ver the last few decades, the voc archives around the world have gained growing recognition from governments, non-governmental organizations (NGO's), Archives services and top research institutions as a vital historical source. Different institutions initiated projects which in the end were merged into one programme called TANAP.


A project proposal titled Towards a New Age of Partnership; a Dutch/Asian/South-African programme of cooperation based on a mutual past, was jointly developed in 1997 and 1998 by the National Archives of the Netherlands, known as the Nationaal Archief van Nederland (ARA) and the Research School for Asian, African and Amerindian Studies CNWS of Leiden University.

The aims of this first TANAP initiative were:

  • scholarships for graduate students from ten Asian countries and South Africa;
  • digital access and linking of the voc archives in Asia, South Africa and the Netherlands;
  • training and educational programmes in Asia;
  • exchanging knowledge by way of workshops and an international conference in 2002.


imultaneously the National Archives of Indonesia (ANRI) and the Dutch National Archives of the Netherlands (ARA) initiated a project concerning the preservation, accessibility and linking of the related archives in both countries. Later on other countries with voc archives would be invited to join the project.

Memory of the World

oncurrently the National Archives of the Netherlands and the Dutch National Commission for UNESCO took the initiative to start an archival project within the framework of the Memory of the World programme. The aim was a joint endeavour by the countries controlling the voc archives to reach an integrated approach to preserving, restoring, and increasing the accessibility of the voc archives.

UNESCO's Memory of the World programme aims:

".to preserve the endangered memory of humanity recorded,(...) while ensuring the widest possible access (...) for researchers and the general public. Thanks to the newest technologies, originals can be restored, preserved in the best possible conditions and their digital copies disseminated (...)".

Collections of universal interest can be nominated for registration in the prestigious International Memory of the World Register.

A draft resolution was submitted by the Netherlands during UNESCO's 29th General Conference in 1997. The intention of the resolution was to request such an integrated approach.

Memory of the world. Programme Manager
Mr Abdelaziz Abid addresses the TANAP conference in The Hague in 1998.
(click image to enlarge)

The initiative received broad support from a large number of countries, including Indonesia and Sri Lanka, as well as from the secretariat of UNESCO's Memory of the World programme. The acceptance of the draft resolution during the General Conference meant that the initiative was included in UNESCO's programme for 1998-1999 and received a measure of financial support for the further development of these plans.


At the express wish of the Dutch authorities, all initiatives were merged because, on the one hand, they overlapped, and on the other hand, the patronage of UNESCO was considered indispensable for such a long-running, complex, and ambitious project not without political sensitivity. As a hybrid organization in which governments as well as professionals cooperate, UNESCO can contribute to the success of the enterprise as a result of the depoliticized character of the organization and by mobilizing international expertise via UNESCO networks. With respect to the latter, the cooperation of the International Council on Archives, the ICA, is considered to be of crucial importance.

International conference

The initial impetus to merge the initiatives was the international TANAP conference, which took place in The Hague and Leiden in December 1998. The aim of the conference was to test the feasibility of the ideas developed and to discuss the outcome of a survey done in preparation of the conference. Archivists and historians, several dignitaries from the intended partner countries, and representatives of UNESCO and the ICA discussed the objectives of the project in The Hague and in Leiden.

The result of the conference was that the enthusiasm with which the idea was originally received blossomed into actual commitment to the TANAP project and a willingness to actively participate as equals. To substantiate this, the various groups of participants signed a declaration (acting in a personal capacity and not as official representatives of their institutions or countries) in which they committed themselves to advance the realization of the project.

Participants of the TANAP congress in 1998
(click image to enlarge)

Fact finding mission

As a result of the TANAP conference in 1998 specialists of the National Archives of the Netherlands (ARA) visited the intended partners which keep archival material of the voc in May and June 1999. The intention of this fact finding mission was to gather information regarding the physical state, the accessibility, and the composition of the voc archives all over the world. Moreover this mission was intended to exchange views with the managers of the archival institutions concerning the aims and prospects of the TANAP programme and the requirements and possibilities for cooperation. The consulted Archives are:

  • National Archives of Indonesia (Jakarta)
  • National Archives of Sri Lanka (Colombo)
  • Tamil Nadu Archives (Chennai, India)
  • Cape Town Archives Repository (South Africa)
  • National Archives of the Netherlands (The Hague, the Netherlands)

Take off

In January 2000 the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, together with the Netherlands Institution for Scientific Research (NWO) granted the required subsidy to start with the TANAP programme. TANAP was ready for take off.

The TANAP website ( keeps everybody informed about the progress of the programme. Moreover the TANAP website is a guide with links and email addresses to direct questions and remarks straight to the institute or person involved.

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