History · Reflection

Historian on tour: it’s not stealing if you return the archive.

What would you do if you could read your enemies’ papers? The Allies of World War Two not only read the archives of Germany at the end of the war, but they also copied and distributed them to other interested parties. This is a brief insight into how the AJCP was structured, why German records were of interest and where you can read those records today.

Dear reader, please note that I use excerpts from primary sources with language that is considered inappropriate and marginalizing by today’s standards. This is done to demonstrate the worldview of those involved with Pacific Studies at the time of the AJCP’s creation.

Planning for the Australian Joint Copying Project started prior to World War Two. The issue of accessing records with an “Australian interest” from European archives had been a problematic issue for Australian researchers since the 1800s. With the advent of microfilm, these records no longer had to be copied by hand. This was a recording method that could preserve thousands of books, manuscripts, even paintings, for 500 years. Its use during the war boosted Australian librarians’ ambitions to copy historical records. In May of 1939, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Library* representative, Kenneth Binns, and the New South Wales Principal Librarian, William Ifould, came to an agreement. They were going to jointly appoint, pay for, and direct a library liaison officer at the Public Records Office [PRO], London, to copy records for Australian libraries. The CPL perceived the AJCP as part of their efforts to obtain ‘records of the genesis of Australian nationhood’ for student researchers. In contrast, the NSW library was more concerned with acquiring nineteenth-century materials. Either way, Australian researchers were about to receive a boon.

There were issues getting the Project up and running. Disrupted due to World War 2, the Project did not commence filming until 1945. Then the libraries ‘agreed to share the task of microfilming material of Australian and Pacific interest held in the United Kingdom.’ At the broadest organisation levels, the AJCP was split into two distinct sections of material: The Public Records Office of London Series [PRO-Series] and the Miscellaneous Series [M-Series]. Today, the collection contains images of letters, reports, paintings, photographs, sketches, maps relative to Oceania, South-East Asia, and Antarctica. The distinction relies on the different archive types copied. The PRO-Series are government records. The M-series texts come from public, private, and government institutions and people. When delays at PRO hindered the Project’s development and risked the funding supplied by Commonwealth and State sources, both libraries agreed that the M-Series become the main focus. Australian researchers and librarians sought original materials from Spain, France, Holland, Ireland and Russia (you can see a map of these processes here– look for the yellow markers for survey sites; red for recording sites). They made deals, some financial, some frame-for-frame exchanges. As the M-Series phase of the AJCP continued, liaison officers became concerned with acquiring information about the Pacific for Australian researchers.

I came across a cut-out version of this article, brown with age, but the type is still clear, in the papers of Fredric Eggleston, ex-diplomatic and influencer who helped create the ANU School of Pacific Studies. Printed on 25 June 1943, this is a Trove article, ‘Books by Bomber’. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article92632402

There was another challenge facing the AJCP team, besides the PRO delays. What should AJCP liaison officers be asking for from archives and libraries? What needed to be collected via the M-series for researchers in Australia? Items only mentioning Australia? What about New Zealand, which almost joined with the colonies? Then there was the Pacific Islands, who Austalia and New Zealand frequently interacted. It was quickly made clear materials for researchers could not be requested from archives if there were no clear boundaries.

Events like the Pacific Studies conference, hosted by ANU, on 3-4 April 1948 attempted to create such a definition and a new, postwar, framework for Australian historians to work. This event was supported by Frederic Eggleston, who, in the aftermath of World War Two, was on the interim committee for the Australian National University. There, he made the frequent argument that ANU Pacific Studies were crucial to the development of Australia, politically and socially. Attendees were warned to attend the conference prepared to define Pacific studies and the future of historians in Australia.

Based at Melbourne University, the historian R.M. Crawford saw the Pacific as a difficult space. Being historians thrive on contention Pacific Studies had its appeal, being ripe with past contentions and future ramifications. Crawford’s paper argued there were many ‘problems requiring study’. The ‘study of the pre-European history of native people’, the impact of Europeans on Indigenous culture and society, the ‘History of European intrusion into Pacific areas and of unofficial contacts with natives’ the ‘establishment of colonial empires’ and ‘forms of control and administration.’ Crawford concluded his recommendations with the assertion-

‘Pacific studies will not be entirely concerned with primitive peoples and our contacts with them. There is the large field of international relations in this area between governments with interests in the Pacific, going back to the study of earlier rivalries (e.g. between Germany on the one hand and Australia and New Zealand on the other for New Guinea and Samoa) …None of this can be done without a history and contemporary study of the economic resources and development of the area…and of the interests of competing powers in this area.’

Commentary such as Crawford’s provided AJCP liaison officers with targets in the European archives. The nations that had imperial ties to the Pacific were their target. One example was Germany. They had been active in the Pacific as traders in Samoa and then as colonisers of New Guinea. Their annexation of New Guinea (Kaiser Wilhelmsland) in 1884 prompted Australia to annex Papua on Britain’s behalf. To enable Australian researchers to discuss these aspects of island history, the AJCP liaison officers started ordering as much material as possible from European archives.

A fascinating element of the AJCP arising from these attempts to understand the geographical and cultural space in which Australians live is now seen with the existence of German Foreign Office Archives in the NLA. Unlike previous collections that the AJCP team had microfilmed, the German Foreign Office records were not filmed onsite in national archives. Rather, they were filmed just outside of London, by the University of California. When I first read this line it took some thinking. National archives in the hands of representatives from another nation, without direct consent. What an intriguing circumstance.

My examination of the AJPC corporate correspondence indicated this anomaly was a ‘US-Anglo-French project to publish ‘Documents on German Foreign Policy 1914-1948’’. This GFP copying project was established by ‘the British and American Governments in 1946 and subsequently joined by the French Government.’ The late involvement of the French resulted in World War One records being copied, too. For British, French and American historians in Waddon Hall, this was an opportunity to locate information about war crimes. For Australians, it was that and something more.

Although part of a parallel copying project, AJCP liaison officers ensured the German Foreign Records chosen for copying in the 1950s were surveyed and tailored for the needs of Australian researchers.

The base of operations for copying GFO records was Waddon Hall. During world war two, the hall was the Communications department of M16. NLA correspondence shows, despite being an informal archival space, this was a project bound by an archival protocol. Writing to the CPL in Canberra, AJCP London liaison officer Norman Lynravn explained his acquisitions for Australian researchers were bounded by convention, as;

 ‘[u]ntil 1952 only official representatives of other Governments were allowed access to the files. All filming was done on their behalf by the GWDP [German War Documents Project]. Of the representatives admitted to the Archives as a whole only those of the Danish, Norwegian and Swedish Governments selected material from the pre-1920 files.’

Once Lynravn was given access, there was a sense of extreme urgency. In Lynravn’s letters from 1955-6 regarding the copying of this collection, he explained that Austraila’s time to access these records “freely” was limited. The inference was that, being “good” Allies, America, Britain and France planned to return Germany’s national archives. In a memo written 6 June 1956 Lynravn told White the short timeline meant he was forced to take action without waiting for directions from Canberra;

‘[a]s the time is near when these records must return to Germany, it was [sic] necessary to work fast, and in the absence of specific instructions regarding what positives were required in Australia, only a negative and one positive were ordered, while a second positive will be deposited by the F.O [Foreign Office] in the PRO [Public Records Office, London].’

Independent actions, like the example above by Lynravn above, indicate while this was a transnational project, there was a distinctive Australian element to the reels acquired for the AJCP. A historian focusing on German New Guinea Marjorie Jacobs, of the University of Sydney, supplied lists of material to AJCP officers to be copied for Australian researchers. The Agent-General NSW also provided lists of films to be copied. Australian interests in this part of the AJCP M-Series revolved around New Zealand’s relationship to Samoa and Australia’s colonisation of Papua.

An intriguing memo, in a folder full of directions and requests, was written by the NLA librarian, Harold White, on 21 August 1956 for Liaison Officer Commonwealth National Library in London. White directs the unnamed liaison officer ‘to give priority to the acquisition from University of California and State University of Florida of 153 reels relating principally to Asia and the Far East.’ It was a reminder to adhere to “Australian interests” of that period, and the finances would allow nothing else.

Then White made an additional request, one that went against the archival access protocols that researchers were bound. He asked if the filming of time restricted records could occur before the archives were returned to Germany. White explained to the liaison officer, he was informed;

‘there are documents relating to Australia in the post 1920 period…[these] have been retained in London but are not open for access and would not normally be available for microfilming. Would you discuss the position with the Foreign Office to discover whether there would by [sic] any possibility of microfilming the series while it is in Britain, preserve a copy as a record until such time as scholars or officials could be given access to it.’

This request, I felt, was a librarian’s version of storing manuscripts for the researcher’s winter. White’s letter was also stunning as it made me realise the work of librarians is a lot more future-orientated than I previously realised. And they’re really determined to gain materials for researchers. Even if it is against the rules (blessed be the librarians).  

By 1958, the German records were returned. Then the copies travelled even further. Later additions to the NLA AJCP corporate correspondence files show these reels are some of the few records that Pacific research institutions acquired from the Project. More than a decade later, on 12 March 1968, the NLA advised the London AJCP Officer that a copy of GFO records were received by the University of Papua and New Guinea. On 16 March 1962, another copy was made and sent to the University of Hawaii. By 1966 America’s role in this project had been mostly forgotten. Students from the Hoover Institution requested master copies from the NLA via a letter to the office of the High Commissioner, Sir Alexander Downer. There is no evidence that the last request was fulfilled.

The AJCP M-Series is fascinating for multiple reasons. This brief post shows how libraries and archives repurposed microfilm technology in the post-war period to ensure Australian researchers had the historical documents required to write engaging and thought-provoking histories. It demonstrates the inherent adaptability of the AJCP, with various projects running simultaneously through the PRO and M-Series. Also, even working within American, British, and French archival copying project guidelines, that AJCP liaison officers ensured Australian interests guided acquisitions. Finally, this brief article shows that it never hurts to ask for what is restricted. Those documents about Australia that White requested; apparently, they now reside at the National Library of Australia. The link is below.

Why don’t you call them up?

Deborah Lee-Talbot

End Notes-

*later the National Library of Australia

I suggest logging a request with the NLA for Manuscripts in the British Isles relating to Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific/ edited by Phyllis Mander-Jones to be digitised. It’s a gift to researchers.

Suggested further reading-

Portal to the Australian Joint Copying Project.

A Guide to German Records at the National Library of Australia

Kent, George O., ‘The German Foreign Ministry’s Archives at Whaddon Hall, 1948-58’, The American Archivist, Vol 24, no. 1 (Jan., 1961), pp. 43-54.