Publication Date

October 1, 1994

Perspectives Section

AHA Activities

At its meeting in May 1994, the AHA Council accepted the recommendation of the Research Division that the Association join the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies (AAASS) in creating a Task Force on Russian and European Archives. This group has now been formed, and its first meeting was scheduled for mid-September. Its members, appointed jointly by the AHA Council and the AAASS Executive Committee, include Norman Naimark, Stanford University (AAASS coordinator); William G. Rosenberg, University of Michigan (AHA coordinator); Donald Raleigh, University of North Carolina; Kathryn Weathersby, Florida State University; Gregory Freeze, Brandeis University; David Ransel, Indiana University; and William Taubman, Amherst College. All would welcome comments and suggestions from AHA members.

The task force stems from the growing concern about the deteriorating condition of Russian and East European archives and associated problems of archival access. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Western and former Soviet scholars alike rejoiced at the prospect that archives and libraries in Russia and the other newly independent states of the region would now be freely accessible for research. Lamentably, three distinct but interrelated sets of developments have occurred since that time to jeopardize this prospect. First, rapidly deteriorating economic conditions and the suspension or reconfiguration of state funding has led to a crisis in many places of archival and library physical plants, drastic reductions in salaries and staff, and in some cases extended closings. Second, many archives and libraries, with a greater or lesser degree of reluctance, have embraced principles of "privatization" or "commercialization" in ways that have imposed, or threaten to impose, exceptional and potentially prohibitive costs on users, either formally or informally. Third, enterprising commercial firms, scholarly consortia, and individual groups of scholars have increasingly resorted to "private arrangements" to assure their needs are met, possibly creating in some instances problems of access to particular materials for other scholars.

These conditions have concerned most members of the Slavic Association as well as large numbers of AHA members. In 1993, an extensive and at times quite heated discussion about them took place in the newsletters of both associations, as well as in the Slavic Review. The AHA Council passed a “Resolution of Concern”; and in October 1993 more than fifty scholars petitioned the AAASS “in light of the resolution adopted by the American Historical Association” and “in view of the dire conditions obtaining in the archives and libraries of the former Soviet Union” to urge the Association to address these problems and formulate policy “with a view to implementing long-term preservation strategies and assuring equitable international access. …” Similar concerns were expressed within the AHA.

The joint task force has consequently been charged with four general tasks:

  1. to assess the situation of archives and archival research primarily in Russia, but also in the former Soviet Union and, if practicable, East Europe as well;
  2. to consider formulating a general statement of policies on the matters relating to the appropriate use of and access to archives;
  3. to explore ways in which the AAASS and the AHA might be of help to the maintenance and development of archives in the region; and
  4. to consider ways of assuring coordination between the various and sometimes overlapping projects currently underway with regard to archival preservation and restoration, assistance, the publication of documents, and the preparation of finding aids, among others.

Funding for the group's initial meeting has been provided by the AHA and the AAASS. Additional resources are being sought to allow the task force to continue and complete its work.

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