We often think of archives as illegible scribbles and scrawls, difficult to read and accessible only to the initiated. However, they are much more than that. Invaluable sources for research, above all else they bear witness to activities, organisations, historic facts and personalities.
What are archives?
Archives are clearly defined in book II of the Code du Patrimoine. They are documents produced or received through an individual’s, or public or private organisation’s, activity, whatever their date, medium, form or place of conservation.
This means that archive documents may or may not be old and they may be made from different materials, such as paper, glass or plastic. Archives may be in the form of digital data, photographs, videos, maps, plans, audio recordings, reports or letters, for example.
The importance of the producer
In the context of an activity, the documents are produced by individuals or organisations, who are considered the archive producers. Knowing the identity of the producer helps to understand the context in which the documents were created, which in turn allows for a detailed analysis of the documents and reconstruction of the facts.
Access to archives
French law considers that public archives, i.e. documents produced by a public organisation or in the context of a public service mission, are accessible to any person requesting to see them.
However, a delay can be imposed if the information contained in the documents undermines, among other things, public safety or security, privacy of individuals or industrial and commercial secrecy.