World Bank, FAO, and WHO
Dr. Amy Sayward, Middle Tennessee State University, November 2011
Research in the archives of the United Nations’ specialized agencies largely spoiled me for all other archival repositories. The combination of international goodwill and few researchers combined to create an atmosphere in which I felt more like a guest than a supplicant.
I started at the World Bank Group Archives in Washington, DC in October 1995, shortly after they opened to researchers. At the beginning of the process, I had to sign an agreement that I would submit advance copies to the bank of anything to be published and would remove information based on their archival sources upon request; this was a scary proposition, but I didn’t have a lot of other choices if I wanted to base my dissertation on these sources. The staff members there were just getting used to having researchers: they didn’t have a segregated area for personal belongings, they didn’t have finding guides available to researchers, and they didn’t have a policy for charging for xerox copies (which was quite the windfall for a poor graduate student). It was a challenge to explain to a records management professional what types of records would be most of use to a historian, and there were some quirky rules, which were determined by collection and the country that was the subject of the records. So some records could be copied, while others could not be copied but you could type a verbatim account into your laptop. Nonetheless, it was a very fruitful and productive experience, and I thanked the archivist on both visits with a box of Godiva chocolates (which I think were re-gifted to his wife).
My second stop was a month in Geneva, Switzerland, at the World Health Organization archives. Geneva was atrociously expensive for a graduate student, but I was fortunate to be able to sublet a small apartment for the month, where the kitchen facilities let me subsist on groceries rather than restaurant food. I think I developed my carpal tunnel syndrome at the WHO, because the records I needed were all on microfilm and the microfilm-printer wasn’t working. So I typed eight hours a day for a month. Fortunately, I’m a quick typist, but the archivist did mention that they couldn’t afford to fix it right then since Senator Jesse Helms was at that point holding up U.S. contributions to the United Nations. He thought that perhaps I might write to the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and mention my trouble. Luckily, I was in Geneva for the 50th anniversary of the creation of the United Nations, which was celebrated in style at the old home of the League of Nations. It was fun to see how far the U.N. and its many agencies had come, and I got a nice lapel pin from the folks at the Food and Agriculture Organization as well as a t-shirt from the World Food Programme. I ended my time at the archive by having coffee with the WHO archivist, who was intrigued to learn that I was writing about him—those international civil servants who came to work in the U.N. specialized agencies at the end of World War II with the goal of helping all people around the globe simply because it was the right thing to do.
I finished my tour of U.N. specialized agency archives in Rome, Italy, in November 1995 (when the tourists were absent and the weather was glorious). Lacking any Italian-language skills, I hadn’t made advance travel plans and simply took the overnight train from Geneva to Rome. Before I could change my money at the train station, I had a place to stay with a nice, English-speaking staff. I was a bit worried when I arrived and was notified that they had been trying to get a hold of me for several weeks to tell me that the archivist had taken another position and a replacement hadn’t yet been located. Tamping down my panic (since I couldn’t afford a second trip to Italy before graduation), I asked if I could still look at the records. Relief is too tame a word for my response to their affirmative. But again, it was sometimes challenging to communicate what types of historical records I was looking for to records management professionals, who weren’t necessarily familiar with the organization’s history. But they set me up in an office in their suite and treated me as a welcome, though confusing guest.
After a week, one of the men in the office—a native Roman who was very proud of his city—came into my office to express his deep concern that I had been there for a week and had yet to have lunch. I tried to explain that I only had four weeks to complete all my research and that I ate both breakfast and dinner, but this was obviously unsatisfactory. The next day, he invited me to lunch at the FAO cafeteria, which sits on the top floor and has a patio providing a view of the city. After a delightful lunch of almost two hours, I decided that a compromise was required. Obviously skipping lunch distressed my host, but it was equally distressing to me that I had lost almost a quarter of that working day. So the next day I had lunch on my own. When I returned from my 20-minute lunch the following day, my host asked where I had been. I told him I’d been at lunch. He shook his head rather sadly and stated plainly that "One cannot eat lunch in 20 minutes." I hope that I made amends by skipping one day of research to visit the Vatican museum; he was so excited to hear the news that he brought a map on which he had sketched the best route to be sure that I saw the most important collections.
My visits to the U.N. specialized agencies’ archives were a joy. The uncertainties that I encountered (since I didn’t know anyone else who had researched these archives) and the occasional difficulties in locating sources that I imagined existed but couldn’t figure out how to locate were more than off-set by the welcome and the efforts of the folks who assisted me at each stop.
Professor David MacKenzie, Ryerson University, Toronto, December 2011
The library and archives of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) were created at the same time as ICAO itself, just after the Second World War, and they have evolved along with the organization and are now part of ICAO’s Records and Web Management Section. I first visited the archives at ICAO’s old location in Montréal, on Sherbrooke Street across from the venerable McGill University, and was delighted with the move in the 1990s to the nearby but much more spacious location on the main floor of the present building on University Avenue. Over many visits I found many benefits and a few drawbacks from using ICAO’s archival resources.
The first and most obvious reason to visit ICAO’s archives is that it holds a complete record of ICAO’s basic documents, conference papers, minutes of meetings, memoranda, the records of its key Committees on Air Navigation and Air Transport, and all the documentation associated with the triennial assemblies and many other conferences, seminars, and meetings. Not surprisingly, it also contains complete sets of ICAO’s numerous publications, including the ICAO Journal and the earlier PICAO Journal. There is also an impressive collection of UN documents and materials from other specialized agencies (which means that the archives attract a wide variety of outside researchers). In addition, it is an excellent depository of material dealing with aviation history, including books, journals, and magazines rarely found anywhere else. During all of my visits I found the archivists and staff to be extremely knowledgeable in understanding the workings of the place, helpful in obtaining material and, increasingly, forthcoming with suggestions for material that might be of historical interest to me. The reading room is comfortable and bright, and there were never many outside researchers using the library when I was there, which led to quick delivery of my requested records (which are kept on-site) and easy access to the archive’s photocopiers.
As is the case with the other UN specialized agencies, more and more of the organization’s records are being placed on line and therefore are increasingly accessible from elsewhere. Nevertheless, there are still great advantages to be gained from on-site research. There are always opportunities to meet people, and these meetings can range from discussions with archivists over the material, to a chat over lunch in the ICAO cafeteria with other visitors or ICAO employees, to more formal interviews with key individuals in the organization. All of these interactions contribute to a stronger “feel” for the organization and a greater understanding of its organizational culture. A couple of my visits coincided with ICAO’s triennial assembly and I was able to sit in as an observer on a variety of sessions. Last but not least, conducting research on-site in the ICAO library means spending time in Montréal, a truly wonderful city.
The archives was set up primarily for in-house use by ICAO staff, members of the different national delegations, and the thousands of visitors who come to ICAO each year for conferences and various other meetings, not for outside researchers wishing to undertake scholarly research. Outsiders are welcome and it is easy to access the library in the ICAO building, but a degree of persistence is needed to navigate the research visit successfully. First, the library was/is open to independent researchers for only three hours daily (10am – 1pm), which is a serious hindrance for visitors from outside the city. It was only after several visits that I was able to obtain even a minor extension of those hours. Second, like everywhere else in the modern world, security is much more stringent and time consuming today than it was a decade ago. Third, there were various minor bureaucratic hurdles that had to be overcome; for me there was an occasional sense that I must justify my presence in the library – through the production of letters or explaining the work that I was doing there. These were minor annoyances in what was usually a rewarding and welcoming experience.
More seriously, the ICAO archives was established to store official documents – the public record of the organization’s mission and operations – not for the preservation of a broader historical record of the organization. The official papers are there, but a researcher will not find the records made by the individuals involved in the creation and working of the organization or by those who made the decisions and policies. The personal papers of individuals – the notes, memos, letters, diaries, etc. – that are crucial for historical scholarship, are not there. For the personal dimension to ICAO’s past, researchers must look elsewhere. Another gap in the library’s holdings is in the records of the interaction between the organization and the various governments that comprise its membership. These are all missing from the official record. For those records, trips to national archives are still necessary.
Jasmien Van Daele, Department of History, Ghent University (Belgium)
My first visit to the ILO archives dates back to 1998, when I travelled as a graduate student to Geneva to do research for my master thesis, a biography of the Belgian law professor and sociologist, Louis Varlez (1868-1930), who became one of the leading international civil servants of the International Labour Office in the 1920s. In the foreword of my book based on my thesis, I wrote that the ILO housed ‘a dream of an archive’ – especially when compared to the national and regional archives that I had visited before in my own country. The ILO ‘dream team’ consisted of two people: a very knowledgeable archivist who was unfortunately absorbed by many other duties in a large bureaucracy but who was backed up by an enthusiastic and extremely competent archival assistant (who, after a 35-year career in the ILO, personified a very rich ‘institutional memory’). The former has meanwhile moved up in the ranks of ILO hierarchy and has consequently less time to devote to his archival passion; the latter has by now, to many people’s regret, retired. Between them, they made archival work – at that time not my most favourite part of the historical work – something to look forward to.
Those couple of weeks in the fall of 1998 were my first international research experience and gave me a taste for more. I developed a PhD research project that gave me a solid reason to go back. Between 2002 and 2004 I spent 8 months between the shelves of the ILO archives and library, meeting plenty of warm and interesting people, both in my historical sources as in real life. The small archives reading room with the dusty green carpet (that even decorated the walls all over the ILO building) temporarily became my second home. For a change, in the ILO the archives room was not located in the basement; it even had windows – quite an important detail if one is doing research for several months! Unlike the complicated procedures in many national archives, the ILO put no burden of bureaucratic and safety rules on visitors of its archives – this had probably to do with the limits of staffing. What really struck me was the large flexibility and trust I was given as a researcher: in those days there were no fixed opening hours. I could continue work over lunch and work late at night if I needed. I once heard the story of a researcher who did a ‘double shift’: within normal office hours during the day (s)he worked in the UN archives in Geneva, after closing time (s)he came to work in the ILO archives for a couple of extra hours. Since I was a regular guest in the archives I was also given a separate office with my own computer, so after a while I felt more like one of the colleagues than a visitor. A big part of my Geneva social life came through contacts in the department of which the archives were part. After a while the archivist allowed me to go in the archives stock room and search through the boxes myself. For him, it saved money in terms of staff hours and for me, it was a great opportunity to quickly get an overview of all different papers and select on the spot what I wanted to read more carefully and what was of no interest. Last but not least, there was free photocopying (what a blessing for a student!). I didn’t have a digital camera at that time and after months of work, the ILO archivist was so kind as to ship my piles of photocopies by UPS to Belgium. I realize how lucky I was!
All this was possible as the ILO archives, in those days, were not very well known – even for some ILO officials. When I asked for the archives room the first day I arrived in the ILO, someone who happened to cross my path in the corridor sent me to the library, which is at the opposite end of the building. The ILO archives, like most other international organizations, still had a rather limited amount of (mostly foreign) researchers who were allowed by appointment only. I imagine the very flexible rules and freedom given to researchers may have changed these days. The ILO Century Project, launched in 2007 to generate historical knowledge and mobilize historians all over the world in the wake of the ILO’s centenary in 2019 (www.ilocentury.org), also means that the archives are getting more exposure. The growing number of visitors requires a ‘stricter’ archives policy – e.g. by closing at 5 p.m., they are simply applying normal rules, but without losing their generosity in sharing knowledge and supplying all the requested files.
What did I find in the ILO archives – except for the facilitating research surroundings? In general the sources are very well organized: there are systematic and well-documented archives guides (printed and in electronic format), classified by time period (pre-war, war and post-war files) and by theme. I used for instance the thematic series on unemployment (U), migration (E), social security (SI), forced labour (N), League of Nations (L), labour legislation (LE), post-war reconstruction (PWR), and conditions of labour (CL). Additional information on the influence of the ILO on member states social policies can also be traced through a series on missions of ILO officials (MI). They wrote well-documented reports on the contacts with national government people, trade unionists, employers or other social experts. Equally interesting are the reports of the national correspondents and Branch Offices (C series), classified per member state.
From what I have seen (for my PhD research on the role of Belgium in ILO politics and the influence of the ILO on Belgian social policies in the interwar period), three series of documents contain the richest mass of information: first, the Cabinet files of the ILO Directors (between the wars: Albert Thomas, Harold Butler and Edward Phelan). Especially the Thomas files (CAT) are an extremely wealthy source of information, covering a much larger period than his directorship of the ILO (1920-1932). Thomas was, much more than his successors, a politician – more than a civil servant – who saw for himself an active role in mobilizing social and political forces all over the world and consequently held an enormous collection of correspondence with a mass of people. Second, there are the ‘Diplomatic Series’ between 1919 and 1940 (D) that cover various topics of political importance treated by the interwar Diplomatic Division of the International Labour Office (such as on the origins of the ILO, membership questions, relations with governments and the League of Nations, the ILO during the war, the ratification and application of conventions, meetings of international and national trade unions and non-governmental organizations, etc.). And third, the full text proceedings of the International Labour Conferences, the Governing Body and their committees, which give a detailed view inside the ‘black box’ of international policymaking. Since the official minutes of the Governing Body were very hard to find in Belgium, the ILO archivist offered me a complete series of these papers (as the archives held extra copies). As such it happened that the ILO Governing Body spent at least two years in the middle of my living room (which was in those days also part of my office) at home. Recently the ILO Library has made the full text of official proceedings of both the International Labour Conferences and the Governing Body available online. They can be consulted via the ILO Century Project website: http://www.ilo.org/public/english/century/information_resources/basic_resources.htm). Digitization of historical papers is a blessing, that’s for sure, but hopefully it will not mean the disappearance of the cosiness of the small archives room with the green carpet...
International Labor Organization (ILO) Archives
Jill Jensen, Post-Doctoral Scholar with the Pennsylvania State University Project on Global Workers’ Rights, December 2011
The ILO Archives are tucked away in a corner of the institution’s large and somewhat intimidating building on route des Morillons in Geneva, just up the hill from the old League of Nations complex. The reading room’s modest accommodations belie the treasure trove of material housed in the adjacent archives. Records offer insights into the functioning of one of the oldest UN entities. In fact the initial International Labor Conference, convened in Washington DC in October of 1919, was the very first activity of the League of Nations. The ILO has conducted its business continuously since, for almost three decades as a semi-independent bureau of the League and, after its 1946 affiliation with the United Nations, as a Specialized Agency of the UN Economic and Social Council.
The ILO is unique in terms of its longevity. Its history illuminates the wide range of internationalist goals, first expressed through the League, especially those relating to humanitarian, social, and economic projects. For example, the ILO backed the coordination of national-level welfare and public investment measures meant to combat the global economic crisis in the 1930s. After WWII, under the auspices of the UN, the ILO turned concertedly to technical assistance programs in developing countries. Scholars visit the archives to conduct research on topics that are both national and international in scope since the collections apply to the administration of the headquarters in Geneva, but also the numerous field offices around the world. One can find material relating to labor and social welfare laws, but also international diplomacy, regional industrialization, decolonization, human rights enforcement, and decades of UN efforts in support of a global development agenda.
Records are organized as they are generated by the ILO’s Central Registry. These relate to the International Labor Conference, which includes yearly meetings of tripartite delegations from member states, representing government, workers, and employers. The International Labor Office, based in Geneva and headed by a Director-General, has conducted research on potential policy proposals since 1920. The ILO’s Governing Body, an evolving executive council, has met since then (with a brief hiatus during WWII) to determine the rules for the functioning of the ILO and set the agenda for international conferences. The documents follow these three functions but also weave in and out of a complicated bureaucracy within. Researchers can peruse personal dossiers of those who worked directly for the ILO over the years, with either long-term employment as international civil servants or short-term technical assistance contracts. The archives even contain a collection of caricatures depicting individuals associated with the ILO.
Experts in the International Labor Office conducted research and offered analysis on labor and welfare issues through a range of departments. These include a section on women’s work, a forerunner to the current ILO Bureau for Gender Equality. The historical records of this office highlight the position of women in the ILO but also evolving ideas about how best to offer attention to women’s labor. Through archival material one can evaluate changing policies over the years, for instance on the issue of equal pay for equal work. After decades of vague statements, the ILO finally set an official international standard on equal remuneration for men and women in the 1950s. Convention 100 on this topic has since been classified as one of the ILO’s core labor standards; yet gender pay disparities remain a common form of inequality in the workplace. The convention also fails to fully address the needs of workers in the informal sector. The views of women themselves lobbying the ILO to deal with such challenges can be gleaned from records relating to the World Congress on Women Workers in Budapest in 1956 and the First World Congress on Women in Mexico City in 1975, to name only a few events *. Along with the office focused on gender, other departments that went through comparable transitions relate to social security, labor and population statistics, indigenous workers, and technical development.
My time in the ILO Archives proved fully rewarding. This brief description only scratches the surface of the material available there. Upon each of my visits the staff and head archivists Remo Becci have been gracious and shown themselves to be admirably knowledgeable in terms of the ILO and its records. The ILO Century Project, an initiative meant to prepare for its centenary in 2019, encourages research and academic output of scholars working on ILO-related topics. Their website offers helpful links to information on the history of the ILO, including a page offering “basic resources” with access to the full text of conventions and recommendations, ratification data, and surrounding debates and proceedings.
* For more details, see Eileen Boris and Jill Jensen, “The ILO: Women’s Networks and the Making of the Women Worker.” Women and Social Movements International, Tom Dublin and Kitty Sklar (eds.). Alexander Press, digital archive, 2011.
Jean Crombois, Associate Professor, American University in Bulgaria, January 2012
If there is large literature on the IMF, very little of this literature actually relies directly on the IMF’s archives. As a result, the history of the international monetary organization is often approached through the lenses of national foreign economic policy, mostly American, British, and to a lesser extent French.
The archives at the IMF offer a unique perspective on the set of views developed by an international staff about world economic issues. The first set of documents to look at is the proceedings of the meetings of the Board of the Executive Directors in charge of the daily management of the IMF operations under the chairmanship of the Managing Director. These documents, however, tell only a part of the different stories of interest for researchers. Indeed, the IMF has developed since its inception a culture of consensus in its decision-making process. Therefore, in order to understand the main arguments discussed by IMF officials, other sources such as the ones produced by the Research Department and the Legal Department of the organization- both established under the first Managing-Director of the IMF, the Belgian Camille Gutt - may reveal extremely useful information. These documents are, however, not easy to use as most of them are not signed. Nevertheless, they reveal the extent to which decisions taken by the Board of Executive Directors have been frequently debated within the organization itself. A last aspect of the IMF archives concerns its Managing-Directors. In this respect, researchers should not expect too much. Most of the documents in the files are public documents such as speeches and transcripts of press conferences. The ideal solution to fill this gap would be to rely on the personal archives of the different personalities in charge of the IMF.
The IPU Archives
Martin Albers, PhD candidate, University of Cambridge, email@example.com
The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) is one of the extremely few organisations in the international sphere that has been in existence since the late nineteenth century and continues to be very active until today. As such, its archives provide some very interesting sources that reflect on issues of international history from high imperialism to the 2008 financial crisis and beyond.
The IPU archives themselves are located at the organisation's secretariat in Geneva. Stored in a large annex to the beautiful mansion that houses the secretariat, the archives contain a wealth of records both from the secretariat and the regular IPU assemblies that took place – with very few exceptions – at least once a year from 1889 until the time of writing.
As the IPU is a comparatively small organisation, access has to be arranged in advance by contacting the Secretariat in Geneva. At the time of writing the archives fall into the responsibility of Andy Richardson who has always been extremely forthcoming to researchers interested in IPU history. Since the responsibilities of Mr Richardson also cover many other things highly relevant to the work of the IPU, it is wise to contact him some time in advance to arrange for a visit.
Once a visit is fixed, the archives can normally be accessed during the office hours of the IPU secretariat and while the normal rules for the conservation of archival sources apply, photos can be taken and researchers can also photocopy documents. All files are accessible, with the exception of those from the Executive Committee and the IPU's Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians, which are subject to confidentiality.
Mr. Richardson has also successfully initialised a project to digitize the records of all IPU assemblies since 1889. These records contain all the main debates at IPU assembly and a full-text research can be applied to them. While it is the eventual aim to make them accessible through the IPU website, access at the moment has to be arranged with the IPU secretariat.
Though parliaments in themselves were rarely international actors of primary importance, the IPU has since its foundation occupied a central place within the global networks of internationalism and is therefore rightly conceived as a precursor of the United Nations. Almost all questions that were on the international agenda since the nineteenth century have been discussed at IPU assemblies over the years. Furthermore many figures of international history were active in the IPU or in close contact with the organisation at one point or another, including the early Nobel laureates Frédéric Passy, William Randal Cremer, Henri La Fontaine, Bertha von Suttner, and Ludwig Quidde.
(see http://www.ipu.org/english/history.htm for list of Nobel prizes)
Before 1914 the main issue of IPU work was the development of international law, especially arbitration law. After the First World War the search for a peace order in Europe and the future of parliamentary democracy became more important. Following the Second World War, the Cold War also influenced IPU debates where parliaments from socialist and capitalist countries alike were represented. With the increasing number of independent former colonies, the IPU expanded further and a variety of issue of global governance entered the often very lively debates. Implicitly or explicitly it has always been the ambition of the IPU to function as a parliamentary dimension to international governance, be it in the form of the Hague Peace Conferences, the League of Nations or the United Nations.
Slightly off the beaten tracks of international history archives, I have personally found that the IPU materials reflect very interestingly on the biographies of the people involved as well as on international policy discourses that found their way into the forum of the IPU bodies and assemblies. The inclusive nature of the IPU provided often a unique platform for discussions across ideological or political cleavages. It was probably one of the very few places where a French socialist would directly debate with an Italian fascist in the 1930s, where a Missouri Republican could meet a Soviet Communist in the 1970s or where deputies from Rwanda and Bahrain can today discuss the future of women's rights.
ITU Archives: Available Sources
Gabriele Balbi and Simone Fari (University of Lugano), October 2011
The ITU library conserves all the official publications printed by the Telegraph Union throughout its history, since its foundation in 1865 to the present day. There are 5 different typologies of documents.
Firstly, and maybe the most relevant official publications, are the Documents de la Conference Télégraphique Internationale: these were printed at the end of each Conference and contained both the official documents produced on that occasion and the minutes of the meetings during which the resolutions were passed.
Secondly, library also conserves the complete collection of the Journal Télégraphique, the official magazine of the Union, published under this name from 1869 to 1934, before being renamed Journal des Télécommunications. The Journal principally published articles written by experts or employees of the various administrations and, more importantly, general annual statistics on the various aspects of telegraph and telephone services in the member countries of the Union.
Third, national telegraph administrations also had the duty of reporting to the Bureau all and any changes made to their national networks. It was vital to know about these changes in order to regulate the international telegraph service: for this reason the Bureau had the task of recording and then communicating these changes to all the administrations in official letters called Notifications. The Notifications therefore represent a classifiable source between official publication and archive document: these letters were circulars, meaning that one copy was sent contemporarily to all the administrations and companies belonging to the Union. Volumes of the Notifications contain the hand-written list of all these circulars from the origins of the International Bureau until the Second World War.
Fourth, in ITU archives there are telegraph maps of every country belonging to the Union, maps of subsea cables drawn by private companies, maps of terrestrial and subsea cables of every continent and, finally, world telegraph maps. These maps represent an important historical source because graphic representation provides essential information for understanding the geo-political and strategic-military importance of the subsea cables and international connections.
Finally, the so called Correspondance du Bureau is an archive within an archive whose consultation is possible only through the original records kept by the clerks of the International Bureau, given that only in recent years have its documents started to be re-ordered according to more modern tools and methods. In the Bureau’s correspondence archives there are all the letters and telegrams received and sent by the International Bureau in the performance of its functions from 1869 to 1949.
Giusi Russo, PhD Candidate in History, State University of New York at Binghamton, December 2012
The UNESCO Archives in Paris constitute an invaluable repository of materials for international women's history. The documents I collected there have been fundamental for my dissertation on the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in the period from 1946 to 1975. In December 2011, I began researching how UNESCO contributed to the Commission's work for women's rights; my goal was to find the background materials that UNESCO provided the Commission to support its resolutions on women's education, political, and economic rights. Ultimately, I found much more than I was looking for.
The most valuable findings for my research turned out to be the folders on the Commission itself. UNESCO representatives duly recorded the CSW's agendas, debates between commissioners and UN agencies, and materials assessing the extent of women's education throughout the globe. The main debates between the Commission and UNESCO centered on the language for women's rights and the relationship between mere data and specific analysis in the topics of women, education, and political/economic rights. Of great interest for my research are the UNESCO delegates' comments to the CSW's sessions. For example, during the early stages of the Cold War, UNESCO openly criticized the politically charged atmosphere of the Commission. The folders on the Commission also include material on meetings between UNESCO and international women's NGOs. Through these documents, researchers can get a sense of the myriad women's organizations in, for example, Asia and Latin America.
While at the UNESCO Archives, I also explored the folders on the 1950s and 1960s pilot projects on women and society in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. The exchange of correspondence between states' delegates, UNESCO officials, and women's organizations reveal the existence of a vibrant transnational community dedicated to women's issues from a human rights point of view. This material is also useful to understand the epistemological process behind the UNESCO women's projects. Specifically, these documents reveal how women's rights became a grounded topic in international relations. As important as the pilot projects are the documents on the UN Trusteeship Council. In those folders, I was able to find the early UN questionnaires to the population of the Trust Territories, former colonies which progress to self-rule the UN monitored through the Council. Most documents on women in the Trust Territories refer to these questionnaires so this was a key finding for my work. Moreover, the questions illustrated what the Administrative Authorities defined as the requirements for independent rule. Through the folders on the Trusteeship Council, I discovered a collection of documents on women's schools in French and British colonies, which include requests for funding to UNESCO. The description of the schools, their mission statements, and the founders' background represent an invaluable source for researching colonialism from the point of view of international history.
The UNESCO Archives' personnel are very professional and helpful. From the first contact with them, the archivists provided me with guidance on how to find the relevant materials. The delivery system was quick and accurate. The reading room is comfortable and the building, of course, represents one of the most effective examples of inclusive international cooperation in evolving global society.
World Health Organization
Sunil Amrith, Harvard University
My search began within the labyrinthine corridors of the World Health Organization in Geneva. In a room filled with bound volumes of official reports -- which, I was told, had not been consulted in a very long time -- I came upon a factual, rather technical, description of a WHO-sponsored tuberculosis project in south India in the 1950s. A few months later, I found myself in the spacious and rambling premises of the National Tuberculosis Institute in Bangalore, housed near the Royal Palace in a building which was once the Lady Willingdon Tuberculosis Sanatorium. Their librarian Mrs Murthy was most helpful, and curious about my project; the institute’s library is a leading medical resource in the region but it had not, until my visit, been consulted by an historian. Mrs. Murthy had herself been working at the institute since the mid-1960s, and was quite willing to share with me her memories of many of the ‘names’ which had populated the official reports in Geneva.
By way of a tuberculosis hospital in Madras’s Egmore neighbourhood, and an enjoyable interview with one of its first doctors, I returned to Britain – and to the Public Record Office. The WHO tuberculosis project in Madras had, it turned out, been established jointly with the Indian government and the British Medical Research Council. In Kew, I was surprised to find a number of files of correspondence detailing the project in Madras in the 1950s, and in particular the letters of Dr. Wallace Fox, a British tuberculosis specialist sent to India to pioneer anti-TB chemotherapy, to his bosses in London.
As my project has broadened beyond its initial focus on the international anti-tuberculosis campaign, I have found myself drawn yet further afield, with planned trips to archives in Singapore and Malaysia and to the Rockefeller Archive Centre in upstate New York. I have come to realise that, just as the history of the United Nations agencies is (or should be) part of the history of international political, economic and social exchange, so the UN’s archives stand in complex relation to national and private archives around the world.
Private papers and personal correspondence are seldom if ever to be found in the UN’s archives. What was missing from the reports of the Madras tuberculosis projects in the WHO library and archives, I learned from my interview with Dr. C. V. Ramakrishnan in Madras, and from the letters of Wallace Fox at the PRO. Yet at the same time the WHO archives told me more about Indian government health policy in the 1950s than the Indian archives were able to reveal. The majority of the files on health policy which were presented to me in National Archives in Delhi were empty, the papers having been lost or ‘never transferred’. Archives are, for obvious reasons, not a particular priority within the UN, but my personal experience has been that the librarians and archivists are helpful and efficient and that, in comparison with many national archives, relatively open access policies are followed.
It is a challenge to bring the stacks of reports, technical papers, and committee debates in the UN archives to life; to shape them into a compelling historical narrative which does not read like a compilation of policy reports. One way to get beyond this has been to try and use the archives as a way of tracing the lives of particular individuals, and to combine the intellectual history of policy debates and changing international ideas with a micro-historical focus on individual, international, lives. Some individuals whose names repeatedly crop up in the official archive remain obscure: I am still searching, for instance, for biographical details of one Mr. Stig Andersen, a Danish sociologist who pioneered research on tuberculosis in the slums of Bangalore in the early 1960s.
In other cases, I have found the United Nations Career Records Project at the Bodleian library in Oxford has been an invaluable resource in tracing the contours of individual lives ‘hidden’ within the official archive. Deposited therein are the personal papers, the diaries and the letters, of many of the first cohort of British UN officials, most of them serving in the 1950s and 1960s. The letters and diaries are compelling – they detail the experiences of a young doctor sent out to Cambodia as a WHO expert on child health; of a teacher in the rural Philippines setting up schools, and promoting health education; of a doctor in Brazzaville receiving panicked reports from his staff under siege in a rural hospital during the Congo crisis.
Attached to one of the collections of papers in the Bodleian is a typed note by their author, pointing out by way of preface that “the official histories of WHO… read as though the organization had no human beings in its service. There was nothing of the fears, the ambitions, the virtues and the vices, which were part of us.” It is my hope that through my research I will be able to convey something of the “fears and ambitions” of the ‘smaller’ participants in the international enterprise of ‘health policy’. Collecting oral histories to add to the picture drawn by the private papers will be the main aim of a field trip to Asia which I will undertake later this year.
If an archival journey which will have spanned three continents results in a narrative which is able to convey something of the interconnections across national and regional frontiers brought about through the UN’s work in the field of social policy, then my project might make a small contribution towards presenting UN history as part of the social, intellectual and political history of the modern world, and not simply the story of an institution.
Finding WIDF-Related Archives
Francisca de Haan, Central European University, Budapest, December 2011
When I started my current book project on the International Council of Women (ICW, established in 1888), the International Alliance of Women (IAW, established as the International Woman Suffrage Alliance in 1904), and the Women’s International Democratic Federation (WIDF, established in 1945) during the Cold War, the ICW and IAW were relatively well-known, but not so the WIDF. Because the organization was on the left and seen as “pro-Communist,” most Western historians discarded the WIDF and/or assumed that the organization wasn’t interesting or relevant from a feminist perspective. Many didn’t even know the organization existed – a situation that persists until today and is probably in part sustained by the fact that the whereabouts of the WIDF’s archives are unknown. Four years on, the latter is still the case, although it is likely that I will be allowed to see these archives in a few weeks from now. That story is to be continued therefore.
Meanwhile, the lack of access to the WIDF archives (or even, any information about their size) encouraged me to look for materials about the organization in other places. It turned out that two main locations to look for WIDF material are the personal archives of former board members and the archives of member organizations (the WIDF is an international umbrella organization with members organizations in countries around the world; the number grew from 41 member organizations in 1945 to 135 in 1985). But even then, the WIDF, the largest and definitely one of the most influential international women’s organizations of the post-1945 era, remains a special case. Archivists don’t always know the treasures they are storing, as my two stories will show.
A Swedish Internationalist: Dr. Andrea Andreen (1888-1972)
Andrea Andreen was a key figure in the 20th-century women’s movement in Sweden. Born in 1888, she obtained the first part of her medical degree in 1919 and became a medical doctor in 1933. Dr. Andreen married twice and had a son and a daughter. Among her public functions was her membership of a Swedish governmental Population Commission from 1935 to 1938. She was involved in a number of feminist organizations, among them the Left Federation of Swedish Women (Svenska Kvinnors Vänsterförbund, SKV). The SKV has a very interesting history. It started out in 1914 as the Liberal Women’s Federation (Förening Frisinnade Kvinnor) (FFK), which in 1921 became the Liberal Women’s National Federation (Frisinnade Kvinnors Riksförbund) (FKR). In 1924 the FKR adopted a new, more radical program, and shortly thereafter some of its members started the journal Tidevarvet (the Epoch) and the Kvinnliga Medborgarskolan or Women Citizens’ School at Fogelstad, a school meant to educate working-class women for citizenship. In 1931, the FKR changed its name again, this time to Left Federation of Swedish Women (Svenska Kvinnors Vänsterförbund, SKV). Among the prominent members of the SKV was Kerstin Hesselgren, who chaired the organization from 1931 to 1946. Hesselgren was also President of the League of Nations Commission of Experts on the Legal Status of Women, the forerunner of the UN Commission on the Status of Women.
Dr. Andrea Andreen was one of three Swedish women attending the founding conference of the Women’s International Democratic Federation in Paris in late-November 1945. She immediately became a WIDF Council Member, in 1953 one of the organization’s Vice-Presidents, and later, an Honorary Vice-President. In early 1946, the SKV became the Swedish branch of the WIDF, with Dr. Andreen, succeeding Hesselgren as the SKV president from 1946 to 1964. While there is much more to Dr. Andreen’s story, my focus here is on her personal archive, located in the Gothenburg Women’s History Collection (http://www.ub.gu.se/samlingar/kvinn/). Of course the (rather unelaborated) inventory (https://intra.ub.gu.se/kvinn/handskrifter/A49.pdf, accessed December 28, 2011) mentions WIDF documents. But not only is there no indication of the importance of the WIDF itself nor of Dr. Andreen’s prominent role in it, but the actual archive is much larger and contains piles and piles of unsorted correspondence between the WIDF and the SKV. It is a real treasure trove. Moreover, while Swedish sources don’t emphasize Dr. Andrea Andreen’s involvement in the WIDF, both the amount of WIDF sources in her personal archive and its contents show how important the organization was to her. In 1965, when she was 77 and could look back on a life well-spent, she gave a speech to the WIDF Council, which met to celebrate the WIDF’s twentieth anniversary. On this occasion, Dr. Andreen reflected not only on her role in and the politics of the WIDF, but told her audience that “nothing more important [than the WIDF] has happened in my life.”
The “Nederlandse Vrouwenbeweging” [Dutch Women’s Movement] (1946-2002)
Among my archival discoveries (the two cases here are only two out of more examples), the second one was even more unexpected. One of the world’s largest and most influential social history archives is the International Institute of Social History (IISH) in Amsterdam, established in 1935. The IISH keeps the archive of the Nederlandse Vrouwenbeweging (NVB), literally the Dutch Women’s Movement. This left feminist organization was established in November 1946, in the wake of the WIDF founding congress, and was the organization’s Dutch member organization. A Dutch scholar, Jolande Withuis, in 1990 published a detailed study of the NVB (Opoffering en heroiek: De mentale wereld van een communistische vrouwenorganisatie in naoorlogs Nederland 1946-1976). Because her book says little about the WIDF or the role of Dutch women in the WIDF, nor does the IISH’s NVB archive description (http://search.iisg.nl/search/search?action=transform&col=archives&xsl=archives-detail.xsl&lang=en&docid=10896245_EAD, accessed December 28, 2011), my expectations regarding WIDF material here were low. Imagine my surprise, therefore, when it turned out that there are some fifteen boxes with what looks like the entire correspondence between the WIDF and the NVB from 1953 onward, as well as WIDF conference materials and many other publications.
By now, I have done research about the WIDF in about ten countries, and the exciting search goes on. The one thing I have learned, though, is that there is usually more material than one initially assumes, and often, even more than the archivists knew . . .
Researching at the WIPO library
Professor Debora Halbert, University of Hawaii, November 2011
As part of a project designed to better understand the origins of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), I spent two weeks in Geneva during the summer of 2005 doing research in the WIPO library. Thus, my comments below may not reflect current practices at the library or changes to how the library can be accessed. Websites can give a very different perception of the reality you will encounter. WIPO’s website feels welcoming and open, but the reality of accessing WIPO’s library was fairly imposing and closed. At the time, the WIPO website said this about its library.
Facilities for individuals wishing to learn about the work of the Organization include free access to the WIPO Information Center which is located in the WIPO headquarters building and to the WIPO Library. The library is located in the WIPO Annex-Chambésy (7, Avenue de Tournay, 1292 Chambésy) and is open from 9:00 am to 12:00 noon and from 2pm to 4:30 pm, Monday to Friday (for further details, please see http://www.wipo.int/library/.)
Upon locating the library, which is housed separately from the WIPO headquarters at the Place de Nations, I learned the process for accessing the materials. While the website had implied the library was easily accessible to the public, there were some security hurdles to overcome prior to entry.
I learned how to access the library my first day on site. I deposited my passport in exchange for a visitors pass at the security desk and was taken to the library. I was introduced to a woman who may or may not have been a librarian. She never disclosed her occupation and only gave her name with what seemed to be reluctance. However, she did give me a tour of the library and showed me how to use their computer system. I had come prepared with titles to search from WIPO’s electronic on-line resource database and only needed the call numbers, which could be found on the computer located in the library itself. The library was a large room with about 15 shelves of books. One section of three shelves were dedicated to WIPO publications, another area was dedicated to copyright generally, and third to patents, and a final section housed journals focused on intellectual property.
The library functions as both an archive and a working library. Staff can take materials with them and keep them in their offices without any formal checkout procedure, meaning that materials in the database may not be on the shelves, nor is there any record of where they might be. The library was very quiet, with few people coming through and nobody located within the space available for questions. There was one other person working in the library during my time there. He was from the Sudan and was researching a paper on plant protection.
It became clear on my first day that many of the documents I sought were not in the library. When I asked if there was a way to find them, I was told that they were either borrowed or lost, each seeming equally probable. Thus, much of the WIPO history I would have liked to explore was not available. However, despite these missing volumes, there was still plenty to read in the WIPO library, and perhaps the most valuable information I was able to locate were the older minutes and notes from the early meetings that have yet to be digitized. Looking through these materials made it possible to see what the process of constructing WIPO had been like and provided valuable information about the debates that were held at the origins of the organization.
All told, I spent approximately 5 hours a day for 10 days in the WIPO library. I sought to prioritize materials that could not be found in a digital form or on-line and I used my laptop to compile notes from these materials. I came away with over 50 pages of notes compiled from multiple sources. While my original list of materials ended up being of little help, the time in the library itself was enormously rewarding and I thank WIPO for offering up the option of visits to their resources.
Publications and Electronic Resources
Boyle, James. “A Manifesto on WIPO and the Future of Intellectual Property,” Duke Law & Technology Review, January 1, 2004, 9.
Debora Halbert. “The World Intellectual Property Organization: Past, Present and Future,” Journal of the Copyright Society of the USA, Winter-Spring 2007, 54 (2-3): 253-284.
Christopher May, The World Intellectual Property Organization: Resurgence and the Development Agenda, London: Routledge, 2007.
Peter Yu, Editor, The WIPO Journal: Analysis and Debate of Intellectual Property Issues. Available online: http://www.sweetandmaxwell.co.uk/wipojournal/find.html.
World Intellectual Property Organization. http://www.wipo.int/about-wipo/en/what_is_wipo.html.
World Bank Archives
Dr. Patrick Sharma
The World Bank Group Archives are a terrific resource for scholars interested in the history of development, international institutions, and/or countries in the developing world. I relied extensively on the Archives' collections in conducting research for my dissertation on Robert McNamara's presidency of the World Bank. Although access has been streamlined since I worked there intermittently between 2007 and 2009, effectively utilizing the Archives' holdings requires some planning. I hope this short guide will encourage others to make use of the Archives as well as the many historical documents the Bank has made available online.
Overview of the Holdings
The Archive's website provides a general outline of its holdings. Roughly speaking, the holdings contain five types of materials: the Bank's organizational history, the Bank's work as it relates to specific countries, the Bank's work in specific sectors (such as transportation or the environment), the Bank's views on the development process, and a handful of important historical events in which the Bank played a role (such as the Suez Canal crisis and settlement). The Archives have not been organized to reflect these functional distinctions. Rather, they have been arranged according to the Bank's organizational structure, which has evolved over time. As such, determining the location of relevant materials is not always straightforward.
The holdings are divided into numerous different fonds. A list of available fonds and a description of their contents can be found here. The Bank's executive offices, such as the Office of the President and the Office of the Treasurer, are represented, as are specific regional departments, such as the South Asia Regional Vice Presidency, and sectoral departments, such as Records of the Energy Development Sector. The executive records, particularly those of the Office of the President, contain material relevant to all aspects of the Bank's work, while the records of particular departments focus on the material relevant to that department. There are also fonds containing some of the personal papers of various individuals who played a prominent role in the Bank's history, fonds covering specialized Bank activities, such as its role in the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, and some relating to the work of the Bank's Archives itself. Folder-specific lists describing the contents of most of the fonds are available on the Archives' website.
The overlapping nature of the Bank's work means that materials on similar topics may be located in different places. For instance, material on the World Bank's activities in Chile may be found in both the Records of the Latin America and Caribbean Regional Vice Presidency and a specific sectoral department depending on the nature of the project or activity that the Bank was funding.
In addition to searching the folder-specific lists, researchers should consult two online databases: the World Bank Projects and Operations Database and the World Bank Open Knowledge Repository. Each of these contain historical materials that will help researchers get a sense of the specific archival materials that will be of most use to them. The Projects and Operations database contains a list of all the projects the Bank has funded throughout its history, as well as supporting materials, and is searchable by country, region, date, and sector. The Open Knowledge Repository allows searches of Bank publications by topic, region, and country.
Procedures for Accessing Materials
The Archives' holdings are governed by the World Bank's access to information and records management policies. Generally speaking, the Bank has made significant strides in making its historical materials more available to outsiders than has historically been the case. That said, the Bank retains the right to keep certain materials confidential and researchers must request access to the Archives before visiting. Submitting a request is fairly straightforward. After identifying materials, a researcher submits an Access to Information Request Form on the Bank's Access to Information website. The system prompts you to create an account with username and password, which allows you to monitor the status of your request.
I am not aware of the average time that it currently takes to receive a response to an initial research request. It took approximately four months for me to receive a response to my first request to access materials, which I submitted in 2007. I believe that the Bank has sped up its response rate in recent years. Still, researchers should be advised that it may take a relatively long period of time to gain access to the Archives.
The reading room is located in the basement of the World Bank's headquarters in Washington, D.C. It is one of the nicest archives in which I have worked. Laptops, cameras, pencils and paper are allowed inside, as are digital cameras, which can be used on the documents. There are lockers just outside the reading room where you can store remaining items and plenty of places to relax, eat and drink both inside the Bank's headquarters and in the surrounding area.
First-time researchers are required to go through a short security protocol. Researchers are then given a temporary pass allowing guest access to the main entrances of the Bank's headquarters. Like most buildings in D.C., there is tight security in and around the building.