Destruction and deterioration

A large portion of the voc 's archives have disappeared forever over the centuries as a result of bad circumstances for preservation (climate, mould, vermin), acts of war (the French occupation of the Netherlands, the annexation of voc establishments by England), or a simple lack of interest because the informative value of these archives was not recognized in the 19th century. For example, in 1821 10,000 volumes and in 1832 50,000 volumes of voc archival material were destroyed to save storage costs.

What still remains of the voc archives (about four kilometres of paper) is currently kept in the National Archives of Indonesia (Jakarta), the Tamil Nadu Archives (Chennai, previously Madras, in India), the National Archives of Sri Lanka (Colombo), the Cape Town Archives Repository (South Africa), and the Dutch National Archives of the Netherlands (The Hague). voc documents are also to be found in the United Kingdom in the India Office (London) and in the National Library of France (Paris, mainly maps and drawings). But even the survival of the remaining archives is seriously threatened by a lack of resources for providing proper storage conditions, and by wear and tear resulting from the frequent consultation of the documents.

Example of damage by moisture and mould forming in voc archives in Jakarta (click to enlarge image)


Physical preservation

Prior to making the archives accessible and available, objects that cannot be handled without being damaged in such a way that information is lost, must be physically attended to. For example, there are pages that are torn or stuck together. Estimates of the scale of the activities are based on the results of the UPAA analysis during the fact-finding mission. Every individual voc object must also have a unique number, name, and indication of period before it can be identified.

  • In Jakarta the latter is not the case. As a solution, in Jakarta each individual object will have to be numbered and placed in boxes. Simultaniously with the numbering and assessment of damages, the characteristics (title, year, etc.) of the objects can be noted. These descriptions are needed for an update of the finding aid, which is about 120 years old. Many voc objects cannot be handled because of their poor physical state. Handling causes damage or leads to a loss of text. The activities concerning the improvement of the preservation and the accessibility of the voc archives in Jakarta are not part of the TANAP programme, but will be carried out within the framework of the current cooperation of ANRI and ARA concerning the XVII-XX century archives.
  • In Chennai the voc archives are in an extremely poor condition. Because of the small size (64 meter), the whole record group will be preserved and put onto microfilm.
  • In Colombo nearly two-thirds of the voc objects are in a poor state of repair. Only the voc objects that are needed for other products will receive physical treatment. This concerns about 10 per cent of the total.
  • In Cape Town the required physical treatment can be restricted to approximately one per cent of all the archival materials.
  • In The Hague the archives are still in a relatively good condition. Here too, physical treatment can also be restricted to approximately one per cent of the materials.

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Archives keeping VOC documents

Conservation Methods

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