The Importance of Archives – Preserving the Past and Contextualising the Present

Finnish National Archives

│By Torsti Grönberg, Gale Ambassador at the University of Helsinki│

Historian Jo Tollebeek once wrote that increasing “scientification” of history at the end of the nineteenth century produced a new kind of archival-fantasy: a belief that all relevant documents from the past could be gathered. Nowadays it is vital to comprehend and take into account the diversity of an archive. Every archive is bound not only to its history and context but also the demands of the current era. At the end of the day, an archive is in of itself an intellectual problem and a cultural artefact to be studied. Historian Natalie Zemon Davis has also made the important point that, even though the world of archives has encountered many changes, the most important aspect is still the same: when you read documents in an archive you have a physical link to the past in front of you that connects you to people long dead and strengthens the researchers attempt to tell about the past as honestly as possible.1

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L’Enfer de la Bibliothèque nationale de France – A Student’s Perspective

|By Rob Youngs do Patrocinio, Gale Ambassador at University College London|

Gale’s rich and exciting archive collection L’Enfer de la Bibliothèque national de France, which is part of Gale’s Archives of Sexuality and Gender series, holds an impressive assortment of approximately 2400 printed works, published mostly in French. Enfer quite literally translates into English as “hell”. The name is remarkable and has certainly contributed to the collection’s historical infamy. When it was opened, the collection was classified and unavailable to the wider public due to its obscene and outlandish nature, and the perceived vulgarity of the content – but perhaps unsurprisingly this only roused interest and curiosity in the collection! Students of today will undoubtedly be equally curious to explore this historically “out of bounds” collection.

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Declassified Documents Online: Twentieth Century British Intelligence, Monitoring the World

Declassified Documents Online: Twentieth Century British Intelligence, Monitoring the World

|By Clem Delany, Acquisitions Editor, Gale Primary Sources|

It is now common knowledge that the German Enigma codes were broken during the Second World War in huts at Bletchley Park, and that this feat helped sway the tide of war in the Allies favour. Most people are also aware that Alan Turing was there, that early computers were being developed, and that after the war these codebreakers and the hundreds of people employed at Bletchley Park vanished into obscurity until the 1970s. These details have become part of popular culture: the shabby huts in the middle of a quiet countryside where great and secret things were happening providing the setting for the book Enigma by Robert Harris, or The Imitation Game starring Benedict Cumberbatch in tweed, and even a BBC Radio sitcom, Hut 33.

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Building a Digital Archive: The Role of Privacy and Content Breadth in ‘Refugees, Relief and Resettlement’

Refugee Children from Occupied Countries

By Bennett Graff, Senior Acquisitions Editor, Gale Primary Sources

Released in 2020, Refugees, Relief, and Resettlement: Forced Migration and World War II is a digital collection of primary sources that documents the largest displacement of people in human history to occur within the near decade-long window that comprised the period just before, during, and shortly after the Second World War.

When Gale creates any of its archives, a good deal of thought goes into its conception and execution. In my role as an editor advocating for an archive devoted to the history of modern refugeeism and forced migration, I had several goals in mind. First and foremost was to shine a historical spotlight on an issue that is very much with us today and will remain with us for decades to come. I discussed the topical nature of the archive in this post. Second was to illustrate the sheer breadth of the topic at hand. The displacement and resettlement of nearly 60 million people extended from South America through Europe, Africa, and Asia to the far reaches of the Pacific Rim. The content included in Refugees, Relief, and Resettlement: Forced Migration and World War II had to represent this reach as broadly as possible. And finally, in laying bear the special historical circumstances of refugees and displaced persons, it was necessary to consider the delicate situation of these often “state-less” individuals by respecting within reasonable means the private information that the publication of any collection of primary sources inevitably brings to the surface.

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