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The Archives and the archival profession in the Nordic countries

Eljas Orrman
p. 231-238

Texte intégral

  • 1 General presentations of the national archives services of the Nordic countries : H. Jørgensen, Nor (...)

1It is a great honor for me to have got the opportunity to deliver today at this colloquium a presentation of the archives and the archival profession in the five Nordic countries, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. However, only some aspects of the archival landscape and the archival profession in these countries in past and present can be dealt with here1.

Introduction

2The three medieval Northern European realms, Denmark, Sweden including Finland, and Norway including Iceland, were united in 1397 under one monarch in the Kalmar Union. This Union, a creation of Margarethe, queen of Denmark and Norway, was finally dissolved in 1523 when Sweden elected a king of its own. Denmark and Norway, however, remained united in a personal union until 1814. In the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars Norway was in 1814 ceded by Denmark to Sweden giving rise to a union between these countries. Iceland, however, remained under Danish rule. The Tilsit treaty in 1807 between tsar Alexander I and Napoleon and a subsequent war between Russia and Sweden brought Finland in 1809 under Russian rule for ower a century with the status of an autonomous grand duchy.

3The actual political situation in the Nordic region is the result of developments in the first decades of the 20th century. The Swedish-Norwegian union was dissolved in 1905 giving rise to the Norwegian kingdom. In the wake of the Russian October revolution, in the end of 1917, Finland gained independence but had to fight an independence and civil war in the beginning of 1918 to preserve it. Icelands demand for greater autonomy led to a personal union with Denmark in 1918, and in 1944 the union was finally dissolved.

4The Nordic countries were integrated in the West-European cultural sphere during the high and late Middle Ages trough the Catholic Church and the Latin language. Nordic students are found at Western and Central European schools and later at universities since the 11th century. More than 3400 Nordic students attended European universities during the period from 1360s to 1536. The University of Paris was especially popular up to the middle of the 14th century. Continental administrative structures and records management practices were introduced in the Nordic region. In Modern Times the record keeping systems and records management practices in the Nordic kingdoms were strongly influenced by German models.

The establishment of National Archival Services

5The emergence of National Archives services in the Nordic states had their preconditions in the changes in the political situation in the Nordic region in the 17th century on the one hand and on the other hand in the 19th century. In Denmark and Sweden, the strengthening of the Royal power and the establishment of permanent central administrations during the 17th century, were the prerequisites for the establishment of the national archives structures. In Sweden the National Archives, Riksarkivet, emerged in 1618 within the Chancellery of the Realm in Stockholm, while in Denmark, soon after an absolutistic constitution was introduced in 1660, a corresponding repository, the “Secret Archives”, Geheimarkivet, was founded in Copenhagen.

6In Norway and Finland the newly obtained autonomous status can be seen as a necessary precondition for the establishment of National Archives services in these countries. The embryo of such a service emerged in Finland in 1816, when the position of an archivist was established at the Imperial Finish Senate in Helsinki, functioning as the government of the Grand Duchy on behalf of the Russian Emperor. In Norway a National Archives service, Riksarkivet, was established in 1817 in Kristiania (Oslo), in connection with the ministry of Finance. Iceland, on the contrary, had to wait until 1899 to get an Archives service, Landskjalasafn, now the National Archives, skjalasafn Íslands, in Reykjavik.

7During the 19th century the character of the National Archives services in the Nordic countries changed fundamentally when they were opened to historians and other categories of users and their reading room services were developed. This change resulted also in changes in their status within the state administration, reflecting growing independence and increasing esteem in the society. During the second half of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century the Nordic National Archives services became independent boards under the ministry of Church or ministry of Culture and Education. In Norway this occurred already in 1875 and in Sweden in 1878. In Denmark the State Archives service was reorganized in 1889 by a special act giving rise to a new National Archives, Rigsarkivet, with a broader field of competence. In 1869, in Finland the Archives of the Senate was renamed into State Archives, Valtionarkisto/Statsarkivet, but only in 1918 it became an independent board under the ministry of Education.

  • 2 See e.g. the statistics in Nordisk Arkivnyt, n° 1, 2, 2004, p. 79.

8In all Nordic countries, with the exception of Iceland, the National Archives services today include Regional State Archives. In Norway the first Regional Archives was established in 1850, in Denmark in 1889, in Sweden in 1899 and in Finland in 1927. At present, there are regional state archives that are subordinated to the National Archives of the Nordic countries as follows : in Denmark 4 Regional Archives (landsarkiv) ; in Finland 7 Provincial Archives (maakunta-arkisto/landsarkiv) ; in Norway 8 Regional State Archives (statsarkiv) ; in Sweden 7 Regional Archives (landsarkiv)2. The territorially widest districts of Regional State Archives are found in the North. The Regional Archives of Härnösand in Sweden has a district of 196000 square kilometres with approx. one million inhabitants, while the district of the Provincial Archives of Oulu in Finland compraises 150000 square kilometres and ca 600000 inhabitants. The districts with the greatest populations are, however, found in the southern parts of the Nordic region. On the other side the district of the Regional Archives of Visby in Sweden compraises only the island Gotland with ca 3000 square kilometres and ca 60000 inhabitants. In Denmark to the organization of the Danish State Archives belong also the Danish National Business Archives (Ehrvervsarkivet) and the Danish Data Archive (Dansk Data Arkiv), a national data bank for researchers and students. A peculiarity of Sweden is that a regional Municipal Archives (for the province of Värmland) and two municipal City Archives (Stockholm and Malmö) have been entrusted with functions belonging to the Regional State Archives. Finland has a separate repository, the Military Archives, for preservation of the permanently valuable records of the armed forces and of other military records creators, whereas in the other Nordic countries this duty is maintained by the National Archives.

9Autonomous regions within the Nordic states have independent archival services of their own that are not subordinated to the National Archives services. In Denmark the Faeroe Islands and Greenland, and in Finland the Aaland Islands, have such repositories.

Preservation of municipal, ecclesiastical and private Archives

  • 3 Ásgeirsson, op. cit., p. 152 ; L. Ingason, “Regionalarkivet i Kópavogur : dets rolle og funktion”, (...)
  • 4 J. Herstad, “Ny strategi med arkivene i kommunale sektor”, Nordisk Arkivnyt, n° 1, 1, 1997, p. 57 ; (...)

10In addition to the National Archives services there exist a diversified set of archives repositories in all Nordic countries. Municipal Archives of self- governing regional territories, towns and rural municipalities exist in all Nordic countries. In Iceland the municipal archives are called Regional Archives (regionalarkiv), often jointly maintained by several municipalities3. Norway has also a system of intermunicipal archival institutions (interkommunalt arkiv, IKA), founded by several municipalities as well as by self-governing regions4. On the contrary, none of the Nordic countries have special repositories for the permanently valuable archives of the parishes and other records creators of the dominating Evangelical-Lutheran Churches. The ecclesiastical archives are transferred to the Regional State Archives or remain in the custody of the records creators.

  • 5 For different archival repositories in Sweden, see T. Aurelius, T. Axerup and D. Karlsson, Svensk a (...)

11In the private domain the diversity is manifold. There are repositories getting subsidies from the state. Sweden has a system of regional repositories, “mass movement archives” (folkrörelsearkiv), collecting archives of different types of mass movements, e.g. trade unions, labour movements, temperance associations, religious movements5. In Finland there is a dozen of central repositories for the same purpose and they are entitled to statutory state subsidies and act on a national level, e.g. five party archives, two trade union archives, a sport archives, and a business archives. In Sweden some regional business archives are maintained by associations, whereas nowadays the Danish National Business Archives belongs to the Danish State Archives. In Denmark the preservation of private archives on a local level, with over 500 “local historical archives” (lokalhistoriske arkiver), is a mass movement — with one such repository per 10000 inhabitants.

Archival repositories and their public

12Already in the first half of the 20th century the Nordic countries had a relatively numerous non-academic public frequenting the reading rooms of the archival institutions. Already in the beginning of that century the interest in genealogy was vivid in most strata of the society. The major part of the visitors of the reading rooms of the national and regional State Archives consists of genealogists together with other amateur rechearchers and this explains the over fourfold rise in the number of visits in the reading rooms from 1930 to 2000.

13In the beginning of the 21st century the attendance of the reading rooms of the main archival repositories of the Nordic capitals is presented in table 1.

  • 6 The statistics are from Nordisk Arkivnyt, compleated for some repositories with figures in annual r (...)

Table 1. Number of visits in the reading rooms of the main archival repositories in the Nordic capitals in 20036

Metropolitan area

Arch. Repositories

1000 inhabitants

Copenhagen

1 085 000

50 000

46

Helsinki

971 000

45 000

46

Oslo

1 000 000

15 000

15

Reykjavik

178 000

6 000

34

Stockholm

1 684 000

50 000

30

14These figures do not reflect the whole truth of the use of archival materials. During the second half of the last century the availability of archival information, mainly genealogical sources, has increased considerably, due to the extensive distribution of microfilm copies to local libraries and the sale of such copies. Thus a democratization in the use of archival materials has taken place in the Nordic countries already before the internet-era set in with force.

Archival theory and practice

15Since the second half of the 19th century the archival profession in the Nordic countries has been dominated by historians. However, in the 1980s and 1990s an orientation towards a purely archival identity is evident among young archivists, with the archival profession drifting apart from the historical research. This is clearly seen in the growth of publications, books and articles, dealing with purely archival questions or records management.

  • 7 Jørgensen, Nordiske arkiver, p. 30 ; A. A. Svalestuen, “Proveniensprincippet og ordningen av nyere (...)
  • 8 K. Kristinsdóttir, “Hvad er en kilde”, Nordisk Arkivnyt, n° 1, 2, 2001, p. 50 ; M. Press, “Bortglem (...)

16The development of the archival doctrine in the Nordic countries reflects closely the corresponding developments in Central and Western Europe. However, during the last decades influences from Canada and the United States have been prevailing. The principle of provenance was adopted as archival doctrine in the Nordic countries at the end of the 19th century and in the beginning of the 20th century : in Denmark in practice partially in the 1860s, and officially in 1905-06 ; in Sweden in 1903 ; in Iceland under Danish influence in 1905 ; in Norway since 1913 ; in Finland in the 1910s7. It was adopted in the form of the Dutch-German registry principle. There were, however, some earlier attempts to introduce principles similar to the principle of provenance. In the department archives of the Danish fisc corresponding principles were in use already since 1791. In Iceland plans were presented in 1813 to use the principle of original order in a proposed but not realized Regional Archives and in Norway the instructions from 1854 for the Regional Archives of Trondheim provided for the application of the same principle. The two last mentioned tentatives did not, however, lead to practical results8.

  • 9 Burell, op. cit., p. 30-44, 47-49 ; B. Danielson, “The Art of Closing Archives”, Comma, n° 1, 1, 20 (...)

17After the introduction of the principle of provenance an obvious lack of interest in more general questions of archival theoretical character can be noticed among the Nordic archivists. The theoretical interest was mainly concentrated on how the principle of provenance should be applied in practice. The Swedish archivists developed a special doctrine expanding the applicability of the principle of provenance to the records management (records to be created actually and in the future) of the records creating bodies. This concept of the principle of provenance manifested itself in detailed rules concerning classification, registration, description and appraisal of the emerging fonds of records of the public agencies. In practice this meant that the Swedish National Archives claimed the right to steer the creation process of the records fonds of the public authorities in a uniform way9. This concept of the principle of provenance influenced strongly the archival thinking in Finland from the 1930s onwards.

18From the 20th century only two persons with independent archival theoretical views merit mention. These persons, Carl Gustaf Weibull in Sweden and Pentti Renvall in Finland, have, however, nothing in common.

  • 10 Carl Gustaf Weibull, “Archivordnungsprinzipien. Geschichtlicher Überblick und Neuorientirung”, Arch (...)

19In the 1930s the Swedish provincial archivist Carl Gustaf Weibull (1881-1962), as a heretic, questioned the general validity of the registry principle. He advocated in favour of the opinion that rearrangements by the archival institutions of archival fonds in terms of subject content should not be excluded when such rearrangements were of benefit for historical research. This unorthodox opinion raised vivid criticism, especially in Germany. His opinion, however, corresponded to the French principle of respect des fonds10.

  • 11 E. Orrman, “Den finländska historikern Pentti Renvall som arkivteoretisk tänkare”, in K. J. Bråstad (...)

20In Finland the provincial archivist and leading historian Pentti Renvall (1907-1974) was also a philosopher by education. In an innovative manner he studied in the 1940s the processes that led to the emergence of a fonds of records and also the relation between the records creating organizations and the fonds. He questioned the validity of the principle that a fonds should be seen as the result of the activities of an organization or an organizational unit. Instead, he argued that the different functions of an organization were in reality the natural records/archives creators. He also maintained that this concept had many practical advantages. E.g., when a function was transferred from an agency to another all the records accumulated in connection with the activities of that function could, and should, be transferred as an unbroken totality to the new agency and this was not possible when organizational units were seen as records creators. Thus Renvall anticipated the Australian doctrine of the functions as the real records creators. He also stressed that the activities belonging to records management fundamentally differ from arrangement and description of already created fonds within the framework of archives management. Renvall was an original and innovative archival theoretician, but unfortunately his thinking was noted in Finland, his native country, only during the last decade of the 20th century because only fragments of his archival thinking have been published11.

21The Swedish archivist Nils Nilsson (1917-1987) should in this connection be mentioned not so much as an innovative thinker, but rather as a pleader advocating in the 1970s and 1980s the opinion that the archival theory and methodology are an independent discipline or science in their own right.

  • 12 Utvärdering av ämenena arkivvetenskap, biblioteks- och informationsvetenskap, bok — och biblioteksh (...)

22Even if in the Nordic countries interest in archival theoretical questions and in professional archival education on academic level has been considerable, it must, however, be admitted that no real archival science has yet emerged. As for Swedan this was authoritatively stated this year in an evaluation of the academic education in the disciplines archival science, library and information science and other adjacent disciplines12.

23In Sweden the tradition of intervention by the National Archives authorities in the processes of records creation by the records creating agencies has been strong during the entire 20th century and from Sweden this model has been imported to Finland in the 1930s and 1940s. This means that in these countries, and nowadays also in Norway, the National Archives services closely cooperate with the records creating bodies of the state administration in the development and planning of their records management — in a much lesser degree this is true also for the municipal domain. During the last decade similar tendencies can be noted in Denmark, too.

Archival cooperation in the nordic region13

  • 13 A. Svenson, “Det nordiska arkivsamarbetet i en internationaliserad värld. En överblick”, in Rapport (...)

24Already during the 19th century personal contacts between the directors of the Nordic National Archives existed, thus promoting professional communication over the national borders. In the 1930s a Finish initiative resulted into regular congresses for Nordic archivists. The first Nordic Congress on Archives was held in Stockholm in 1935 and nowadays these congresses are arranged every 3-4 year.

25In the 1960s a new form of regular cooperation between the Nordic archival community was introduced when yearly meetings of the five Nordic National Archivists were introduced. On a regional level a similar opportunity exist since 1991 when the leaders of the State Regional archives began to hold yearly meetings.

26Of great importance in the Nordic archival landscape is the journal “Nordisk Arkivnyt” (Nordic Archives News), with four annual issues. It was founded on the initiative of the Danish archivist Harald Jørgensen and is published, since 1954, in common by the Nordic National Archives services, under the actual name since 1956. Nordisk Arkivnyt reports effectively what is going on in the archival sector in the Nordic countries and promotes cohesion among Nordic archivists. Annual statistics on the activities of the National Archives services and some other repositories are published. Also other joint Nordic publications dealing with archival questions have been published.

27In addition to these forms of cooperation between the Nordic archives other forms of common activities take place since the end of the second World War. Such activities are common courses and seminars dealing with specific questions, e.g. appraisal, conservation of records and ICT, as well as training visits in other countries of the Nordic region.

28In conclusion it can be noted that, as regards archival doctrine and practise, within the Nordic region Sweden and Finland on the one hand and Denmark, Norway and Iceland on the other hand show greater affinity to each other, an observation that is valid for many other sectors in society, too. Compared with other parts of Europe the Nordic region as a whole, however, appears as a very homogenous and uniform area with respect to the archival practice and doctrine.

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Notes

1 General presentations of the national archives services of the Nordic countries : H. Jørgensen, Nordiske arkiver, København, Arkivarforeningen, 1968 ; Id., “Die skandinaavischen Archive”, 1, Archivalische Zeitschrift, n° 1, 66, 1970 ; 2, ibid., n° 1, 67, 1971. For Iceland, see Ó. Ásgeirsson, “The Icelandic Archives at the Turn of the Century”, Comma, n° 1, 1, 2004, p. 149-156.

2 See e.g. the statistics in Nordisk Arkivnyt, n° 1, 2, 2004, p. 79.

3 Ásgeirsson, op. cit., p. 152 ; L. Ingason, “Regionalarkivet i Kópavogur : dets rolle og funktion”, Nordisk Arkivnyt, n° 1, 1, 2002, p. 17.

4 J. Herstad, “Ny strategi med arkivene i kommunale sektor”, Nordisk Arkivnyt, n° 1, 1, 1997, p. 57 ; S. Espeland and H. E. Næss, “House of Archives : A Joint Repository for Regional Archives in Rogaland, Norway”, Comma, n° 1, 1, 2004, p. 159-161.

5 For different archival repositories in Sweden, see T. Aurelius, T. Axerup and D. Karlsson, Svensk arkivguide. Topografisk katalog över statliga, kommunala och privata arkivbestånd i Sverige, Uppsala, Institutet för Ortshistoria, 2002.

6 The statistics are from Nordisk Arkivnyt, compleated for some repositories with figures in annual reports. The following repositories are taken into consideration : in Copenhagen the National Archives, the Regional Archives and the City Archives ; in Helsinki the National Archives, the Military Archives, the City Archives ; in Oslo the National Archives, the Regional State Archives and the City Archives ; in Reykjavik the National Archives and the Regional (City) Archives ; in Stockholm the National Archives and the City Archives.

7 Jørgensen, Nordiske arkiver, p. 30 ; A. A. Svalestuen, “Proveniensprincippet og ordningen av nyere sentraladministrative arkiver”, Norsk arkivseminar, 1978. Rapport, Oslo, Arkivarforeningen, 1978, p. 42-46 ; Id., “Proveniensprinsippets gennembrud i Norge og litt om ordningen av kirkedepartementets arkiv fram till 1960”, Metodutvikling i arkivarbeidet. Festskrift til Carlo Larsen, Oslo, Arkivarforeningen, 1985, p. 233-237 ; E. Orrman, “Iakttagelser om proveniensprincipens introducering och tidiga tillämpning i Finland”, Kuusan mäki. Ystäväkirja Jussi Kuusanmäelle — Vänbok till Jussi Kuusanmärki 22.12.2000, Helsinki, p. 140-151.

8 K. Kristinsdóttir, “Hvad er en kilde”, Nordisk Arkivnyt, n° 1, 2, 2001, p. 50 ; M. Press, “Bortglemt instruks fra 1854 kaster nytt lys over nordisk arkivhistorie”, ibid., p. 84-85.

9 Burell, op. cit., p. 30-44, 47-49 ; B. Danielson, “The Art of Closing Archives”, Comma, n° 1, 1, 2004, p. 163-171.

10 Carl Gustaf Weibull, “Archivordnungsprinzipien. Geschichtlicher Überblick und Neuorientirung”, Archivalische Zeitschrift, n° 1, 42/43, 1934, p. 52-72 ; A. Brenneke, Archivkunde. Ein Beitrag zur Theorie und Geschichte des europäischen Archivwesens, Leipzig, Kœhler & Amelang, 1953, p. 75-79 ; Jan Dahlin, “Landsarkivet under den weibullska eran”, in A. C. Ulfsparre, Lunds landsarkiv 1903-2003, Lund, Landsarkivet i Lund, 2003, p. 54-56.

11 E. Orrman, “Den finländska historikern Pentti Renvall som arkivteoretisk tänkare”, in K. J. Bråstad, K. Johannessen and T. Sirevåg, Med Clio till Kringsjå. Festskrift til riksarkivar John Herstad, Oslo Novus forlag, 2002, p. 391-405.

12 Utvärdering av ämenena arkivvetenskap, biblioteks- och informationsvetenskap, bok — och bibliotekshistoria, informations — och medievetenskap, kulturvård och museologi vid svenska universitet och högskolor, Stockholm, Högskoleverket, 2004, p. 5, 29-33 ; J. Kilkki, “Bearmania. Frosting Finish Archival Practice with Imported Archival Theory”, Comma, n° 1, 1, 2004, p. 43.

13 A. Svenson, “Det nordiska arkivsamarbetet i en internationaliserad värld. En överblick”, in Rapporter till de 18. Nordiska Arkivdagarna, Turku, Arkivverket, 1997, p. 11-66 ; E. Norberg, “A Nordic Archival Tradition”, in Francisco Daelmans, Miscellanea in honorem Carolo Kecskeméti, Bruxelles, Archives et Bibliothèques de Belgique, n° spécial 54, p. 357-370.

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Eljas Orrman, « The Archives and the archival profession in the Nordic countries  », in Martine Aubry, Isabelle Chave et Vincent Doom (dir.), Archives, archivistes, archivistique dans l'Europe du Nord-Ouest du Moyen Âge à nos jours, Villeneuve d'Ascq, IRHiS (« Histoire et littérature de l'Europe du Nord-Ouest », no 36), 2007, p. 231-238.

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Eljas Orrman, « The Archives and the archival profession in the Nordic countries  », in Martine Aubry, Isabelle Chave et Vincent Doom (dir.), Archives, archivistes, archivistique dans l'Europe du Nord-Ouest du Moyen Âge à nos jours, Villeneuve d'Ascq, IRHiS (« Histoire et littérature de l'Europe du Nord-Ouest », no 36), 2007 [En ligne], mis en ligne le 12 octobre 2012, consulté le 24 juin 2017. URL : http://hleno.revues.org/174

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