1. Administration, legislation, communication documents: The first category has the following collections:

  • Military Service Pensions Collection (1916-1923): this collection is consisted of pension and medal applications from veterans of the revolutionary period and relevant administration and legislation documents.
  • The ‘Bureau of Military History (1880s-1966)’ contains of a variety of material, such as press cuttings and photographs.
  • ‘The Collins Papers (1917-1922)’ contains material related to I.R.A. Brigade communications with  Battalion and General Headquarters appointed officers.
  • The “Irish Army Census Collection (12 November 1922 – 13 November 1922)” contains information on any person serving in the National Army in November 1922.

2. Sources for History Educators: This category provides access to the ‘1916 In Transitions’ collection, which contains educational plans/scenarios for teachers and allows navigation by subject or toolkit.

3. Periodicals: category is consisted by the following collections:

  • The Collection “An tÓglach Magazine” contains issues published between 1918 and 1933, while the Collection “Easter 1916 An tÓglách Accounts (24 April 1916 – 29 April 1916)” has all “An tÓglách” articles published on the occasion of the 10 year anniversary of the Easter Rising.
  • The collection “The Irish Volunteer (1914 – 1916)” contains issues of “The Irish Volunteer” and allows search by key word.
Figure 3: Photograph taken of the 1st Cadet Class on the 2nd September 1929 at the Cadet School, Military College, Curragh Camp (source: militaryarchives.ie).

4. Images, Maps, Plans & Drawings Collections: provide access to thousand items. In particular:

  • The “Maps, Plans & Drawings Collection (1702 – 2007)” has 3,950 items, while the “Military Archives Image Gallery (20th Century)” holds app. 40,000 images.
  • The“Media Hub (20th Century)” contains circa 400 photographs submitted to the Bureau.
Figure 4: Countess Markievicz in I.C.A. uniform (source: photogalery.militaryarchives.ie)

5. Oral History Projects: which are of interest for researchers working both on Irish and non-Irish military history related case studies:

w  Oral History Project: the collection has more than 250 interviews from predominantly former members of the Defence Forces, including the integration of previously collected interviews and legacy material. The collection includes direct testimony from interviewees who had served in the Congo, Lebanon, Cyprus, Chad and in other overseas missions as part of the United Nations mission.

w  United Nations Peacekeeping and Peace Enforcement Forces Unit Histories from 1958: Unit Histories constitute the day-to-day record of that unit’s service overseas. This project to release the histories of the battalion and infantry group size units (from before the 30 year rule cut-off) is on-going, so more will be added over time.

6. Finally, the “Military Archives Image Identification Project (20th Century)” is an interesting initiative of the Ireland Military Archives, which aims to involve portal’s visitors in the identification process of photographic records.

▪ Archives Portal Europe (APE)

Archives Portal Europe was established in 2009 and  brings together descriptive archival catalogues  from more than 30 countries, in 24 languages (and 5 different alphabets), and from a large variety of institutions: national archives, community archives, parish archives, university archives, corporate and private archives, and others. APE currently holds information on around 7,000 archival institutions, of which over a thousand actively contribute with content, and it holds more than 280 million archival descriptive units. At the same time, Archives Portal Europe is constantly expanding to make more material available for research.

APE is a useful online research resource for military and war historians, as several Military Archives collaborate with APE and have registered their holdings in the Portal, such as the State Military Historical Archives of Bulgaria, the Nederlands Instituut voor Militaire Historie, the Armémuseum, the Associazione nazionale fra mutilati e invalidi di guerra (Modena, Foligno, Marsciano, Perugia, Terni & Todi), the Forum per i problemi della pace e della guerra (Firenze), the Imperial War Museum Archives and the Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives (King’s College London). In addition, APE provides access to relevant material held at non-military archival institutions, for example, on the First and the Second World Wars APE provides access to more than 57,480 and 40,050 items respectively. Researchers can search by keyword and by topic (for example “wars”) in multiple languages and access archival descriptions of relevant digitised documents and digital objects (such as photographs) whenever available.

▪ Europeana

Europeana is a web portal created by the European Union and contains digitised cultural heritage collections of more than 3,000 institutions across Europe. Europeana provide access to historical documents, images, videos, books, art. Search is possible by topic and key words. Europeana has several items related to war and military history, including the following collections:

  1. World War I: https://www.europeana.eu/en/themes/world-war-i
  2. World War II: https://www.europeana.eu/en/collections/topic/3286-world-war-ii
  3. War photography: https://www.europeana.eu/en/collections/topic/1714-war-photography
  4. Military engineering: https://www.europeana.eu/en/collections/topic/183-military-engineering
  5. Military music: https://www.europeana.eu/en/collections/topic/1183-military-music
  6. Pacific war: https://www.europeana.eu/en/collections/topic/3305-pacific-war
  7. Balkan wars: https://www.europeana.eu/en/collections/topic/3280-balkan-wars
B. Archival Institutions and Portals (based outside Europe):
Blavatnik Archive (US-based)

The Blavatnik Archive has 120,000 items in Modern Jewish History & Culture, covering mainly World Wars I & II and the Soviet Russia periods. Of the total amount of items held in the Blavatnik Archive, 25% are digitized and 15% are accessible online. The following collections of the Blavatnik Archive are of interest for military and war historians:

  1. Veteran Testimonies & Ephemera: the collection has app. 1,200 video interviews with Jewish men and women who fought in the Soviet armed forces and partisan detachments during World War II. The collection is consisted of 14,609 items, of which 3,687 are held online.
  2. Jews in the Military (1814 – mid 20th century): the collection is consisted of 660 items (such as pamphlets, journals, books, prints, postcards, letters, and other documents). These items reflect the participation of and support for Jewish soldiers in armies around the world.
  3. Boris Efimov Illustrations: the collection has 125 items of Efimov’s – a political caricaturist – drawings during World War II. Almost all of them are available online.
  4. WWI Postcards: the archive holds 52,126 postcards, of which 1,564 can be accessible online.
  5. Leningrad-Published Postcards: the collection has 1,330 illustrated and photo postcards, of which 1,327 are available online. These postcards were published and printed between 1941 and 1944 in besieged Leningrad (present-day Saint Petersburg).
Figure 9: Soldier and sailor on a battlefield, ca. 1941 (source: blavatnikarchive.org)
The Military Collection of the State Archives of North Carolina

The State Archives of North Carolina have developed a Military Collection with the aim to preserve military history and heritage of the state from the 17th century till nowadays.

The Military Collection is consisted by a wide variety of items, covering a range of topics, such as, but not limited to:  official and personal wartime correspondence; military camp publications and unit newsletters; regimental and unit records; troop returns, rosters and descriptive rolls; muster and pay rolls; training manuals; reminiscences, memoirs, and diaries; select service records; unit records and histories; wartime propaganda and recruitment posters; military maps; official military publications; materials concerning war-related organizations and home-front activities.

The Military Collection has also a digital component and inter alia the following are accessible online: Civil War, Revolutionary War, Troop Returns and Veterans Oral History Collection.

Online Military Records of the US National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)

The Online Military Records of the US National Archives and Records Administration provide access to Enlistment Records, Casualty Reports, Prisoner of War Data, and other military records. The items can be browsed by category and subject and cover a wide period. Additional key word and advanced search options are available.

Researchers while conducting search in the online records, they have to bear in mind the following note: “Note that most of the electronic records in AAD were created by Federal agencies to meet their own program or business needs. These records were not created with history or general public access in mind. As electronic data files, there may be limited textual or readable information, and some information may be stored in an abbreviated or coded format (although a code list is generally provided for these records)”.

Virginia Military Institute Archives: Digital Collections

The Virginia Military Institute Archives have over 10,600 items in their collections, such as administrative documents, operational reports, newspapers, images, drawings, maps and testimonies. The website allows search by collection, date and topic.

Figure 10: Field Training Exercise, ca. 1960 (source: digitalcollections.vmi.edu)
Online World War I Service Databases

The US/National WWI Museum and Memorial has developed a list of sources related to military service record during World War I. The list is accessible via the following link https://www.theworldwar.org/research/military-records and organised in three categories:

  1. U.S. General Resources
  2. U.S. Resources by State or Territory
  3. Military Service Records for Other Countries
The Military Archives of the National Institute for Defense Studies (NIDS), Japan

The Military Archives of the National Institute for Defense Studies (NIDS) has collections related to the Imperial Army and the Imperial Navy, which accounts 96,000 volumes. These volumes are those which were preserved during the Second World War.

Categories
ICMH Congress military archives

Istanbul 2023, the Turkish archives

the visit to the Turkish National Archives in Istanbul

by Lt. Col. Flavio Carbone, president of the CAM

On 8 September 2023, thanks to the full support of the Turkish Commission of Military History and specifically thanks to our colleague colonel (r) Bülent Durgun who accompanied us during the visit, a delegation of the Committee of Military Archives visited the National Archives in Istanbul.

Başbakanlık Osmanlı Arşivi (The Ottoman Archives of the Prime Minister’s Office, we can quote as the “Ottoman archives”) represents the principal repository for state archival documents related to the Ottoman Empire. 

8th September 2023, the visit to the National Archives in Istanbul. the CAM representative during the meeting with the Deputy Director, Dr. Sebahattin BAYRAM.

The Deputy Director of the Turkish National Archives in Istanbul, Dr. Sebahattin Bayram, welcomed the representative and the CAM had a very fruitful conversation regarding the Archives in Istanbul and the archival funds stored in one of the most important cities of Türkiye.

After the welcome and a first general presentation of the archives, we had the opportunity to continue the visit moving to the restoration area where the specialised personnel works on the documents.

Then we visited the storage rooms where all the documents are stored, showing us the characteristics of the rooms (according the International standards) and some type of documents.

In the archival storage, the archivist presented some documents related to the military life during the Ottoman Empire with some explanations by Professor Durgun.

The archivist showed the documents presented to the sultan for his final decision on daily basis. Our colleague Dulent Burgun explained the importance of those documents from the historical point of view.

Then the visit continued to the reading room, showing the area and the use of the tools for researchers available.

In the reading room, there is the possibility to have full access to the digitalised documents stored in the archives. It is possible to launch a research both with keywords or using the so called “tree”, following the structure of the archival funds.

The research can be done online as well and after the findings the researcher can buy a digital copy of the documents

Finally we finished our trip in the exhibition area where the archives have their permanent exhibition and it is possible to present temporary exhibitions related to special dates or specific themes.

At the end of the visit we thanked the Turkish colleagues who accompanied us, together with the Deputy Director of the Archives and our colleague Bulent Durgun.

It was a very interesting experience, confronting the members of the Committee with the all-around-the-world challenges that every archives lives on daily basis.

the model of the building (picture by Iulian Botoghina)
Categories
CAM meeting declassified archives ICMH Congress military archives Reading room visit to archives

Istanbul congress, new engagements

The Committee of Military Archives provided an overview of the meeting held on 2nd September 2023 in Istanbul through a short post published just after the Congress.

According to the agenda of the Committee of Military Archives meeting in Istanbul one of the topic was CAM activities and specifically the blog results.

We presented the results of the working year 2022/2023 and our considerations in front of all the National Commissions during the General Assembly of the International Commission of Military History on 8th September according to the general program.

Now, we are happy to share more information on the CAM topics touched during our presentation.

The first slide of our presentation in front of the General Assembly

With the agenda the CAM presented:

  • the results of the Committee meeting;
  • the visit to the Istanbul national archives;
  • some updates on our committee;
  • the CAM blog and future activities;
  • the military archives online guide;
  • the CAM on X.

Regarding the meeting information, please see the dedicated post. Moving to the surprise we received at the end of the Congress, we were very happy to be invited for a visit to the Istanbul National Archives (we will dedicate a specific post on it).

Regarding the CAM blog, the steering committee decided to offer an overview of the facts and figures on the working year 2022-2023. On this point, we presented some suggestions to include more contributors.

Giving an overview of the results of the Military Archives Online Guide we can affirm that they are not so enthusiastic but we are still committed to continue our effort in this project.

At the end of the short speech we presented the decision of the CAM steering committee to open an X (former twitter) account in order to increase our visibility on the internet. Ideally, we would like to repost the tweet of national archives on the social network and to revive our job online.

Please feel free to follow us on X!

The conclusions presented by the CAM to the General Assembly

At the end, the CAM steering committee stated the conclusions as follows.

We will:

  • continue to promote our projects;
  • enlarge our actions to the National Commissions within the ICMH;
  • publish other posts on the blog;
  • engage more directly the Military National Archives.

To conclude, the Committee of Military Archives invites all the members of the National Commissions, all the delegates and attendees of the CAM meetings and all the volunteers to engage directly in this blog proposing themes and topics.

We will be more than happy to enjoy together.

8th September 2023, the visit to the National Archives in Istanbul. the CAM representative during the meeting with the Deputy Director, Dr. Sebahattin BAYRAM.

See you soon!

Categories
CAM meeting ICMH Congress military archives

Istanbul 2023

Another fruitful meeting of the CAM

During the International Congress of Military History held in Istanbul between 3 and 8 September 2023, the Committee of Military Archives convenes in Istanbul for the annual meeting.

On 2 September the Committee of Military Archives met in presence in a very nice venue thanks to the availability of the Turkish Commission of Military History.

The meeting started regularly. After the initial discussion on the job done during the working year 2022/2023, the CAM received three presentations by professor Gültekin YILDIZ regarding the Turkish military archives, then colonel Marius CROITORU gave information regarding the Romanian Military Archives and finally our secretary-general Kathleen VAN ACKER presented some reflections on “a new international declassification”.

Eleven persons as national delegates, attendees, scholars from Austria, Belgium, Cameroon, Italy, Romania, Senegal, Türkiye, UK, USA were present.

The Committee of Military Archives thanks the Turkish Commission of Military History for the support provided during the congress.

Categories
declassified archives military archives Military archives legislation

A new era for Spanish archives approaches

by Colonel Manuel García Cabezas, member of the Spanish Commission of Military History

The Committee of Military Archives thanks our colleague Manuel García Cabezas for his committment and his participation to this project

The Spanish government presented in August 2022 a draft law on classified information that aims to replace the current law on official secrets that regulates the management of national classified information.

The new draft has been long and widely expected if we take into account that the current law dates from 1968, slightly modified after the approval of the Spanish Constitution in 1978.

This law has been repeatedly challenged by various sectors of activity, including journalists who saw it as contrary to the rights to information and transparency, and by researchers who considered it an almost insurmountable obstacle to access to historical documentation in the national archives.

The final report of the Spanish Civil War signed by general Francisco Franco

The Spanish Government itself remarks the need for the new law in the explanatory memorandum to the preliminary draft.

In this text the Madrid executive recognizes the constitutional right of access to public information, as well as the capacity of the State to preserve classified information, but “the sacrifice of citizenship rights that is made in favour of the State as a whole must have limits” which, the text adds, “must be weighed on a case-by-case basis […], making this process the exception, not the rule.

The future law establishes, for the first time in Spain’s history, a system of temporal limits on the confidentiality of information, giving the certainty that there will no longer be stolen information from the public to the public indefinitely”.

The need to adapt the Spanish legal regime to the international situation is also recognized in the new draft when it is stated that “there is no homogeneity or regulatory systematization in this area. Most of the rules governing classified information are instructions issued by the internal bodies of the administration, which also does not have a system of administrative penalties for non-compliance.”

In particular, the Spanish Government refers to the need to adapt Spanish rules to Council Decision 2013/488/EU of 23 September on security standards for the protection of EU classified information, which establishes a set of basic principles and minimum-security standards to be respected by members States for the protection of EU classified information. NATO and European Space Agency regulations also require a standardization effort on the part of Spain.

Once approved the future law, there will be four categories of the information to be preserved: “ALTO SECRETO”, “SECRETO”, “CONFIDENCIAL” and “RESTRINGIDO “.

The 1968 law envisages so far only “SECRETO” and “RESERVADO”, although in the military fields they were others called “CONFIDENCIAL” and “DIFUSIÓN LIMITADA”.

The competence for the classification, reclassification and declassification of information classified in the categories ALTO SECRETO and SECRETO will correspond exclusively to the Council of Ministers, without this competence being delegated in any way. The competence for the classification, reclassification and declassification of information corresponding to the categories CONFIDENCIAL and RESTRINGIDO will be assigned, within the framework of its competences, to various authorities, not all military and not all at national level, opening the possibility for regional authorities to classify information.

A NationalSecurityAuthority will be set up, which has hitherto existed only for the protection of internationally classified information. This authority will not be under the aegis of the Ministry of Defense, a novelty, and it will be responsible for the protection of information classified in the categories “ALTO SECRETO”, “SECRETO” and “CONFIDENCIAL”, as well as all classified information received by the Kingdom of Spain from other States or international organizations, irrespective of the classification category.

It will also become the competent authority for the exchange and mutual protection of classified information under the terms provided for in international treaties signed with other States or international organizations.

Another major novelty will be the introduction of regulated procedures for the classification and, above all, for the declassification and reclassification of sensitive materials, which has hitherto been very ambiguous or non-existent. 

In this regard, automatic declassification will be established after a few years, variable according to the type of classified information, and the decisions to classify will also be reviewed periodically which may agree to its declassification without having exhausted the statutory time limits when the circumstances that justified the original classification are changed.

In short, the most important changes introduced by the future law are a clearer specification of what information could be classified, a more flexible classification regulations, a greater flexibility to declassify and reclassify, and an automatic declassification system after a certain period of time.

With the establishment of a newNationalAuthority the responsibility forthesecurityofclassifiedinformation passes from the Ministry of Defense to the MinistryofthePresidency.

Although the draft is an imperative necessity recognized by almost everyone, and it still has a long process before being finally approved, the government’s text has attracted some criticism.

The Spanish branch of Amnesty International welcomes the government’s initiative, although the association’s director, Esteban Beltrán, considers it essential that the law should include “independent control mechanisms over government decisions” and persists on the need to ensure judicial review of those decisions.

The Federation of Journalists’ Associations of Spain (FAPE) also sees a “step forward” in the project, but it thinks that new regulation may conflict with the right to information and that “by qualifying as restricted or confidential a journalistic work that affects, for example, cases of corruption could be prevented or punished”, explains Aurelio Martín, vice-president of FAPE.

The Spanish Army archives will be impacted by the new regulations

For their part, the Spanish Civil Service Archivists (AEFP) are against the “aberration of multiplying ad infinitum” the authorities competent to classify and affirms that the concept of “documentary series” is not developed and that the use of the concept of “information” rather than “documentation” allows for their “destruction, albeit in a subsidiary manner” and conflicts with other existing rules. “These are not equivalent concepts,” says Henar Alonso of the AEFP, who adds that the new law “is less disastrous than before, but just as dangerous for the right of access to public information.” (see the ABC link above).

The plenary of the Consejo General del Poder Judicial (CGPJ)[1] unanimously also approved on 30 March 2023 a report on the draft law presented by the Spanish Government.

The report warns that the right to information is a fundamental right of citizens and that the fact of its classification must specify the major and certain risk to the core of the protected legal right (the “security and defense of the State”); therefore, the Consejo opposes the classification of information of economic or industrial nature because ‘it does not in itself imply a danger to the organization of the State and its democratic form of government’. 

The paper approved by the plenary of the CGPJ explains that, in a democracy, the decision to decree secrecy is extremely serious and must therefore be adopted at the highest level of the executive power.

This requirement is fulfilled in the preliminary draft with regard to the competence to ‘classify, reclassify and declassify’ information belonging to the categories ‘ALTO SECRETO’ and ‘SECRETO’, which it lies exclusively with the Council of Ministers, but criticizes the fact that below these categories that competence is in the hands of a broad and heterogeneous list of civil and military authorities, who could also delegate their competences.

The competence of these authorities should be limited, where appropriate, to raising the proposed classification, limiting the power to classify public information to members of the national government (president, vice-presidents and ministers with competences in the fields of security and national defense).

The report notes a marked indeterminacy in justifying classification, as well as in the motivation for it.  In this regard, the CGPJ stresses that the preliminary draft must expressly regulate the need to give reasons for the decisions of each classification, to specify the constitutional basis that exists in each decision, as well as the relevance and proportionality of the decision.

With regard to declassification, the CGPJ warns that these are excessive delays and suggests reviewing them by applying a restrictive and proportional criterion that allows the safeguarding of the security and defense of the State without diminishing, beyond what is necessary, the right of citizens to access information. The CGPJ is also opposed to regional polices being competent to control confidential information.  

Whatever it is said, the author of this work believes that the final text will lead to a fundamental improvement in the management of classified information in Spain, open up hitherto unknown possibilities for the public in terms of transparency of government information, and, above all, the new law will represent a new hidden world for researchers and users of Spanish archives.


[1] General Council of the Judiciary. A constitutional, collegiate and autonomous body, composed of judges and other jurists, which exercises functions of government of the judiciary.

Categories
declassified archives military archives

Non-written sources in military archives

BY KATHLEEN VAN ACKER, ARCHIVIST WITH THE SECTION CLASSIFIED ARCHIVES (BELGIAN MINISTRY OF DEFENSE).

The Committee of Military Archives thanks Kathleen Van Acker, our Secretary General, for her great commitment and active participation to this blog

Introduction

The traditional idea we have of archives are piles and piles of old paper, boxes stacked in long racks. Archives, in the public opinion are text-based.

However this idea has changed, the mantra “no documents no history” is surpassed. Within the archival terminology the term “document” has evolved too, following the different evolutions in types of information flow.

In the 19th century, Jules Milechet: the famous historian and curator of “les Archives Nationales” in France, already stated that documents are only one sort of source among other sources.

We also see this evolution in the archival definition:
information or data stored on a medium and used as an extension of human memory or to support accountability. We don’t speak about “a document” any longer, but we use the word “a medium”. This medium can have different formats, in general we speak of:

  • written
  • visual
  • oral
  • 3 dimensional

To illustrate these different mediums we will show some of the different sources kept by the section Classified Archives (Belgian Ministry of Defence) and explain their importance in historical research.

Written sources

We are all familiar with the “traditional” archives, i.e. the written documents.

In the section Classified Archives the written archives are the biggest part of our collection. We have the military archives since the mobilisation in Belgium in 1939, so it is logical most of them are still written. Some examples are field journals, official documents, listings of prisoners, etc….

Royal decree concerning the Belgian Sûreté militaire, established 1st April 1915

Visual sources

Next to the written sources we have the visual sources. We are all familiar with photos and the sentence “a photo says more than a thousand words”. Next to written documents we have a lot of photos in our archives. We have the official documents, an example are the Personalkarte WWII, where you will find a photo of the prisoner with his personal data. For researchers in family history it is always an emotional moment to see their grandfather, great-grandfather as a prisoner.

Personalkarte (WWII)


Gail OKAWA did a study on Japanese prisoners during WWII describing her feelings when she came across a photo of her grandfather: “the first time I came across his mug shot in the INS file was especially chilling for me as I imagined his humiliation
(Gesa E. KIRCH and Liz ROHAN, Beyond the Archives, Research as a Lived process, 2008)

History becomes very real in this case.
We have more examples like this, next to the listings of prisoners of the STALAF and OFLAG prisoners camps, we have a collection of photos from those camps, mostly found in personal archives. They give an unique view of the life in those camps

Stalag baracks (WWII)
Stalag: prisoners cooking their meal (WWII)

Another example is the diary we found in the archives of the Tandel sisters.
The Tandel sisters were volunteers in the resistance during WWI and WWII. Two unmarried sisters, Laure and Louise, joined the Red Cross at the outbreak of WWI. Very soon they joined the resistance. When they got arrested by the Germans, Laure was sent to the Siegburg prison where she stayed 6 months. She wrote in her diary, wrote poetry, and made drawings. After her release she and her sister joined “La Dame Blanche” a resistance group in Belgium. During WWII Laure and Louise joined the resistance group “Clarence”. Two remarkable ladies, who left us a great amount of information about women in the intelligence world.

Drawing by Laure Tandel of her cell in the Siegburg prison (WWI)
Drawing by Laure Tandel of her cell in the Siegburg prison (WWII)

Oral sources

We don’t have a lot of oral sources in our archives, as said above, we mainly keep the more “traditional” archives. But we do have a piece of archive which is quite interesting: a tape of a encoded message from the GRU to a Belgian officer who was recruited as a spy.

During the Cold War, Colonel BINET was recruited by the GRU. During a meeting with one of his contacts in Vienna, he was spotted by the CIA who contacted the Belgian military intelligence service. After a surveillance operation, BINET was arrested.

The methods used by BINET and the GRU are very well documented by the records we received, but also by the objects we have. Not only are they an example of an oral source, but also of the three dimensional sources

Three-dimensional sources

In the BINET archives we have a lot of objects used by Colonel BINET and the GRU.

We are not exaggerating when we say they could be used in a James Bond film.
BINET used the obligatory briefcase with a secret compartiment to take classified documents home. They used hidden slips of paper with codes, secret ink etc… All of these object were transferred to the archives and give an unique view of the espionage methods used during the 80’s.

Binet’s suitcase with secret compartiment
Binet’s pen with hidden code
Binet’s wallets with codes written in invisible ink

Conclusion

In my experience as an archivist I can say that the written sources, certainly in the past, mostly give information about the political affairs and administration. They didn’t give a lot of information about people who didn’t held positions of power.

Luckily the scope of history has widened, and we find that information in the other sources, which I illustrated in my examples above.

I can state that the quote “no documents, no history” is not correct. I would like to believe that nowadays we can say “no trace, no history”. The written sources are still very important history, but they aren’t the only one. Archival sources can take all forms.

Categories
Army Archives blogging declassified archives military archives Military archives legislation

Military archives in Poland

An introduction

By Jacek Jędrysiak, Assistant Professor in the University of Wrocław and Head of Section in Military Historical Bureau of Lieutenant General Kazimierz Sosnkowski in Warsaw-Rembertów

The Committee of Military Archives thanks Jacek Jędrysiak for his commitment and the active participation to this blog

1. The structure of the contemporary military archives network

According to the Act of 14 July 1983, the military archival fonds in Poland is a separate part of the national archival fonds, subordinated to and managed by the Minister of National Defence (pol. Ministerstwo Obrony Narodowej, MON).

In overall, it includes all documentation produced by military units and institutions, as well as files related to state defense, produced by defense units operating in other ministries as well as central and local state offices.

Since 2016, the archives managed by MON can be divided into two categories. The first consists of archives subordinate to the Military Historical Bureau of Lieutenant General Kazimierz Sosnkowski (Wojskowe Biuro Historyczne im. gen. broni Kazimierza Sosnkowskiego, WBH).

These are currently:

  • Central Military Archives of the Military Historical Bureau (Centralne Archiwum Wojskowe Wojskowgo Biura Historycznego, CAW-WBH, Rembertów)
  • Military Archives in Oleśnica;
  • Military Archives in Toruń
  • Branch office of the Military Archives in Toruń  in Gdynia.
Picture 3:  Banner on the Building of the CAW-WBH: Commander in Chief of the Polish Armed Forces General Kazimierz Sosnkowski with his staff officers in 1943. Source: CAW-WBH. Source: CAW-WBH

The second group consists of the so-called archives of organizational units, for example:  

Archives of the Military Counterintelligence Service; Military Intelligence Service Archive; Military Police Archive; archives of military universities; archives of research institutes etc.

2. Contemporary military archival fonds

The fonds of the military archival network includes materials on the Polish Army, conventionally from 1908 (considered the beginning of the rebirth of the Polish armed forces) to the present day. Materials concerning the earlier history of the Polish military are stored in other archives, including in particular the Central Archives of Historical Records in Warsaw. In addition, some of the documents from the period 1908-1939 were evacuated during World War II and are still in the institutions founded in exile during World War II: Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum  and the Józef Piłsudski Institute (both London) and the Józef Piłsudski Institute of America (New York).

Picture 4: Exposition in the main hall of the CAW-WBH building 100 anniversary of  the creation the WBH. Source: CAW-WBH

These institutions also store materials on the Polish Armed Forces in the West from 1939-1947, the Polish Underground State and post-war Polish military emigration.

The establishment of the Institute of National Remembrance in 1999 is also significant. The Act of 18 October 2006 on the disclosure of information on documents of state security organs from 1944-1990 and the content of these documents obliges to submit documentation to the Institute of National Remembrance concerning, among others, military security organs, which include: Military Information (Główny Zarząd Informacji, GZI); Military Internal Service; Second Directorate General Staff of the Polish Army; other services of the Armed Forces conducting operational and reconnaissance or investigative activities, including in the types of armed forces and in military districts. The Institute of National Remembrance also collects all documents regarding communist crimes and other crimes constituting crimes against peace, humanity or war crimes committed against persons of Polish nationality or Polish citizens of other nationalities in the period from September 1, 1939 to July 31, 1990, so documents regarding the participation of units of the Polish People’s Army (Ludowe Wojsko Polskie, LWP) involved in the above-mentioned activities.

A number of documents concerning the Polish Army history are also found in Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian and Lithuanian archives.

Picture 4a: Plaque in honor of officers served in the  WBH who were killed during World War II. 100 anniversary of  the creation the WBH. Source: Jacek Jędrysiak

3. History of military archives in Poland until 1945.

The fall of the November Uprising in 1831 meant the end of the regular Polish army in the 19th century. In this way, it was also impossible to develop the foundations of military archives. The conditions for work in this field arose with the establishment at the end of 1916 in the areas occupied by the Central Powers of the Congress Kingdom of the Military Commission of the Provisional Council of State. At that time, the Scientific Section subordinated to it undertook preparatory work in order to establish the Military Archives in the future.

Picture 5: Documents in the warehouse. Source: CAW-WBH

After Poland regained independence in 1918, the Central Military Archives (CAW) was established from the former Archive Department of the Scientific Section. Its first director was Lieutenant (finally Lieutenant Colonel) Dr. Bronisław Pawłowski (until 1933) and the headquarters of the CAW was so called the Copper-Roof Palace in Warsaw. Then, until 1931, its collections were in Legions’ Fort in the Warsaw Citadel. The initial CAW resource consisted of the files of the General Gouvernement Warschau, the 1st Polish Corps in Russia, the Polnische Wehrmacht and (obtained at the beginning of 1919) the documentation of the Polish Legions and the Polish Auxiliary Corps. Gradually, it included orders and operational and organizational files of the Polish military authorities, documentation of Polish formations and military associations from the period before World War I and the war years, files of the military authorities of the former partitioning countries and clippings from periodicals devoted to military matters were also collected.

Picture 6: Documents in the warehouse. Source: CAW-WBH

Until 1927, CAW was subordinated to the Military Institute of Science and Education (Wojskowy Instytut Naukowo-Oświatowy, WINO). Then it was included in the structure of the newly established Military Historical Bureau as the Military Archive (Archiwum Wojskowe, AW). The change was intended to better coordinate the scientific and research activities of military institutions run since 1922 by the existing Historical Office of the General Staff. From 1933 to the outbreak of war, Major Bolesław Waligóra was the director of the Military Archives. At that time, the institution took over the files from the disbanded archival boards at the Commands of the Corps Districts and the archives of the Military Historical Bureau. From 1929, documentation of central military institutions, created in the years 1918-1928, was systematically collected.

The AW structure in 1928 included:

  • Department I – old files until 1863 and the library;
  • Department II – files of military formations and unions during the World War (until 1918);
  • Department  III – Independent Archival Section – operational files from the period of Independent Poland (from 1918);
  • Department IV – military administrative files (from 1918);
  • Department V – military files of central authorities and institutions (since 1918);
  • Department VI – foreign military files.

The change in the structure took place in 1935. From November of that year, the AW consisted of:

  • Archive Management,
  • General Department with old department I and a library,
  • Scientific and Archival Department with old departments II, III, IV, V, VI
  • Records and Administration Department.
Picture 7: Documents in the warehouse. Source: CAW-WBH

The AW collected, inventoried and stored files of importance to the history of the Polish military, registered military files in other archives, libraries and private persons, supervised the substantive over military registers and developed regulations and instructions for them, conducted queries for authorities, offices and private persons and issued copies and excerpts from files. The Military Archives also coordinated and supervised the activities of the entire military archival service, including clerks at the headquarters of the general districts and the headquarters of the corps districts.

According to estimates from 1933, the resources of the AW in 1939 numbered about 7,000 meters of documents. From 1931, the Archive had its seat in a building at Pokorna Street in Warsaw.

During the Polish campaign in 1939, only part of the most valuable collections was evacuated to Romania and through Paris to Great Britain. The vast majority, including intelligence files, were taken over by the German and Soviet occupiers. Already in the autumn of 1939, the Third Reich joined the organization of the Heeresarchiv branch in Gdańsk-Oliwa. There were 15,000 meters of files in total, including documents of central institutions of the Polish Ministry of Military Affairs, types of armed forces and services, military units. These materials were used for repressive purposes, therefore they were divided and inventoried contrary to the principles of archiving. Germany and the Soviet Union also exchanged files important from the point of view of their goals, adding to the losses and mess in the collections.

Picture 8: Documents in the warehouse. Source: CAW-WBH

4. History of military archives in Poland after 1945

The reconstruction of the Military Archives was entrusted by the order of the High Command of the Polish Army (under Soviet auspices) of September 16, 1944 to the “reactivated” Military Research and Publishing Institute (Wojskowy Instytut Naukowo-Wydawniczy, WINW). WINW initially resided in Lublin, and then in Łódź. The activity of the AW until the founding of the Gdańsk-Oliwa Branch in April 1945 is poorly known. Materials from Oliwa were evacuated by the Germans at the turn of 1944/1945 to Potsdam and Berlin. About 5,000 meters from about 10,000 meters documents from Oliwa have survived in general. The evacuated materials were looted by the USSR in 1945 and included in the resources of the local archives. In 1964, the Soviet side returned approx. 400 meters of documents, which was a smaller part of the acquired materials. It was not until the 1990s that another part of the military archives from Russia was reclaimed to Poland.

However, invaluable collections concerning, for example, the Polish Military Organization or the Second Department of the General (Main) Staff are still in Russian hands.

Securing the recovered pre-war CAW materials became a priority of the organized institution. This was confirmed by the order of August 5, 1945, which ordered the re-formation of the Central Military Archives, subordinated to the Main Political and Educational Directorate. Unfortunately, during the Stalinist period, pre-war files were to be used by the communist authorities for the purposes of political repression, remaining at the disposal of the military and civilian secret police. In particular, the GZI  was actually aiming at limiting the role of the new CAW to the role of current LWP files created after 1943. As a result, in 1947 GZI took over the actual authority over the archive. The process of gradual removal of pre-war files to the warehouse in Wesoła near Warsaw began. As a result, the CAW was actually deprived of its historical fonds and the secret police created an alternative, so called Archive of the Polish Army. However, the CAW was not liquidated, and the network of field archives, including 6 archives of military districts, was even subordinated in terms of content. As they remained in the structure of subordination to the commands of military districts, supervision over the formation of the archival fonds was illusory.

Picture 9: Reading room in the CAW-WBH. Source: CAW-WBH

The next reorganization of the CAW was made by order of the Ministry of National Defense No. 01/Org. in January 1951. The CAW was (initially informally) subordinated to the IX Department of the General Staff. Its headquarters became Fort of Sokolnicki in Warsaw. Forming the resources of the CAW consisted in the first place in merging the archival materials of the pre-war AW dispersed in the country and abroad. The files seized by the GZI slowly began to be taken over, but some of them were still at the disposal of the secret police, and the process of their full transfer to the CAW was completed only in the 1990s. In addition to the files of the pre-war CAW, the Germans also collected in Oliwa files of a number of key military institutions of the Polish Army from before 1939, e.g. the Main Inspectorate of the Armed Forces, the General Staff of the Polish Army, etc. It is worth mentioning that in 1950, the destruction of those materials of the Polish Army from before World War II, which were useless from the point of view of the secret police, was considered. This could concern e.g. an act from the period of the Polish-Soviet War or the Silesian Uprisings! The destruction action was stopped, but the pre-war files were taken over by the CAW in a disordered form. It was not until 1956 that the action to develop the files taken over from GZI began.

In the course of the assessment, it was found that out of the pre-war CAW resources, the archive had only 30% of files. Another 30% was taken over by the Archives of the Ministry of Public Security, 10% were dispersed in other military institutions, the rest were destroyed. The commenced consolidation action, lasting until 1964, resulted in an increase in the number of files held by 3,000 to 4371 meters of documents. In the same year, the action to scientific description this fonds began.

An inventory and consolidation of the LWP files from the years 1943-1945 was also constantly undertaken. They were put in order in the course of the action lasting until 1960. The main resource of the CAW, however, consisted of successively taken over documents of military institutions and units created after 1945 and of disbanded military formations (e.g. in the 1970s of the Internal Security Corps). Until 1968, however, no initiative regarding post-war materials was taken, which became an urgent problem due to the dismantling of some units. For this purpose, a number of files of military units established after World War II were taken over from the subordinate archives. As a result, fonds were created and developed for the most important institutions (e.g. the General Staff or the Main Political Directorate) and military units until 1956.

CAW was constantly struggling with space and quality issues in the warehouses. Since May 1972, the permanent seat of the CAW has been the building acquired from the then Academy of the General Staff in Rembertów.

The structure existing until 1990 and subsequent transformations did not have a positive impact on the development of the growing resource. In principle, until 1954, the formal status of the CAW as a central archival institution in relation to other military archives was not sufficiently regulated. It was only in the years 1959-1965 that the supervision of the CAW over the remaining 13 military archives and 127 file repositories was agreed with the Main Directorate of State Archives. In general, until the years 1987-1990, the archives of military districts and types of the armed forces remained outside the CAW structure.

Picture 10: Conference room in the CAW-WBH. Source: CAW-WBH

In 1990, the military archival network was given the following structure:

  • Branch No. 1 of CAW: Archives of Central Institutions of the Ministry of National Defense (Modlin)
  • Branch No. 2 of CAW: Archives of the Warsaw Military District (Warsaw)
  • Branch No. 3 of CAW: Archives of the Pomeranian Military District (Toruń)
  • Branch No. 4 of CAW: Archives of the Silesian Military District (Wrocław)
  • Branch No. 5 of CAW: Naval Archives (Gdynia)
  • Branch No. 6 of CAW: Archives of Air Forces and Air Defense (Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki)
  • Branch No. 7 of CAW: Archives of the Cracow Military District (Cracow, since 1992)

The key in this context was Branch No. 1, which took over the files of such dismantled LWP institutions as the Military Internal Service, Main Political Directorate, Main Directorate of Combat Training, Military Chamber of the Supreme Court, etc. At that time, CAW became a typical historical archive, other branches took over the role of archives of current institutions and types of armed forces.

This structure survived until 2000, when only Branch No. 1 remained under the CAW’s subordination. The other archives were subordinated to the Land Forces Archive (branches in Toruń, Wrocław and Kraków), the Navy Archive in Gdynia and the Air Force and Air Defense Archive in Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki.

Another change took place already in 2009, when to the CAW was subordinated the Archives of the Ministry of National Defense in Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki (former Archives of the Institutions of the Ministry of National Defence), the Military Archives in Toruń, the Military Archives in Oleśnica (relocated between 2005 and 2007 from Wrocław), the Archives of the Air Force in Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki and the Naval Archives in Gdynia. The Land Forces Archive and its branch in Kraków were liquidated, and their resources were transferred to other units. In 2010, work began on the reconstruction and expansion of the building of the Central Military Archives.

Picture 11: UNESCO certificate for the Documents of the Polish radio intelligence  from  the period pf the Battle of Warsaw in 1920. Source: CAW-WBH

5. Present day

The main institution of the military archival network is currently the Military Historical Bureau, whose director since its establishment in 2016 is Professor  Sławomir Cenckiewicz. The actions of the WBH management led to the completion of the delayed renovation of the CAW building in Rembertów. In 2018, the fact of illegal destruction of files from the communist period in 1990-2009 in Rembertów, Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki and Gdynia was also revealed.

When CAW-WBH was established, the following were subordinated to:

  • Military Archives in Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki (former Central Institutions of  MON and Air Force Archives)
  • Military Archives in Gdynia;
  • Military Archives in Toruń;
  • Military Archives in Oleśnica.

The archive in Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki was dissolved in 2018 and its resources transferred to other institutions. The Archive in Gdynia was subordinated to the Archive in Toruń.

CAW-WBH is today the most important military historical archive. The entire CAW materials are divided into 11 parts. The first four are the historical departments of the institution, the next are artificially created collections:

  • Archive materials from 1908-1939
  • Archive materials from the period of World War II
  • Archives of the Polish Army from 1943-1945
  • Archives of the Polish Army after 1945
  • Collection of the Military Archival Commission
  • Personal and Award Files
  • Photo collections
  • Cartographic collections
  • A collection of regulations, instructions and legal acts
  • Archives of the Polish Army from the years 1943-2012 – unedited
  • Collection of files of the Military Historical Research Office
  • Part of the files from section I, e.g. “Polish Legions and the Polish Auxiliary Corps” (https://wbh.wp.mil.pl/pl/pages/oddzia-ii-i3034-1-100-2022-08-31-1y1w/) are available online.

There is also an electronic resource database for files from the sections I-IV: https://wbh.wp.mil.pl/pl/pages/oddzia-ii-i3034-1-100-2022-08-31-1y1w/

The Military Archives in Toruń mainly stores materials from the former Pomeranian Military District and the units that were part of its structure after 1956. The records of the disbanded archives in Nowy Dwór and Modlin from the area being the scope of the archive’s supervision are also successively included in the resource. The branch in Gdynia mainly stores the old files of the Navy.

The Military Archive in Oleśnica mainly stores materials from the former Military Districts: Silesian, Warsaw and Cracow since 1956. The archives have also successively included files of dissolved archives in Nowy Dwór and Modlin from the area under the supervision of the archive.

In the three above-mentioned archives, materials are recorded only on the basis of files lists, combined into provisional collections. The list of collections is available online on the sites of the archives.

6. Databases and using of the archival materials rules

Archival materials are available to anyone who requests it, unless there are grounds for refusal of access specified in legal provisions. Only in exceptional cases may the director of the archives refuse access to archive materials if:

  • their disclosure could violate the legally protected interests of the state, organizational units and citizens (e.g. they contain protected personal data or information that violates personal rights),
  • their disclosure could violate secrets protected by law (state, official, professional),
  • their physical condition does not allow for sharing.

Materials up to 1990 were declassified, unless the confidentiality clause has been extended after this period.

Data from personal files of professional soldiers are made available in the scope of the service history, decorations and official opinions created until 1990. Making personal files available to a wider extent requires the user to provide justification for the purpose of sharing and obtain the consent of the Director of the Military Historical Bureau.

Archival materials are available free of charge in the reading room. Original files are available only on site, they cannot be borrowed or taken outside the reading room. Using the reading room in each of the archives requires prior registration of the place.

User application forms are available on the website: https://wbh.wp.mil.pl/pl/pages/formularze-2021-01-21-w9lf/

Materials from which usable copies (microfilm or scans) were made are made available in the form of these copies, not originals.

When using the archives in the reading room, you can make free copies of them with your own camera, as long as they are intended for personal non-commercial use. Due to the safety of the materials, it is unacceptable to use a flash lamp and manipulate the archives other than as a result of normal use. Copying should also be done in such a way as not to disturb the work of other users (e.g. without using a tripod).

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blogging CAM meeting

Being catalogued

The Committee of Military Archives’ Blog in OpenEdition Catalogue

By Kathleen Van Acker and Flavio Carbone

The Committee of Military Archives secretary-general and president

During the month of July 2022, the Committee of Military Archives received an email.

Céline Guilleux, chargée de validation scientifique Calenda et Hypothèses beloging to OpenEdition (CNRS – EHESS – Aix-Marseille Université – Université d’Avignon), confirmed the publication of our blog in the Openedition catalogue.

The archivists of the CAM have been catalogued (yes, pun intended). The scholars know that on one hand the catalogue and the procedure to catalogue a book belong to the librarians, on the other hand the inventory and inventoring of archival fund is the business for archivists. It happens!

Taking our joke aside, it is important to consider that the platform Hypotheses.org represents only a part of a larger portal and project, OpenEdition.

But, what does it mean? It means that the publication of the blog in the catalogue gives more visibility. The CAM blog will be better indexed in search engines and will be added to catalogues specialised in humanities and social sciences such as Isidore.

In this regard, we should consider some results after more than one year using the blog as the main line of communication of the Committee of Military Archives. The approval of the blog proposal launched by CAM steering committee in September 2021 and later the publication of the blog approved in July 2022 by the Hypotheses validation team represent two main achievements in the CAM initiative.

The CAM meeting in Athens, September 2021 (CAM president archive)

Those achievements offer more visibility within the group of archivists and historians. The main aim is to build a trustful community within and outside the military archivists who belongs to the International Commission of Military History larger community.

Athens, 3 September 2021. The CAM president presentation of the blog initiative moving from the “Mars&Janus” newsletter to the blog hosted on the Hypotheses platform

The question is why did the CAM decide to request the opening of a scientific blog on the Hypotheses platform? Because Hypotheses is open to the whole academic community (researchers, research teams, PhD students, information specialists, institutions, etc.) in all disciplines of the arts, humanities and social sciences.

In principles, we cannot expect to keep the archivists inside the archives digging in the files and the archival funds full of dust (sorry for the stereotype). The CAM efforts are part of the main objective to open the initiatives of the CAM delegates and, generally speaking, of the entire military archivists community outside the archives, developing direct scientific links.

Those are the outcomes of the discussion held during the 2020/2021 CAM year, starting from September 2020 with the election of the new Steering Committee and the approved at the end of the meeting in Athens in September 2021, presenting the initiative to the entire International Commission of Military History general assembly.

Athens, 3 September 2021. The CAM president presentation of the blog to the ICMH general assembly

In the long term perspective, alongside the blog, the Committee of Military Archives should launch other initiatives.

New ambitious objectives could be reached once the CAM communities could welcome new delegates and friends belonging to public institutions, such as universities, scholarly societies, etc.

So, to conclude the Committee of Military Archives welcomes new members and interested persons to join our initiative and be active part of the project. Please join us!

Enlist now!

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Carabinieri / Gendarmerie archives military archives Reading room

Military Archive Experiences

My experiences as a student in the Italian Carabinieri Historical Archive reading room.

by Maria Letizia Annaloro, Master’s Degree in Archival and Library Science

The Committee of Military Archives thanks Maria Letizia Annaloro, Master’s Degree in Archival and Library Science, for her committment and her participation to describe her experience during the preparation of the thesis based on an archival inventory of a Carabinieri historical archive fund.

For the writing of my master degree I asked the Historical Office of the Carabinieri General whether they wanted to help me with a project to make an inventory of a part of their archives. When I rethink my experience I can only describe it as quite special.

I had to create an inventory from the beginning, a very important task, since an inventory can be considered as the most important tool to access an archive for research. It took a prolonged period of time and a daily presence within the Historical Office to do this work, as opposed to the consultation of information for a simple research.

The front page of the archival inventory of the archival fund of the Carabinieri Company of Modica (Sicily) realised by Maria Letizia Annaloro.

Making an inventory and creating an access to an archives is an archivist’s finest job, so it is not surprising that I initially tended to view this experience as something very personal, rather than something useful for the public. At the time, I was so focused on completing my task, that I forgot why I was doing it and the context in which I was doing my job.

When I entered the archives, I noticed some aspects of the place that cannot be described even by the most accurate encyclopedia: the silence, which can give great satisfaction. I seemed to be alone, but in reality I was not: the religious silence was broken by the sound of pages that were turned, by the footsteps of passers-by.

I even noticed the specks of dust visible in the beams of light coming from the windows.
After a moment of strong emotional impact, I moved on to consult the material that had kindly been made available to me. Gathering this information was useful for studying the nature of the papers and the structure of the institution.

From the first moment I definitely felt the differences between a military organization and the the civilian world, to be honest, it was a shock for me, I was even convinced I wouldn’t fit in and I wanted to leave

During my everyday experience in the reading room I understood the organisation needed to manage my request as master candidate. After some days, i saw the effort led by the personnel to support my needs and to help me in my archival inventory. So I changed my perception moving from a professional involvement to a personal one.

From the professional point of view, it has contributed to increase the empowerment and awareness acquired during the university training by adding a series of useful information for the reading of the documentation treated, in which rituals and symbols are integral parts of the context. Of fundamental support for the knowledge of the materials provided was the presence of the Maresciallo Maggiore Marcello Di Fede and the Appuntato Scelto special qualification Davide Fusco, helping me to interpret the papers so that I could complete the drafting of the inventory.

After months of hard work, I drew conclusions, exposed my work, justified my choices not only to others, but especially to myself. My goal was to highlight the uniqueness of this incredible patrimony that tells interconnected stories through documents, showing everyone that the archives is a place of study and research not only for an elite group of university students, researchers and professionals. It is a source of knowledge for everyone, making it possible to discover information about the institution, it’s history and even the culture of the territories in which it operates. It adds important pieces for the reconstruction of a history, not only it’s own but also the national history.

Nowadays, finally I could bring back values other than experience. I know that the archives represent one part of the cultural heritage; the organisation stores them as a facilitator, keeping memoris in its storage repository, but providing the full accessibility to the citiziens.

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CAM meeting ICMH Congress military archives

CAM meeting in Wroclaw

By Flavio Carbone, CAM president

The meeting of the Committee of Military Archives held on 30 August 2022 in Wroclaw, at the Wroclaw University – Institute of History.

The Committe of Military Archives meeting

On 30 August 2022, the Committe of Military Archives convened in Wroclaw in the framework of the XLVII International Congress of Military History on the theme “Defence of the borders in military history” (28 August – 02 September 2021).

The first slide of the presentation during the CAM meeting

According to the agenda of the meeting, the Committee discussed for more than one hour of the main important topics as in the agenda:

– the Athens meeting – the Committee of Military Archives blog: facts and figures – the Military Archives Online Guide – conclusions

Eight attendees (delegates or observers) from 7 countries (Belgium, Italy, Spain, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Senegal).

After a quick introduction by each attendee, the discussion took place touching different topics of our agenda. The steering committee recapitulated the outcomes of the previous meeting held in Athens. Then the main topic was the blog, providing facts and figures, opening the discussion on possible new posts to enlarge the number of contributiors and spread the initiative in a wider community.

The main concern emerged during the meeting related to the Military Archives Online Guide.

The Military Archives Online Guide initiative has been launched since the Congress in Beijing in 2015. Unfortunately, the results were not as expected up to 2022, when the steering committee were able to see the efforts recognised thanks to the effort of Davide Borsani and the webmaster of the ICMH website.

The Military Archives Online Guide project would like to connect all the information regarding the military archives and military funds in other archives in one unique platform, the ICMH website. A dedicated post will be published in the close future.

One of the slides dedicated to the Military Archives Online Guide presenting some numbers

Because of the lack of time, the Committee planned to receive three presentations (by Kathleen Van Acker, Marius Croitoru and Patrick Nefors). Unfortunately, the organisation didn’t plan correctly the timeframe forcing the Committee to find another room available in the late afternoon.

The presentation at the end of the morning was held by our secretary-general, Kathleen Van Acker, speaking on “sources dans les archives: types et expériences”.

The CAM secretary-general presents her paper during the CAM meeting

In the late afternoon, finally we had the opportunity to book another room to continue our meeting and receive the presentations by Marius Croitoru on Romanian military national archives and Patrick Nefors on the Belgian military archives. The presentations will be published in future posts.

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