- Why are the “African Archives” transferred to the National Archives of Belgium 2 – Joseph Cuvelier repository?
- When did the transfer operations start and how long will they last?
- Which documents are included in the “African Archives” currently being transferred from FPS Foreign Affairs?
- What is the difference between “Colonial Archives” and “African Archives”?
- Is there guaranteed access to the “African Archives”currently being transferred?
- Under which conditions can the “African Archives” be accessed at the State Archives?
- Which research instruments are available in the reading room of NAB 2 – Joseph Cuvelier repository?
- Why are new inventories produced by the State Archives of Belgium in order to replace the existing finding aids?
- What tools are available in order to identify the archives relating to the Belgian presence in Central Africa (1885-1962) kept in Belgium?
1. Why are the “African Archives” transferred to the National Archives of Belgium 2 – Joseph Cuvelier repository?
The FPS Foreign Affair is legally bound to transfer its archives that are older than 50 years to the State Archives of Belgium (Archives law of 24 June 1955, amended by the law of 6 May 2009; Royal Decrees of 18 August 2010). Given the current budget restraints, the FPS Foreign Affairs furthermore wants to concentrate on its core missions.
An memorandum of understanding concluded at the end of 2014 between the State Archives and the FPS Foreign Affairs signed in late 2014 laid the basis for the transfer of the “African Archives” kept by the FPS to NAB2. In 2017, a new memorandum of understanding was signed by both parties, adding 6 linear kilometres of diplomatic archives and 4 linear kilometres of archives from the Belgian Development Cooperation department to the 9,5 linear kilometres of “African Archives”..
2. When did the transfer operations start and how long will they last?
The transfer operations started in January 2016 and, to date, about 3 linear kilometres of “African Archives” have been sorted, inventoried, repackaged and transferred to NAB 2.
In a first phase, the transfer operations focus on the “African Archives”.These will be followed in a second phase by the archives of the Belgian Development Cooperation department and finally the diplomatic archives, in a third and final phase. In total, these operations will cover about 20 linear kilometres of archives over a ten-year period.
By signing the memorandum of understanding, the State Archives of Belgium committed itself to improving the accessibility of the archives, among other things by digitising existing research instruments and making them available online, but foremost by transforming these research instruments into detailed inventories written in conformity with the international standard ISAD(G).
3. Which documents are included in the “African Archives” currently being transferred from FPS Foreign Affairs?
Reflecting the institutional, administrative and judiciary system that produced them, the “African Archives” (1885-1962) are composed of two main collections:
- The first one includes the archives originally produced by the “gouvernement general” (general government) of Congo, known as Administration d’Afrique, which was also responsible for the Mandate and later Trust Territories of Rwanda-Urundi, as well as the archives produced by its legal predecessor, namely the Local Government of the Congo Free State (approximately 6 linear kilometres);
- The second one is made up of the archives produced by the former Ministry of Colonies, known as Administration métropolitaine, by its legal predecessor, namely the embryonic “Gouvernement Central” (Central Government) of the Congo Free State, and by its legal successors, namely the “Ministère du Congo et du Ruanda-Urundi” (Ministry of the Congo and Ruanda-Urundi) and the “Ministère des Affaires africaines”( Ministry of African Affairs) (total: 3.5 linear kilometres).
The “African Archives” also comprise:
- Cabinet archives of the ministers in office;
- Archives of the external services of the Administration d’Europe, such as the “Musée royal du Congo belge” (Royal Museum of the Belgian Congo) or the “École colonial/École d’Administration du Congo belge et du Ruanda-Urundi” (Colonial School/School of Administration of the Belgian Congo and Ruanda-Urundi);
- Archives of colonial law organisations such as the “Fonds Reine Élisabeth pour l’Assistance médicale aux Indigènes (FOREAMI)”(Queen Elisabeth Fund for the Medical Assistance to Indigenous Peoples ) or the “Fonds du Bien-Être indigène (FBEI)” (Fund for the Well-Being of Indigenous Peoples);
- Archives of Belgian law organisations such as the “Académie royale des Sciences d’Outre-Mer” (Royal Academy for Overseas Sciences), the “Institut de Médecine tropicale” (Institute of Tropical Medicine), and SABENA;
- Archives of advisory bodies such as the “Conseil colonial/Conseil de Législation” (Colonial Council/Legislative Council);
- Private archives relating to the colonial period.
4. What is the difference between “Colonial Archives” and “African Archives”?
Two terms are used in Belgium to refer to the historical archives relating to the Belgian presence in Central Africa: “African Archives” and “Colonial Archives”. The term “Colonial Archives” encompasses a larger number of archives producers.
According to the State Archives of Belgium, the “Colonial Archives” consist of public and private archives from the colonial period in Congo (1885-1960) and from the Belgian administration of Rwanda-Urundi (1916-1962).
The “African Archives” consist of the “Colonial Archives” kept at the FPS Foreign Affairs and that are currently being transferred. The term refers to the attributions of the last legal successor of the Ministry of Colonies, namely the Ministry of African Affairs. When it was liquidated in 1960, The Archive Service of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which inherited its archives, created an “Africa” section within its department. This section was responsible for preserving the “African Archives”.
5. Is there guaranteed access to the “African Archives” currently being transferred?
The parter institutions have pledged to limit the consequences of these transfer operations on the accessibility of the collections. The archives still kept at the FPS Foreign Affairs can be accessed in the reading room of the FPS’s Archive Service, including the records that arecurrently being processed. During the actual transfer to NAB 2, documents are not be accessible for a maximum period of two weeks. So far, to the consultation of documents already transferred to NAB 2 has always been made possible within 24 to 48 hours after their transfer.
6. Under which conditions can the “African Archives” be accessed at the State Archives?
Just as other fonds conserved at the State Archives of Belgium, the “African Archives” that are at least30 years old are freely accessible for consultation, except for:
- Documents containing personal data (a fortiori personal files), in accordance with the provisions of the framework law of 30 July 2018 on the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data (law implementing the GDPR).
- Classified documents. The State Archives of Belgium commits itself to verifying whether files requested for consultation contain classified documents or not. If they are indeed classified and if necessary, declassification can be requested through the ad hoc channels according to the law of 11 December 1998 on classification and security clearance, certificates and notices.
7. Which research instruments are available in the reading room of NAB 2 – Joseph Cuvelier repository?
Research instruments are available for all fonds of the “African Archives” transferred to NAB 2. Pending their publication, printed versions of the provisional inventories can be obtained in the reading room of NAB 2, with the exception of:
- The maps collection (“cartothèque”), for which a database will be be accessed freely on a reading room computer at NAB 2;
- The personnel registration numbers (“registres de la matricule”) database , related to the “dossiers généraux et individuels du Personnel d’Afrique” (General and Individual Files of the African Personnel) fonds, identifying some 10,000 agents and civil servants and officers of the Congo Free State, and which will be accessed freely on a reading room computer at NAB 2;
- The databases relating to some 80,000 individual files of the African Personnel (fonds “Métropole”, “Colonie” and “Kinshasa”), which cannot be accessed due to restrictions by virtue of the law on the protection of privacy and personal data.
Access to documents about an African Personnel member must be requested beforehand. Requests can be sent by e-mail to email@example.com.
8. Why are new inventories produced by the State Archives of Belgium in order to replace the existing finding aids?
For the vast majority of the “African Archives” still kept at the FPS Foreign Affairs or already transferred to NAB 2, a research instrument - compiled either by the FPS’ Archive Service or by the State Archives of Belgium - is available. The new finding aids, as well as those adapted by the State Archives of Belgium, will be available in the reading room of NAB 2 pending their publication and their integration into the online search engine.
The memorandum of understanding between the two partner institutions provides that all existing research instruments shall be updated by the State Archives of Belgium, in order to comply with current international archival standards. Those archive fonds for which no research instrument is yet available shall be inventoried by the State Archives of Belgium. All of these new inventories shall be made available online on the respective websites of the two institutions, as and when they are published, in oder to be accessible to all – researchers or private individuals in Belgium and abroad. Concordance tables will be included in each inventory, in order to allow researchers to match the old numbering used by the FPS Foreign Affairs (portfolio and file numbers) with the new numbering assigned by the State Archives of Belgium.
9. What tools are available in order to identify the archives relating to the Belgian presence in Central Africa (1885-1962) kept in Belgium?
Awaiting the publication of a new guide to the sources relating to Belgian colonial history to be released in winter 2019/2020 (the result of a collaboration between the AfricaMuseum and the State Archives of Belgium), researchers can already use a number of tools, which have been published or are available online:
In the case of collections kept by private or public archive services in Belgium – including the 19 public repositories of the State Archives of Belgium – researchers will first and foremostdraw on the 2017 edition of the sources guide for the study of contemporary Belgium titled “Bronnen voor de studie van het hedendaagse België. 19e – 21e eeuw ” (Dutch) / “Sources pour l’étude de la Belgique contemporaine, 19e-21e siècle” (French) published by the Royal Historical Commission and edited by Professors Patricia Van Den Eeckhout and Guy Vanthemsche.
Since 2017, a French and augmented edition of this essential volume is available. The “Sources pour l’étude de la Belgique contemporaine, 19ème – 20ème siècle” indeed contains – in addition to the chapters devoted to the Ministry of Colonies, the FPS Foreign Affairs, the Royal Palace Archives and companies or private archives – two copious names and topics indexes (G. Vanthemsche & P. Van den Eeckhout (éd.), Sources pour l’étude de la Belgique contemporaine, 19e-21e siècle, 2 vol., Brussels, 2017, 1,844 p.).
In the case of private archives kept in Flanders and Brussels, mainly by Flemish private archive services , two regularly updated online search engines can be used (also available in English): Archiefbank Vlaanderen and ODIS.
In the specific case of the archives kept at NAB and NAB 2 (Joseph Cuvelier repository), which are both located in Brussels – respectively rue de Ruysbroeck/Ruisbroekstraat and rue du Houblon/Hopstraat – the State Archives published in 2012 a research guide about the colonial archives, reaslised by the archivists Lien Ceûppens and Guy Coppieters. This research guide is freely available online. It provides detailed information about archives produced by the Parliament, the Court of Audit, ministries and other public services, but also about archives produced by companies and private individuals, and about maps and plans collections.
The research guide “Les archives de particuliers relatives à l’histoire de la Belgique contemporaine” (“The archives of private individuals relating to the history of contemporary Belgium”), by Marc D’Hoore, dates back to 1998, but provides detailed descriptions of all the archives produced by private individuals and kept at the time at the National Archives of Belgium in Brussels. Furthermore, most private colonial archives were acquired by the State Archives of Belgium prior to that date and are thus listed in Marc d’Hoore’s archives guide (M. D’Hoore, Archives de particuliers relatives à l’histoire de la Belgique contemporaine (de 1830 à nos jours), Brussels, 1998, 2 vol.).
The search engine of the State Archives enables researchers to identify fonds, series and even files by inventory number among the holdings and collections of the 19 State Archives of Belgium repositories. In the case of the Royal Palace Archives the researcher must rely on an old but vauable inventory, namely the “Inventaire des archives relatives au développement extérieur de la Belgique sous le règne de Léopold II” (“Inventory of the archives relating to the external development of Belgium during the reign of Leopold II”), published in 1965 by Émile Vandewoude (E. Vandewoude, Inventaire des archives relatives au développement extérieur de la Belgique sous le règne de Léopold II, Brussels, 1965, 298 p.).
The archives of private individuals, companies and institutions kept at the Africa-Museum can be researched thanks to numerous finding aids available in PDF format on the museum’s website, which also provides a complete overview of its collections.
The archives of private individuals involved in the colonial expansion of Belgium were the object of a research guide published in 1997 and soon to be updated (P. Van Schuylenbergh, La mémoire des Belges en Afrique. Inventaire des archives historiques privées du MRAC de 1858 à nos jours, Brussels, 1997, 149 p.).