first prerequisite for getting a grip on the estimated 50
million pages of voc
archive material is to catalogue the material so that
it can be searched with relative ease. Two types of finding
aids can be used:
finding aids: These are summaries of all voc
objects (bundles and volumes) which the researcher
can use to request the desired documents: the so-called
archival inventory. Without an inventory, the voc
archives are an enormous mountain of paper with
which no researcher or archivist can work. A finding aid
consists at minimum of a unique serial number, a title,
and an indication of the period for every separate voc
object. The best inventories group descriptions
in such a way that the researcher can see the origin of
the archival documents (for example, which department, establishment,
or commission) and the structure of the organization. The
contents of the documents are also described in somewhat
more detail, and there are instructions on how to best search
through the mass of archival material.
finding aids: These are not limited to the formal
side of the voc
object (number, title, year), but explore the contents
of the archival documents. Secondary finding aids, also
known as 'specific finding aids', include indexes ordered
according to names of people and places. Thematic search
guides can also be seen as secondary finding aids.
programme's cluster for the preservation of culture aims at
improving both forms of accessibility. The products are:
- a general survey
- a super inventory
The finding aids will be in English
so that the barrier for international research remains as
low as possible.
general survey is a computer file in which all descriptions
of all voc
objects from each partner country are stored. Here
researchers can immediately discover which bundles or volumes
material exist and where they are stored. The general
survey can be made only if usable finding aids are available.
In some cases these must first be created. Where usable inventories
do exist, they can be processed into computer files. In this
way the researcher is presented with a complete and uniform
set of finding aids rather than the present search tools,
which differ so greatly in terms of both quality and functionality.
- In Jakarta
finding aid dates from 1882. It lacks unique numbering
per object. Many archival documents are lost or have been
mixed with other archives. When combined with several more
modern finding aids for some of the materials, the 118-year-old
inventory can be used to compile a totally new inventory.
- In Chennai
finding aid dates from 1931. The archives have been
ordered in British fashion, entirely chronologically. With
the aid of microfilms of the voc
archives and an old finding aid from 1909, it will
be possible to construct the archival inventory with descriptions
and a classification that can be used for other TANAP
- In Colombo
inventory dates from 1943. There are additional
finding aids from earlier or later years. Approximately
four metres of voc
materials must be more closely analyzed and described.
A new inventory of the whole record group can then be made.
- In Cape
Town the inventories can be easily adapted for use
in the general survey.
- In The
Hague the voc
inventory is recent and of good quality and will
be used as the basis for the general survey because of its
relationship with all previously mentioned archives.
super inventory is a database in which all components of the
objects are described in detail. Many voc
objects (bundles and volumes) that consist of numerous
documents have been preserved in The Hague in particular.
For example, the mass of archival documents sent to the Netherlands
from Asia was bound into 3,000 thick volumes soon after their
arrival. These are labelled by year, and are known as the
Overgekomen Brieven en Papieren
(OBP's) (Letters and Papers
received from Asia). They are consulted many thousands of
times a year, more frequently than any other source of archival
materials at the National Archives of the Netherlands. The
archival inventory tells us little about the actual contents
of these voc
objects, however. Users would benefit from more detailed
descriptions of the many kinds of documents contained in a
volume for a single year, which sometimes exceed a quarter
of a metre.
inventory states only the following for
reference number 1144: '1644,
FFF Second book'. Luckily, many OBPs
contain an index. The lists of contents of the
Chamber Amsterdam have been typed out.
object 1144 consists of numerous documents
received in the Netherlands from 11 countries
in 1644. They originate in Batavia, Maluku, Ceylon,
Goa (India), Wingurla (today Vengurla in India)
Suratte (India), Siam (Thailand), Cambodia, Tonkin
(Vietnam) and Attchin. They consist of diaries,
letters, price lists, trade books, resolutions,
memories, registers, peace treaties, invoices,
certificates, instructions, and general missives.
In total hundreds of different archival documents
lie hidden behind the description of one voc
object - '1644,
FFF Second book'.
All these documents among the
thousands of voc
bundles and volumes will be put into one database.
The same is true for the OBP's
of the voc
Chamber Zeeland, which are not bound by year, but
randomly according to geography. The Batavia letterbooks of
outgoing documents, containing copies of the letters that
the Governor-General and Council at Batavia sent to all voc
establishments, kings, sultans and other Asian and
African authorities, are also entered. In this way all archives
will be entered in the database together with information
about the relationship between the voc
establishments and the authorities in Asia and Africa.
Example of various documents
kept together in one
archival object; Chennai (click to enlarge image)
These activities in all participating
archival institutions will lead to a super inventory in which
the researcher can see immediately where the desired document
is stored. The voc
establishments kept copies of all documents that they
sent to Batavia and Batavia did the same for all documents
that were sent to the Netherlands. The super database can
assist in tracing documents that have disappeared in one country
but may be available in another country after all.
Finally, one can trace, for
establishment, which documents were received there
and which documents were sent by that establishment. In other
words: we will get a fairly complete picture of the administration
of each voc
establishment. The super inventory gives rise to an
imaginary reconstruction of the archives of all voc
establishments in Asia and Africa.
Concretely, it provides inventories
of the archives of all voc
establishments. Virtually speaking, all countries
in Asia and Africa will receive their voc
archives back. The actual reconstruction and return
by filming or scanning, and the virtual display of the archives
by Internet, will take things a step further.
An added aspect of the super
inventory is the knowledge that will be gained regarding the
presence of copies of archive materials. The super inventory
will make it easier to set priorities when decisions are made
regarding the scanning or filming of original documents so
as to protect them from wear and tear. Archival materials
that are present at a number of locations do not need to be
scanned or filmed twice, for example.