In Shakespeare's Hamlet, the prince of Denmark intones: “Ay, thou poor ghost, whiles memory holds a seat / In this distracted globe. Remember thee? / Yea, from the table of my memory / I'll wipe away all trivial fond records, / All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past.”1 In Displaced Archives, James Lowry, a lecturer at the Liverpool University Centre for Archive Studies, assembles a tested troupe of academics, who, in a series of twelve penetrating essays, analyze the problematic and pressured past of displaced archives caused by military conflict and European colonialism. Lowry asserts that the complex dilemmas caused by this pressured past of archival displacement make attempts to arrange the chapters according to such general categories as technical, theoretical, or legal issues lead only to artificial divisions. The chapter arrangement, he declares, therefore, is loosely structured, and both cross-references and footnotes have been supplied to point to some of these intricate connections (p. 8). Writing within this loose format, these scholars scrutinize for the first time significant aspects of displaced archives, their history, and how their memory still holds a spectral seat at the table of contemporary governmental administration, nation building, human rights, and justice (p. i). The authors advocate for a judicious use of legal approaches and renewed advocacy from the international archival community. They argue for the greater utilization of such approaches as joint or shared heritage, and the incorporation of such archival theories as the records continuum model and the political concepts of postnationalism and cultural internationalism.
In “Hiding the Colonial Past? A Comparison of European Archival Policies,” chapter 5, Vincent Hiribarren examines the political and historical impact of displaced colonial archives in Europe. Hiribarren asserts that two fundamental issues must be addressed: definitions and sources. In regard to definitions, he characterizes “colonial archives” as the official documents produced in a colonial territory by European powers (p. 74). Although restrictive, Hiribarren maintains that this definition allows for a systematic focus on the question of archival displacement. On the subject of sources, he claims historical literature directly addressing the questions posed by displaced colonial archives remains sparse. To illustrate, imperial histories devote only a few introductory descriptive lines to the question of displaced or hidden records (p. 74). Michael Karabinos pushes Hiribarren's argument further in chapter 4, “Indonesian National Revolution Records in the National Archives of the Netherlands,” by discussing archival access. Karabinos claims a distinction must be made between records that are made publicly accessible in a legal sense and those archives made fully available through such archival tools as finding aids and inventories (p. 69). In his extensive research, Karabinos determined that unclear inventories and language barriers often limit access.
Although a lack of access many times may be chalked up to a shortage of resources, Hiribarren notes the media in Europe also heavily politicize the question of access to displaced archives (pp. 82–83, 106, 188). In Hiribarren's opinion: “The displaced archives are a physical expression of the culture of secrecy of most European governments and their existence challenges the legitimate rights of European citizens to a certain type of democratic accountability” (p. 83). As an intriguing aside, public concern for stories about displaced colonial archives does not originate from an earnest desire to engage the difficult history represented in the records of the former colonial world, but instead emanates from the strong conviction that evidence obtained from these archives supports those media reports painstakingly hidden through machinations of the state (pp. 82–83). In their insightful chapters, Timothy Lovering (chapter 6, “Expatriate Archives Revisited”), Mandy Banton (chapter 3, “Displaced Archives in The National Archives of the United Kingdom”), and Todd Shepard (chapter 2, “Making Sovereignty and Affirming Modernity in the Archives of Decolonization: The Algeria-France ‘Dispute’ between the Post-Decolonisation French and Algerian Republics, 1962–2015”), cite, as a potent example of this phenomenon, the body of secret records held by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) known as the “migrated archives,” which contains records from Great Britain's former colonial governments, such as those regarding the Kenyan Emergency incited by the Mau Mau rebellion (pp. 22, 43, 90). The admission of the existence of the Kenyan migrated archives raised significant public and academic debate about the British government's failure to meet its obligations under the Freedom of Information Act (p. 90).
If journalistic accounts have distracted the minds of the public from displaced archives in the West, how do developing countries recover their histories, attain full human rights, and achieve justice? Part of the answer manifests itself on the international stage. In diplomatic negotiations about displaced archives, Lowry asserts that archivists from both sides of the global north-south divide must engage in a difficult diplomatic dance (p. 54). The parties remain constrained by domestic political pressures, which limit their ability to either speak openly or publish freely about displaced archives when it concerns government relations and foreign powers. As attested by the preceding example of the Kenyan migrated archives, political prudence may also explain why opportunities to address displacement by government archivists in the global north are frequently met with silence (p. 34).
In “A Proposal for Action on African Archives in Europe,” chapter 7, Lowry and his colleague Nathan Mnjama utilize anonymous surveys to overcome these political realities (p. 104). Through carefully delineated argumentation, Mnjama stresses that African nations remain interested in displaced archives, because their displacement remains an unresolved injustice of colonialism (p. 101). Buttressing his case, he points to the statement of the African Studies Association's Archives-Libraries Committee 1977 Resolution on Migrated Archives. This pronouncement recognized archives “as an essential part of any nation's heritage providing documentation not only of the historical, cultural, and economic development of a country thereby providing a basis for a national identity, but also serving as a basic source of evidence needed to assert the rights of individual citizens” (p. 101). Mnjama stresses that these records were illegitimately removed from the territories where they were created. His affirmation mirrors Shitla Prasad and others, who have avowed that morally these records belong to the developing countries (pp. 15, 52, and 91).
Utilizing Albert Leisinger's classification scheme for characterizing displaced archives, Mnjama imparts how these categories manifest in the African context (p. 102). Although helpful in delineating the issues surrounding archival displacement, he admits that any attempt to develop broad principles tends to move the discussion into the realm of abstraction (p. 102). In the international arena, Mnjama contends that, as with archival classification schemes, many resolutions “may be pious and high sounding but whose terms may be so broad as to defeat implementation” (p. 105). After almost thirty years of international inaction in regard to displaced archives, Lowry acknowledges that, perhaps, the archival community has exhausted itself in its attempts to implement such noble efforts as the 1983 Vienna Convention on Succession of States in Respect of State Property, Archives and Debts (pp. 3, 107).
Although the implementation of international solutions to displaced archives has proved illusory, new theoretical and technical developments could provide the necessary practical remedies to overcome diplomatic stalemates as experienced at the 1983 Vienna conference (pp. i, 204). Anne J. Gilliland offers a theoretical framework that overturns the deep-seated, long-held diplomatic doctrines concerning the problem of displaced archives in chapter 11, “Networking Records in Their Diaspora: A Reconceptualisation of ‘Displaced Records’ in a Postnational World.” Gilliland argues persuasively that the concepts of postnationalism and such ideas as “rights in records” and “cocreation” will be able to free discussions about displacement, which have been shackled for far too long with time-bound “Old World” thinking about nation states, borders, law, and records as material property (p. 180). Utilizing the records continuum theory, Gilliland maintains that archives must become “a negotiated space in which different communities share stewardship” and remain “respectful of community values, practices, beliefs and needs” (p. 184). In “Revisiting the Law and Politics of Compromise,” chapter 12, Douglas Cox takes Gilliland's postnationalism argument one step further, asserting that the concept of cultural internationalism should be adopted to overcome the unavoidable political nature of displaced archives disputes (p. 197). Cultural internationalism considers cultural property a part of the common human culture, regardless of origin and present location, and independent of property rights or national jurisdiction. Cox contends that this concept is best exemplified in the preamble of the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, which “declares that ‘damage to cultural property belonging to any people whatsoever means damage to the cultural heritage of all mankind’” (p. 205).
In dealing with all the pressured past of displaced archives, Leopold Auer in chapter 8, “Displaced Archives in the Wake of Wars,” advances that practice does not always obey principle. Therefore, the most fundamental approach remains to pursue a course of international cooperation and goodwill between involved countries (p. 122). However, Auer warns that cooperation among nations may only hold true under adequate political circumstances (p. 122). Karabinos and Cox, for example, point to the successful cooperation between Indonesia and the Netherlands that led to a cultural agreement to return seized archives (pp. 63, 209). As other academics have elucidated, however, the hard, cold realities of international power tend to be the norm in negotiations about archival displacement. In his finely crafted chapter 10, “Iraq and Kuwait: The Seizure and Destruction of Historical Patrimony,” Bruce Montgomery, for example, describes how, even with the support of the United Nations (UN) Security Council resolutions, the Kuwaitis' call for the return of their archives seized during Iraq's 1990 invasion remains unanswered in the international community (p. 159). In chapter 9, “Pan-European Displaced Archives in the Russian Federation: Still Prisoners of War on the 70th Anniversary of V-E Day,” Patricia Kennedy Grimsted astutely details, in turn, Russian recalcitrance in regard to the repatriation of Naziera archives to Germany (p. 140).
The preceding argumentation attests that the specter of displaced archives still occupies a haunted seat at the diplomatic table of nations. Returning to Hamlet, however, Marcellus declares: “Thou art a scholar; speak to it, Horatio.”2 In Displaced Archives, thirteen skillful scholars have ably taken up Marcellus's call, cleared our distracted minds, and prepared a precise route into the complex subject of archival displacement. The international archival community must now follow, learn, and teach this path of new theoretical, technical, and political insights. And through this process, archivists will oust the ghosts of displaced archives and attain true justice—restored archives.
1William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, ed. Sylvan Barnet (New York: Signet Classic, 1998), 31.
2Shakespeare, Hamlet, 5.