dinsdag 13 april 2010

Utrecht Archives Seminar 1: Celebrating the Transition of Missionary Documents to State Archives

Some people state that writing history is more or less equivalent to a ceremonial closing of an epoch. That was somewhat my feeling at the lovely seminar on 8th and 9th Aprilm2010 in Utrecht where the vast collection of archives from the oldest Protestant missionary societies in the Netherlands (with the exception of the Moravians), were formally handed over to the State Archives in Utrecht. This feeling of an epoch that is over and has become past, is very strong with me and Paule when we work in Sint Agatha, the heritage center of the Catholic religious orders of the Netherlands in Cuyk. Out of the 150 existing religious orders some 90 have already put their archives in Sint Agatha. Their members are now mostly over 70 years old and young candidates are absent. Sint Agatha therefore has the atmosphere of a storage of past pride, beautiful but gone.
The conference in Utrecht was somewhat different, probably through the presence of so many participants from Indonesia and some other regions where Dutch missionaries had been active: South Africa, Ghana, Egypt. They discussed how they could use these archives for the study of their churches and their identity. With quite a few young scholars present it was not only a celebration of the past but also a search for a future of the meaning of this work.

Mission administrator Huub Lems (himself also for a long period active as a missionary in Sulawesi) was the efficient promotor of this event where some 15 papers were presented. On the one side there was a three volume inventory of the archive, an introduction to the history of the corporations that finally produced this immense amount of paper (350 meters of shelves!), but there was also a lively discussion about the function and future of this work.

It was all work in progress and even the cedremony of taking a picture of the whole group was not so formal as usual. But this impression will last!

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