Peripheral Histories? Guide to Accessing Digital Collections and Archival Documents from Abroad
In light of the suspension of international travel and difficulty of conducting archival research during the pandemic, the Peripheral Histories? team have compiled a list of digital collections and accurate information about ordering archival files remotely. If you have information to share, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or reach out to us on Twitter @peripheralhist
Disclaimer: The information presented here is accurate at the time of posting (September 2020), but is subject to change.
Online Collections – Open Access
The Blavatnik Archive holds 1200 video interviews with Russian Jewish men and women who fought during WW2.
Russian Geographical Society (Library)
Herder-Institut (Various documents and materials relating to East Central Europe)
Digital archive (DIGAR) of the Estonian National Library (digital collections and newspapers)
Slavonic Library at the National Library of Finland (a limited number of digital collections)
The Centre for Russian, Caucasian and Central European Studies in Paris has put together an online primary source database for Russian, Caucasian, Central Asian, Eastern & Central Europe Studies
Databases – Subscription
Archives – Online Collections or How to Order Documents from Afar
Scans of archival documents can be ordered from the National Historical Archives of Belarus (NIAB) by emailing an application form to the archive. You need to specify the archival reference and exact page numbers of the documents you want. The process takes 1-2 weeks and when the documents are ready you are emailed an invoice and a link to pay online. Full instructions here.
German Federal Archive (BA)
The German Federal Archive system has a few collections that are digitized and available for access on their website, for example a series of documents related to the Soviet Military Administration/Soviet Occupation Zone.
Some German archives offer to send PDFs or your own copy of microfilm or microfiche for money despite this not being listed on their websites. Reach out to any archive with materials of importance for you and ask if it is possible to pay for copies. Archivists are often willing to send these resources if the researcher expresses a willingness to pay for the documents. Prices are extremely reasonable.
Archives in Estonia have been centralized under one administration, the National Archives of Estonia. The virtual reading room (VAU) has a range of different digital sources, including archival documents, photos, and audiovisual collections.
Digital copies of archival materials can also be ordered online. The cost is €0.40 per side (up to A2 size) and you can pay online. You can search the document collections in all the archives in Estonia through the centralised electronic archive catalogue (AIS). The main languages of the fond titles are Estonian, Russian or German, depending on the topic/period. Full instructions in English for how to place an order for scans be found here.
Digital copies of archival materials can be ordered by emailing either the Latvian State Archive (email@example.com) or the Latvian State Historical Archive (firstname.lastname@example.org). The cost is €3.39 per one side of a page and you can pay online. You will need to know the document’s classification to order (f., apr., l., lp.). You can see the document collections held at Latvian archives by searching this database (in Latvian only).
Estonia-Latvia-Russia Cross-Border E-Archive
This portal provides online access to a selection of 19th-century documents from archives in Estonia, Latvia, and Russia (church books, student files, and maps). The geographical focus is on present-day Estonia and Latvia, as well as St. Petersburg, Pskov region, and Leningrad region in the Russian Federation.
You can search the archival holdings for all Lithuanian archives using this central database.
Lithuanian State Historical Archive
Digital copies can be ordered by emailing email@example.com. The price per page depends on the age of the document, but it is usually around €0.30 per image. You can see a full price list here (in Lithuanian).
Lithuanian Central State Archive
Digital copies of archival documents can be ordered at a cost of €0.90 per page. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to order your digital copies and to receive information on making the appropriate payments.
(Information provided by John Vsetecka)
Almost all of the archives in Ukraine (listed here) have online descriptions of their fonds. The new website for the Ukrainian archive system is in test mode, so not all features work as they should. The site is helpful for those looking to navigate the archive system in English, but one will find much more material by reverting the website back to the “old version” by clicking on this feature on the top right corner of the page. From there, a new tab will open with the old version of the archive website. This, too, is in English, and is helpful for early navigation. You can find a list of the central state archives and regional state archives by clicking on the “Archives in Ukraine” link on the left-hand side of the page.
From there, you can navigate all of the archives’ websites. Many of them have online descriptions and histories of their collections. This will help researchers to pinpoint specific files, although online descriptions and file numbers do not always correlate to what is actually in the archive. That being said, most archivists will help you locate what you need, and you can reach out to them via emailing the archive in question directly. Depending on the archive, you will need to fill out a request form for the documents that you need. The cost of digital documents varies from archive to archive.
Each archive has its own webpage, where you can find information relating to their specific policies. These websites also have online “exhibits” (vystavky). These are usually organized around an important topic in Ukrainian history and culture, and a number of documents (with citations) are listed with each. You can often download copies of these documents for your own use.
Online archives and repositories
I also want to list a couple of other valuable online archives and repositories for those looking to work with documents relating to Ukraine.
The first is the Ukrainian Liberation Movement Online Archive (find it here). The site is in Ukrainian and boasts an incredible number of documents pertaining to all periods of Ukrainian history. You can search by keyword or phrase, and the site will even recommend some categorical search phrases after you type your interests into the search box. You can break down your search further by date, location, etc.
The last one that I will plug here is Libraria (find it here). Libraria is the Ukrainian Online Periodicals Archive. Here, researchers can search numerous periodicals, newspapers, and other relevant sources. The site can be navigated in English or Ukrainian, and one can search for terms in English, Ukrainian, Russian, Polish, German, Romanian, and more.
You can access a new, open access comprehensive guide to Russian archives here (in Russian)
Issues of the journal Крокодил have been digitised for the period 1922-2008 and are freely accessible here.
Ordering Russian Archival Documents from Abroad
The service Remote Russian Research offers different types of plans for conducting remote access to PDFs from Russian archives. They offer to handle the paperwork to pay for your documents in Russia or to handle the payment and all communications with the archive about your documents.
You can read thousands of open-access archival documents from hundreds of different archives, including the Russian State Archive of Contemporary History (RGANI) and the State Archive of the Russian Federation (GARF) on the Electronic Library of Historical Documents website.
Archive services in St Petersburg are centralised and you can find information about the structure and fondi of each archive on their website. You can also find a centralised keyword-searchable database of all archival documents held in the city here. Archives in St Petersburg have also digitised specific collections that can be accessed remotely for a small fee here.
Information on other Russian cities to follow
(Information provided by Frankee Lyons)
All cultural institutions, including archives, libraries, and reading rooms, are closed from November 7 to November 29 (subject to extension) due to the state of pandemic emergency in Poland. The following information is subject to change.
When they were operating, reading rooms required researchers to wear masks and bring and use their own single-use gloves. Many archives held documents in ‘quarantine’ for a certain number of days between pulls.
Most archives provide copying and scanning services and accept payment from foreign bank accounts.
Archiwa Państwowe (State Archives)
The three main branches of the state archives are: the Archiwum Główne Akt Dawnych (AGAD, for files created before 1918), the Archiwum Akt Nowych (AAN, for files created after 1918), and the Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe (for photo and film materials). There are 30 additional regional branches.
Digitized materials are available online at Szukaj w Archiwach. More information on other digitized collections from the state archives can be found on their webpage. When reading rooms are operating, reservations must be made by phone or through the website of the specific branch.
AAN has a (outdated) list of its digitalized sources. Information on AAN copy services can be found here, with prices ranging from 1,00 to 2,00 PLN for a basic scan or copy. It costs 20,00 to 30,00 PLN per half hour for the archive to complete a search or query on a reader’s behalf.
AGAD has a list of finding aids available in its reading room. AGAD also has many materials digitized on its website. Here is information on copy and scanning services, which average 2,00 to 3,00 PLN a page.
Information about copy services at regional archives can be found on the webpage of the specific archive branch.
Biblioteka Narodowa (National Library)
When the National Library is open, it is possible to visit only with prior reservation, which can be made through an online reader's account.. Reservations are 2 or 4.5 hours in length. Spaces are limited.
Many archival materials, including books, periodicals, maps and atlases, ephemera, photographs, prints and drawings, manuscripts, postcards and musical scores, are digitalized and available for public use at polona.pl. Materials on Polona are available for download and often have an OCR layer for text recognition.
Instytut Pamięci Narodowej (Institute of National Remembrance, IPN)
The Institute of National Remembrance’s mission “is to research and popularize the modern history of Poland and to investigate crimes committed from 8 November 1917, throughout the Second World War and the communist period, to 31 July 1990.”
When the reading room of the Warsaw branch is open, it is possible to arrange two weekly visits of 3.5 hours each. However, these slots fill up quickly. Visits to regional branches are sometimes available for a full workday. For more information on arranging visits, contact the specific branch by telephone or email after the archives re-open.
The archival inventory for the IPN can be accessed here. Due to their sensitive nature, IPN materials are not publicly available online. To access documents, readers must submit an application. Doctoral students require a letter of support from a researcher who holds a PhD.
Information about the IPN’s copying services, including costs, can be found here. Costs average ,50 to 1,00 PLN for a basic page.
Archiwum Ministerstwa Spraw Zagranicznych (Archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, AMSZ)
The archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs house diplomatic state materials from 1945. There are 28 different categories of available documents.
AMSZ files from 1945-1965 have been digitized and made publicly available. More recent documents are only available in the reading room. Readers must submit an application before conducting research in the reading room.
Żydowski Instytut Historyczny (Jewish Historical Institute, ŻIH)
The Jewish Historical Institute’s website has the most up-to-date information about reading room and library operations. When the reading room is open, it is limited to two readers at a time with prior seat reservation required.
ŻIH’s digitized materials, which include the Ringelblum Archive, are available at the Centralna Biblioteka Judaistyczna. Finding aids can be found here. ŻIH generally does not provide scanning and copying services.
The ‘Russian Perspectives on Islam’ project hosts an anthology of documents from the Central Historical Archives of Georgia and the State Historical Archives of the Republic of Azerbaijan related to the institutionalization of Islam in the Transcaucasian provinces.
(Information provided by Timothy Blauvelt)
Anton Vacharadze of IDFI has written a fairly up-to-date description of the main archives in Georgia and their holdings, and there have been recent articles about the archival situation by Irakli Khvadagiani and on Al Jazeera.
Georgian National Archives
The Georgian National Archives contains three separate archives that share a common reading room: The Central Contemporary History Archive, which holds government records (ministries and commissariats) for the Soviet period of 1921-1991; the Central Historical Archive, holding materials prior to 1921, including from the medieval period, the Tsarist administration of the Caucasus, and the Georgian Democratic Republic of 1918-1921; and the Central Audio-Visual Archive. The National Archives offer remote services, and there are some catalogues and materials available online. There are finding guides to the fonds on the Archives’ individual pages, but currently those are available only in Georgian. The Archives do have a reference service. The National Archives has local regional branches around the country.
Georgian Party and KGB Archives
Both the former Party Archive of the Georgian Communist Party and that of the former state security organs of the Georgian SSR (Cheka-GPU-NKVD-KGB) are currently under the Archival Administration of the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs. The Archival Administration regularly publishes The Archival Bulletin in Georgian and English to highlight some of the materials in their collections, as well as Special Editions on particular topics, all of which are available in PDF form. The Administration offers remote services, and the opisi for many of the fonds are available in PDF form (the fond names are only in Georgian, but the actual opisi are usually in Russian).
Archival Research NGOs
The Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI) in Georgia does regular analyses of openness of archives in the post-Soviet space, and offers publications, conferences, and discussions about archival issues in Georgia and beyond. They also have online a comprehensive collection of archival documents and press articles related to the March 1956 events in Georgia. The organization SOVLAB in Georgia also undertakes a number of archival projects and posts materials online, though currently the content is much more robust on their Georgian site than on their English one.
National Parliamentary Library of Georgia
The National Parliamentary Library of Georgia has been under long-term construction for a number of years, which is scheduled to be finally completed in late Spring 2021. Most of their card catalog has been digitized and there is a new and comprehensive online catalog. They have a large online collection of digitalized materials, including books, newspapers and photographs. They have a very professional and responsive reference service, and during the pandemic have been willing to provide remote assistance upon request to the email email@example.com
Information on archives and collections in other countries to follow
(Information provided by Zukhra Kasimova)
The website of the manuscript collection of Kyrgyzstan’s Academy of Sciences has digital copies of numerous materials from their collections.
The Uzbek National Library has digitised some issues of Soviet-era newspapers, including Правда Востока.
You can also search the holdings of various Uzbek archives and museums here (in Russian).
Information on archives in Central Asia to follow
Contributors: Susan Grunewald, Catherine Gibson, Siobhán Hearne, Jo Laycock, Alun Thomas, John Vsetecka, Zukhra Kasimova, Frankee Lyons, and Timothy Blauvelt.