Version classiqueVersion mobile

Du papier à l’archive, du privé au public

Jean-Philippe Genet
François-Joseph Ruggiu


Texte intégral

1This volume presents an attempt to compare the record Systems which France and England have experienced, between political and cultural history. The difficulty comes from the fact that we have to cross three borders at least: One is chiefly juridical and delineates the separation between what is private and what is public; the second is spatial, between France and England, the third. contrasts those documents the access of which is public and those which cannot be reached. This last border depends very much upon the significance given to the working papers of scholars and politicians.

2The record Systems of the various European countries are different but, by tradition, France and the United Kingdom, though neighbours, are often the more remote. The differences, as far as records go, are often both legal and statutory. The very rich French legislation contrasts with the scarcity of English texts. The Archives Nationales and The National Archives do not play a comparable role in the administrative System of both countries, the way of selecting the documents which are to be filed is not the same, and there is nothing in the United Kingdom which can really be compared to the network of the archives départementales. In the same way, both administrations have a very different view of their international missions.

3When the Public Record Office was established in 1838, neither history nor archives/archivistics were recognised independent fields of academic study in England, and the number of readers of archives was very small. By contrast, today both professions are well established, readership of archives is very large, and under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (implemented in 2005) citizens now have the right of access to almost all non-sensitive information contained in public archives. This paper affirms the inter-relationship of archives and history, and explores how awareness of this relationship was slowly awakened and promoted by individuals and institutions in both the public and the private sector. The pioneering work of archivists and historians of the late 19th and early 20th centuries is particularly emphasised, together with the impact on historical studies of the opening up of private as well as public archives.

4This paper describes the conditions of the creation almost a century ago of two institutions devoted to identify and to list collections of historical papers kept in private hands in England. Both still exist and are continuing to perform the duties assigned to them: however, this is in a completely new context for the organization of archives. The first one is the Historical Manuscript Commission. It was created in 1869 at the request of the Master of the Rolls, but only after a public campaign launched at the end of the 50s by an amateur interested in the new social sciences. The second one is the National Register of Archives, founded in 1945, just before the constitution of the network of the county records offices. Many historians use by now the work of the employees or volunteers of these two bodies but their histories and the ideas that underlie their creation are not really known. Moreover, their functioning helps us to better understand the definition of what was an archive with an historical value or a public significance in the middle of the nineteenth and in the middle of the twentieth century. It throws also light on the relations between historians, as a relatively new professional body in the second half of the nineteenth century, and archivists.

5There are now more than 800 000 societies managed under private law, which represent as many different cases wben it comes to managing their archives. There are two opposed attitudes: must free access be given to the archives or should their contents be protected by restricted access? Societies are faced at each stage of their existence by two possible choices: either they are not declared (protection), or are deemed of use to the State (diffusion); this depends also of their name: circle (protection) or league (diffusion). This opposition is particularly sharp at the time of the collection of the archives, i.e. the moment when they are asked to gather them in a record centre. Finally, the conditions of communication, in other words the conditions of access permitting a scientific exploitation of the archives, are a crucial moment for the choice between opening access or restricting it.

6 The blurred border between public and private is examined through the confiscations of titles and private papers by and for the monarchy, as well as through contractual transfers of estates between magnates and the Crown lands. The material fate of the seized archives, the modes of integration of those seized lands for the benefit of the Crown, the legal categories used to integrate the estates into the Crown lands are at the heart of this analysis. Paradoxically, the Crown lands, kernel of a growing public law in the modern times, do not have archives reserved and unalienable as they are themselves. This oddity is more easily understood if we consider the uses of property titles and the eternally probationary value with which they are endowed. The consequences are perfectly logical practices of mutual exchanges of papers, accompanied by occasional attempts to rebuild national archives.

7This essay explores aspects of the nature and archival history of the diocesan records of the post-Reformation Church of England. It draws on the experiences of the Clergy of the Church of England Database project 1540- 1835 (a project making available online a database of clerical careers in England and Wales from the Reformation to the mid-nineteenth century), which involved a large-scale survey of these archives as preparatory work for data collection. The project found unexpected and hitherto unappreciated local variations in the record-keeping practices of the English and Welsh dioceses, and also some record types which were often regarded as the private property of a bishop or official rather than a public record. It was often difficult to understand how the records functioned as a working archive. The essay goes on to explore the process by which these working archives were transformed into archival deposits in record offices available to historical researchers. It concludes by noting the current impact on these archives of the pressure for “access” by non-professional historians, and of developments in the archivists’ profession.

8Wishing to assert their full sovereignty in the field of foreign policy, in modern times, French and English monarchs did encourage a more systematic collection of the papers left by their ambassadors, and their gathering in a State deposit. This policy was very much against the wishes of individuals and their families, who viewed diplomatic papers as part of their inheritance; this was to the detriment of more long-standing archive collections of chanceries such as the Paris Royal Treasury or that of the Tower of London. On the other hand, it reinforced the status of the State secretaries whose job was to receive diplomatic letters and to advise the king as to his foreign policy. Thus, in the second half of the 17th century, the personalities of Sir Joseph Williamson by Charles II’s side, of Colbert de Croissy and the marquis de Torcy at Louis XIV’s, really stood out. As keepers of the diplomatic memory of the kingdom, those ministers strove to impose the systematic filing of ambassadors’ papers, and they also considered the various possible methods of classifying and sorting those papers. It was in this field that the two monarchies diverged. Where Louis XIV’s foreign secretaries succeeded in imposing the filing of archives as a sanctuary of the Reason of State, Charles II’s ministers failed. Several investigations at the beginning of the 18th century confirmed the disastrous condition of dilapidation, disorganization as well as the many gaps in the State Papers. It is essential to take into account the numerous interventions of the London Parliament to explain those differences between both sides of the Channel. Unlike France where Louis XIV did not put up with any public comment on his foreign policy, the England of the last Stuart king was deeply divided on the choice of alliances with continental great powers. In this continual wrangling, especially in Parliament and in the London public sphere, extracts of diplomatic correspondence were efficacious weapons and thus, diplomats who often had a seat in Parliament, refused to give them up. Preserved by families, they were a key element of the posterity of parliamentary elite.

9Those who introduced ambassadors may be counted among ceremonial office-holders whose job was to see to the respect of usages and of etiquette in the various European courts. At the heart of those complicated standards, there was the notion of “precedent”, a point of reference which determined what was permitted and what was not, thus setting the established order. To remember these precedents, sometimes going back more than one century, proved an absolute necessity. A written trace (therefore, a record) then became the only possible resort. Therefore, the office of usher of ambassadors gives us a privileged approach to observe the slow emergence of the modem concept of records; this process saw the transition from records owned by the man who originated it and his descendants, to records which have become documents attached, not to a man but to an office. Undertaking a long-term Anglo-French comparison enriches and qualifies the understanding of this phenomenon. In view of the need to ensure the transmission of a given knowledge, different solutions were adopted on both sides of the Channel, often more practical than the result of regulations. Such a survey gives us, in the background, the possibility to assess the persistence of the traditional view of records in the 17th and 18th centuries.

10 The article investigates changing attitudes towards the keeping and preservation of urban records in English towns during the eighteenth century and identifies a shift towards the more systematic preservation of records and a more appréciative sense of their significance as historical documents. The political and legal impetus behind urban record keeping, which first became évident in the middle ages, continued in the eighteenth century, and attracted new significance in the context of the development of parliamentary politics and contested privileges. The increasing complexity of urban governance in a period of urban growth generated more bodies with a duty to maintain records and more rigorous standards in maintaining them. Developments at grass roots level were complemented by the pressure from Parliament to supply information about local government. Changes in the nature of political culture in this period also generated a broader demand for transparency and accountability on the part of governors, leading to calls for the publication of records for the first time. This movement also coincided with the emergence of an increasingly widespread antiquarian appreciation of the value of urban records as historical records and therefore in need of preservation, irrespective of their immediate functional value.

11In the last twenty years, intellectual archives have become the focus of renewed attention from historians, anthropologists, sociologists of sciences and techniques, archivists and administrators of the patrimony. The history of philosophy, recalcitrant to this approach deemed demystifying, long escaped this renewed attention. In the framework of a study of public and private archives, this article aims at showing some possible ways of exploration of “philosophical archives”. In the wake of the emergence of modem philosophy in the 17th century, new attention was shown by philosophers to the distribution, the preservation, and the handling of philosophical papers. This article considers three sites of a cultural history of philosophy under way: the problem of the inheritance of philosophical papers, the constitution of an order of philosophical archives; finally the relationship to the emergence of an autograph exchange linked to the practises of collection.

12Public or private papers, organic or personal archives, these seem to be well -defined categories at the legal and archival levels. The history of the constitution and of the vicissitudes of collections brings to light a much more complex reality, often ambiguous, where is found an opposition between the status of a preservation centre, of a collection, of a document, of the information contained within, and the uses made thereof. What status can be given to scientific archives, especially to the rich personal archives of the scientists? Legislation, archival practice and historical exploitation provide answers which are diverse. In our study, we shall try to bring éléments for an answer in the French case, by focusing more narrowly from a wider view of scientific archives to a narrower view of a collection and a document, taking on our way the intermediate level of the oldest scientific institution. The history of the constitution and of the organization of the collection of the Archives of the Academy of Sciences, the symbolic focus of scientific activity, is enlightening on that point. The archives, the constant care of governing bodies and of the officers of the Royal Academy in the 18th, were safeguarded somehow until their progressive reconstitution in the 3rd republic and their professionalization at the end of the 20th. Beside organic archives and artificial documentary files, threatened by a speculative market, the personal archives of scientists remain an indispensable complement for historians. But the collections of private origins which are kept among the records of the Academy of sciences also harbour public documents. The Lavoisier collection, which was itself the fruit of a long process of partial and successive dispersal and reunions, is a very good illustration of the historical confusion between private and public. But whatever their status, the documents are easier to access for the public out of the reading room, since the edition of the Works and of the Letters of Lavoisier – which may have been a contributing element in the past to material dispersai, is little by little making its contents available to the public, while operating virtual reunions of the scattered collections (especially by granting online access).

13Nineteenth-century British political history cannot be written without recourse to private records and private archives. With the greater centralisation of government after 1916, the formal distinction between the public and private increased. However, one set of papers generated at taxpayers’expense remained private: those of institutions providing services either direct to government (such as defence contractors) or on behalf of government (such as voluntary associations in welfare policy). With the “rolling back of the State” after 1970, the importance of such institutions increased. So too, in policy-making, did the influence of “special advisers” who did not respect the conventions of public record keeping. Private records and private archives are once again becoming essential for the study of political history.

14If confusion has recently increased between the public and private, so conversely has the clarity with which the public record is preserved and presented. This chapter concentrates on the work of a small group of historians working inside the British government writing, in the wake of journalists and social scientists, an early “third draft” of history. Like all commissioned historians, they have been accused of bias. This chapter summarises, in their defence, the service they provide for the government, fellow historians and the public alike.

15Archive Systems, past or present, are on of the structures of national memories. However, in the case of France and England, the two Systems have often followed diverging roads. The precocious administrative nature of the English kingdom’s archives is strikingly opposed to the patrimonial and dynastic character of the Capetians archives, appropriately kept as a Treasure in a church. The influence of the two monarchies on the production and status of private archives as also caused discordances in the writing and keeping of private documents. Conversely, the French Révolution, by the massive transfer of the private archives of the Church and of the nobility in public collections, has made them public through the National Archives and the network of the archives départementales: and the fact that these have remained private in England has postponed the development of the counties record offices. These structural differences ought not deter us from keeping in mind that the reading of the sources reveal a common history at least until the end of the Middle Ages, and later on two histories constantly overlapping in such a way that it is always useful to consider the two historiés of France and England in conjunction and fruitful to integrate them in a comparative approach.

© Éditions de la Sorbonne, 2011

Licence OpenEdition Books

Cette publication numérique est issue d’un traitement automatique par reconnaissance optique de caractères.
Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search