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Expatriate Archive Centre: Global Gem in The Hague01 May 2012, by Linda A. Janssen
It is fitting that a country renowned for its expeditionary seafaring trade to the East and West has become home to an institution that chronicles the global expatriate experience. The Hague's Archipelbuurt neighbourhood houses the Expatriate Archive Centre, a real gem in the field of historical archiving.
Why The Hague? The city boasts strong ties to the United Nations and a tradition of welcoming international residents arriving for business, law, education, travel and trade. Donation of the Paramaribostraat premises by the founder, Lady Moody Stewart, sealed the deal.
Evolving out of the original Shell Outpost Archive Centre, the non-profit EAC foundation in its present incarnation was formed in 2008. It is overseen by a Board of Directors which includes the historian Dr. Marijke Huisman of Erasmus University's Centre for Historical Culture. The EAC is led by Director Elske van Holk and run with the aid of an in-house archivist, two other staff members and some very dedicated volunteers.
The ambitious mission of the Archive is to collect, catalogue, preserve, promote and make accessible a collection of primary source materials that document the social history of expatriate life.
Why preserve the memories, experiences, words, photographs and dreams of people of all nationalities and employment backgrounds inclined to venture throughout the world? Publicity Director Donna Worrall points to the underlying reason for the Expatriate Archive Centre: to address a shared sense of rootlessness.
"So often, people who lived in other countries temporarily, whether for one year or many, sometimes felt rootless, just passing through. As if they were never there," she offers as we view expatriate photographs taken one hundred years ago. "Imagine that you put your hand in a bowl of water. The movement of the water - splashes, ripples, droplets - are the effect you have on a place. Then it's time to pack up and go. You take your hand out of the bowl; what's left of you? Nothing. It's as if you were never there. That's how people feel."
The Centre helps to document and tell the stories of expatriates by collecting, cataloguing and preserving for further research the materials contributors retained of the places they lived. Since it is not a museum, they cannot accept artefacts, but do welcome higher quality archive materials accompanied with photos or other documentation from the early days of the expat experience.
"When you're in new surroundings, you tend to save more," explains administrator Catherine Swindles. "You're not jaded and the novelty hasn't worn off. Think of the documentation that has passed your hands: plane ticket, household contents list, customs forms, rental agreements, post cards, magazines, museum brochures, theatre tickets, a playbill, speeding tickets, menus from a special restaurant, personal invitations to events of personal importance."
Additionally the EAC accepts diaries, journals, letters, memoirs, oral histories, film and DVDs. They are even training some volunteers to search a new source of potential material: today's global bloggers. It is common now for people to blog about their thoughts and feelings when new to a country and becoming accustomed to a society's cultural, historical, political, economic and religious structures. Many also address the challenges inherent in repatriation.
The EAC even arranges free packing and transportation of donations anywhere in the world, and if necessary can provide the contributors a digital copy of their images. Contributions are stored in a special temperature - and humidity - controlled environment within acid-free folders.
"What we do is unique. It's where the expat voice is archived and validated," Director van Holk shares. "We contain the collective expat memory. Our aim is to become the first stop in the research process of these issues. There's nowhere else in the world like it."
The Expatriate Archive Centre is open Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday 10.30am - 3pm or by appointment:
› Tel: +31 (0)70 427 2014
› Email: welcome[at]xpatarchive[dot]com.
An Open Day will be held on June 9.
Linda A. Janssen is a writer and American living in The Hague. She writes in a number of genre, and at her blog Adventures in Expat Land.
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