The Romanian Historical Archives available for online research

by Codruța Mihailovici, National Archives of Romania

Since 2006, concerns in the field of digitization of the cultural heritage have led to concrete measures at the European level. At the national one, each country has become responsible for its own process of digitization and libraries, museums, archives, heritage organizations, universities and research institutions were involved. Even if, Romania doesn’t have a functional national cultural platform online yet[1], some efforts of individual institutions in this direction have begun to yield good results. These efforts which will create, in the end, a digital library of cultural resources, a unique point of access for the Romanian cultural heritage, open to public research and free of charge: culturalia.ro.

The modern research tehniques, which developed in Romania as well, have „forced” cultural institutions, if not collectively at least on the individual level, to adapt to reality or to the people’s needs their conditions of access to their heritage. Among them, with a slight delay (compared to the Romanian facts, not the European/international context – where the gap is much larger), the National Archives is an exemple of such an institution which got involved into a consistent project of digitizing documents, while it still continues to deal with its own institutional portal (portal.arhivelenationale.ro), developed since 2014 .This new project (actually „the first major project of digitizing historical archives in Romania“, as shown in the press release announcing its launch) has an explicit name: Digitisation of the medieval documents from the National Archives of Romania. The project was selected for funding after winning a competition under the PA16 / RO12 Program for conservation and revitalization of the cultural and natural heritage, through the Project Management Unit of the Ministry of Culture. It has already a shortname: medievalia – used by archivists and palaeographers involved, but this isn’t a good practice because another project with the same name, coordinated by the Library of the Romanian Academy for digitizing a few dozen of manuscripts, rules simultaneously and this situation gives birth to confusion and obviously needs to be avoided.

The project of the National Archives aims at the digitization of all medieval documents, created prior to 1600, preserved in their repositories (from Bucharest and all 42 county branches), irrespective of the form of the document: original, copies, transcripts, translations, regests etc. The final outcome consists of a database (with metadata and images), available on line, free of charge: arhivamedievala.ro. It is the result of the strong collaboration between Romanian institutions:

  • The University of Bucharest (which had the initiative and the leading role);
  • The „Babeș-Bolyaiˮ University from Cluj-Napoca;
  • The National Archives of Romania;

and a foreign one, from the donor state:

  • The National Archives of Norway.

Each of it had very specific attributions within the project. The University of Bucharest was in charge of the technical, financial and database management, ensured Latin and German palaeographies support and most of the promotion activities, task shared with the National Archives. On the other side, the „Babeș-Bolyaiˮ University from Cluj-Napoca accomplished the hardest task of description and indexing Latin and Hungarian documents, by coordinating the Transylvanian team. Very important support has come from the National Archives of Norway, not only financial, but also in conceiving the project, bringing the know-how (as long as they have started the digitization ten years ago). The Norwegian partner also supervises the database– from the point of view of the foreign user and maintains the quality and transparency of the project. And finally, the National Archives of Romania – the owner of the documents, has had an important role in handling the entire amount of the documents which had to be scaned, to keep control in all the actions of the archive transfer from the repositories to the scan or restoration centers (placed inside the Archives buildings) and back. The employees from the National Archives have also made the descriptions and the indexing of slavic, cyrillic, greek and turkish palaeographies.

This project – which cost almost 880.000 euro (EEA Grants 85% – non refundable fonds and National cultural fonds 15%) was configurated to run from December 2014 until the end of Aprilie 2016, but it received two additions of time and that’s the reason why it will end in April 2017. As beneficiaries, the project team had in mind on the one hand the Romanian group target: medieval history scholars (professors, doctoral and postgraduate students from the universities in Romania), researchers, secondary school teachers and individual researchers, and on the other, the foreign group target, most of all, researchers from Hungary, interested in the medieval history of Transylvania, and German historians, focused on the history of Germans in our country. But for anybody interested in history the outcomes of the project can be useful tool, and, in my opinion, the most important outcome is that future generations will have available studies and history books better written, based on primary digitized sourses. Local communities will have benefit from this project also because a better knowledge of local history helps shaping local identity.

From the very beginning, few steps were scheduled:

  • to identify and prepare the documents for scaning;
  • to recondition the damaged documents;
  • to scan the documents;
  • to describe and index;
  • to create an online database;
  • to create the website to access the database;
  • to create webpages for 7 branches of the National Archives with a virtual museum each;
  • to evaluate and promote the project.

To identify all the documents prior 1600 – including copies or regests in 42 Branches of the National Archives, had been a very hard job, especially because of the concise finding aids which contain also mistakes. Every piece of archive had to be re-evaluate and, before scanning, an analysis of the conservation shape had been done. A great outcome of this project for the National Archives of Romania was funding the restoration of almost 1400 damaged documents (parchment and paper, seals), even if only a number of 1000 was planned. Aside from that, the estimations made when the project was prepared have been well excedeed in all categories:

© Codruta Mihailovici
© Codruta Mihailovici

From the total amount of medieval documents preserved by the National Archives, almost 90% are provided by Transylvania (written in latin, Hungarian and German palaeography) and only 10% by Wallachia and Moldavia (Slavonic, Romanian, Greek palaegraphy), together.

© Codruta Mihailovici
© Codruta Mihailovici

In Cluj-Napoca (Klausenburg, Kolozsvár) had been identified the highest number of documents – almost 20 000, followed by Sibiu (Hermannstadt, Nagyszeben, Cibinium) – 8000, Brasov (Kronstadt,  Brassó, Corona) – 2800, Bucharest – 2700, that´s the reason why the major scanning centres were settled there.

If we have to speak in numbers, this project has/had:

  • Timeline: 17 month (first addition + 6 month, second addition + 6 month = totally 29 month);
  • Managerial Team: 5 persons (14 Romanians+1 Norwegian);
  • Instiutions: 4 (National Archives 2, Universities 2);
  • Goal: digitizing and describing 50.000 items/documents;
  • Searching area: 41 county branches of the National Archives + Bucharest;
  • Fonds/collections: 411;
  • Recondition: 1400 documents, seals;
  • Scan centres: 4;
  • People who scanned: 5;
  • Palaeography centres: 2 (Cluj-Napoca, Bucharest);
  • Palaeographers: 15;
  • Person uploading metadata/images in the database: 1;
  • Database: 1 (ro);
  • Additional sites, with virtual museums: 7 (Bucharest, Iassy, Cluj-Napoca, Sibiu, Brasov, Covasna, Maramures).

As a conclusion, for the time being, when the deadline is coming closer, this project represents a great achivement not only for the institutions involved but for the entire society (Romanian and foreign). Even if things didn´t go easily and the pressure followed all time long, even if it was difficult for a traditional institution such as the National Archives to react properly to the speed of the project – the largest one on the national level from the point of view of quantity and complexity, every effort was worth because we will all have this available: arhivamedievala.ro

 

[1] Next year a national project (e-cultura) will start to run aiming at the creation of a Romanian cultural heritage platform: Culturalia.ro.

 

⇒ This presentation was part of the ICARUS Meeting #18, 17 – 19 October 2016 in Budapest (HU).


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