Preserving archival materials at archive depot/ archival institution
The only available archive of Tamils at archival institutions is from the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s. They are archived after «Redd Barna » (Save the Children Norway – Norwegian NGO), «Innvandreretaten», (immigrant Administration ) «tolkeseksjonen» (interpreting section), «Flyktning og Innvandreretaten» (Refugee and the Immigration Service ) (a merger of the Immigration Service and the Secretariat for Immigrants and Refugees). And a couple of master and doctoral thesis from the 2000s and 2010s.
These are archives of Norwegian governmental bodies and international help organisations. Based on these archives the history of the Tamils in Norway is put on the freeze to the time when Tamils came here as refugees around 40-50 years ago. Where is the historical archive that tells about the development of these Tamil refugees to Norway? Did all Tamils come to Norway as refugees? How has the journey been for the migrated Tamils to now? – The answers to all such questions are in the Tamil organizational archives. Sadly, they are not available for public access.
The first generation, who still has leadership positions at many diaspora organisations, are in the age of ’50s and above. These have experienced traumatic incidents such as the burning of Jaffna library[i] in 1981 and other state-sponsored cultural genocide of Tamils in Sri Lanka.
97 000 unique materials, including the only existing copy of the “Yalpana Vaipava Malai” were burnt to ashes. “Yalpana Vaipava Malai” was a history of Jaffna written by Tamil poet Mayil Vaakaanar in 1736. At this point, I would like to mention that Norway has also experienced that parts of its archive have been confiscated by the German invasion during the second world war.
The scares of oppression continue within Tamils and the fear to lose what they have remained is one of many reasons that the archive is kept in private hands. Digitalising and keeping several copies are another reflection of this historical experience.
However, this historical experience should be taken as a lesson rather than an obstacle. And that is a long-lasting social need.
We can even take the word “Eelam” as an example. “Eelam”[ii] is the indigenous name of the whole island, Sri Lanka. Henceforth DsporA Tamil Archive will use the term Eelam in this sense. Tamils from Eelam have a renewed recent urge to gather all archival and archaeological documents for the ancestral history of their existence. And they find and present various pieces of evidence in the form of inscriptions, printed books, archaeological artefacts from Sangam Era (centuries BC) and onwards. Since the records of the word “Eelam” were created and since the recorded documents were preserved, they become evidence for Tamils´ indigenous rights and history. Likewise, contemporary records are important to be preserved for the unknown use and purpose of Tamil descendants back home and in the diaspora.
It is once again important to state that the first generation of migrated Tamils are thinking that the archive of the Tamil struggle produced back home is the only valuable archive. But don´t forget that archives of diaspora Tamil organisations are also valuable for contemporary and future generations.
Even archival documents of Tamil struggle generated by diaspora Tamil organisations are as valuable as those produced back home. It includes all forms of freedom struggle and the various freedom struggle organisations. I would like to underline to prevent any misunderstanding. The last 30-40 years of freedom struggle is political for the first generation. It is partial political and partial historical for the second generation. But we have third and fourth generations of Tamils living in the diaspora. For them, as well as the future generation, the last 30-40 years of Tamil freedom struggle is history! And that has as equal importance as the history of the Sangam Era for the continuity of Eelam Tamil existence! From an archival ethic perspective, archival activity should be objective and loyal to history.
Archival institutions – few archival terms:
Clause (klausul): Prevents access to information subject to the obligation of confidentiality (an article of the Norwegian Archival Law)
Access (tilgang): to identify an archive and gain access to archival materials for various use.
Ownership (eierskap): The owner and creator of an archive. That can be a private person, an organization or a department.
Two ways to preserve archive at an archive depot/ archive institution:
According to Norwegian archival law, private archives can be preserved at archival institutions under two different arrangements.
Handing over (Avlevering)
The main difference between the two arrangements is the ownership of the archive.
On the other hand, “depositing” means that the archive creator holds the ownership while the archive is preserved at an archival institution.
For instance, if “DsporA Tamil Archive” decide to deposit these posts at an archival institution, the posts will be preserved at an institution for the future. When someone applies for access to the posts, the archival institution will send the access request to me. Then I will consider the request and grant access or give partial access to the posts (archival materials). Or even deny access. By doing this the archival materials are preserved for the future at the same time the access is monitored by the archive creator (arkivskaper). This means also that “DsporA Tamil Archive” can also take back the deposited archival materials from the archival institution. This is a possible disadvantage of depositing. Even if the community concerned with that archive wants the archive to be preserved, it is up to the archive creator to preserve the materials for the future.
When you give your archive under one of the mentioned arrangements, the archival institutions can help you to assess archival valuable documents. If they find any documents without archival value, they can give them back to you rather than throwing them away.
Important benefits to preserve archival materials at an archival institution:
Paper-based archival materials will be protected from any natural destruction damage such as water, fire and temperature. Over time, even the temperature and air condition can damage the paper and the writing in a material.
Digital materials will be transformed into readable platforms when the technology evolves.
Publishing on a website is the first step of creating a record (பதிவேடு). But posting on social media is not creating a record (பதிவேடு). That is sharing your activities with the world. The records on a website can also be shared on social media. These shares let the world know about the activities of you and your organisation. But that is not preservation! Websites can be preserved. But posts on social media are challenging to preserve. Preservation means that the contemporary and future generation can easily find and use the document by searching on a centralised platform or place. Posts on social media and the Internet are like finding something in the ocean.
Preserve at the archival institution? or not?
It is understandable that it is a process to build trust to either “hand over” or “deposit” your archive at an archive depot/ institution. As a first step please give a chance to visit an archive depot to establish a relationship with the archive depot and get familiar with preservation activity.
As I mentioned before, creating such trust and gaining knowledge about preservation is a social process. At least please keep the basic details that are mentioned throughout the series “What is ஆவணம்?” in mind when you do your local archival collection activity. And more importantly, create some opening to the next generation. So that they in future can continue to preserve the archives that tell the history of Tamils.
Please do not forget that you are keeping a piece of Tamil cultural and historical heritage at your home. Please give the public access to that heritage.