Sunday, May 17, 2009

Cologne Archive update

A poignant article detailing the holdings of the Historical Archive of the City of Cologne appears in the online edition of today's Los Angeles Times. It illuminates, in a very matter-of-fact and understated fashion, the emotional impact of the collapse and the recovery effort upon the archive's staff -- some of whom haven't returned to work since the building's collapse on 3 March -- and the roughly 1,000 volunteers who have worked at the site or are storing salvaged materials.

A brief piece centering upon a group of Czech archivists who volunteered at the site appears, interestingly, in the online edition of today's People's Daily (the official paper of China's Communist Party). According to this article, the Czech volunteers estimate that no more than 30 percent of the Cologne Archive's holdings will be "saved."

This figure contrasts quite sharply with that advanced by officials in Cologne: according to a recent Deutsche Press-Agenter news release, approximately 80 percent of the archive's holdings have been recovered.

I suspect that that, in a way, the Czech archivists and the Cologne officials are both correct: as the Los Angeles Times article makes plain, some of the materials are recovered intact, others are wet or torn to bits, and the process of sorting through the recovered documents and reassembling series and collections will be an arduous, years-long process. Moreover, some series and collections have no doubt been damaged so extensively that they are effectively lost; for example, if a handful of documents is all that remains of a voluminous series that spanned hundreds of years, those documents probably won't be of much use to scholars.

Finally, a couple of weeks ago, the Irish Times published a reflective article focusing upon the impact of the archive's collapse on the family and friends of writer Heinrich Böll. After six years of careful negotiation, Böll's son and other relatives had transferred Böll's papers, which included photographs and manuscripts documenting Böll's frequent visits to Ireland, to the Cologne Archive in mid-February 2009. The disaster -- and what they see as grievous lack of communication from city officials -- has left them stunned, outraged, and deeply concerned about Böll's literary and political legacy.

1 comment:

kg said...