Citizens, more than ever, are seeking to establish their rights, to understand the present, and to reconstruct an identity firmly based on family and local memory. But for the most part they know nothing of the existence, let alone the contents, of the archives which are available to them.
Archivists are the guardians of the fragile and endangered memory of the world, at risk among the profusion and vulnerability of the material produced, and they find it alarming that society is brushing them aside at a time when its need is greater than ever. Are we not at a critical moment, when a society which disregards its archives risks losing the memory that it needs to build a more stable future? This is particularly true for that part of memory which deals with the crimes that marked the 20th century. The Holocaust, the gulags, the wars related to colonization, those who ‘disappeared’ in Argentina and elsewhere in Latin America are all tragedies for which mourning and reparation depend on the identification and greatest possible accessibility of archives, as well as on oral testimony.
The work of the 36th International Conference of the Round Table on Archives (known by its French acronym as CITRA), which met in Marseille at the invitation of France between 13 and 15 November 2002, focused particularly on these matters under the general title of ‘How Does Society Perceive Archives?’ CITRA brings together directors of national archives and presidents of professional archive associations once a year to discuss subjects of professional interest. The CITRA in Marseille gathered 237 national archivists, presidents of national associations, and experts, from 83 countries.
The program was introduced by Pierre Nora, the well-known historian of Lieux de memoire who evoked the issues faced by archives in contemporary society. Delegates wondered about the persistent discrepancy between what they did, and what society and public authorities thought they did.
The resolutions adopted at the end of the conference asked countries which were moving towards democracy to press on with the process of opening up their archives, and to ensure the safekeeping and accessibility of the police archives of former dictatorships in Latin America, in order to meet the demands of victims.
One result of the conference was a request to organize an international archives day each year on a date to be fixed.
Finally governments were urged to promote the long term preservation of electronic records as a subject for the organizers of the World Summit on the Information Society which will take place in Geneva in December 2003.
This international meeting was one of a series of three on the theme of ‘Archives and Society’ organized by the International Council on Archives. The 37th CITRA will take place in October 2003 in Capetown in South Africa. It will focus on the subject of ‘Archives at the Service of Society as a Whole. Archives and Human Rights’.
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