The Bumpy Road to Transparency:  Access and Secrecy in 19th-Century Records Management in the Dutch East Indies.

The postmodern and anthropological gaze that has settled on the archives is appealing to those who are captivated by elements of power and social significance of archives. But we should not forget to study records-management practices in past societies. A historical perspective may contribute to a better understanding of current challenges in recordkeeping practices. Open access, freedom of information and the right to know versus secrecy, privacy and the right to be forgotten: these conflicting issues play an important role in our present-day information society. In my paper I want to discuss the laborious process of giving access to government information and government records in the 19th-century Dutch colonial administration. In 1854, a royal decree was issued, which severely limited the free use of government information. Quoting information from government documents without explicit prior permission by the government was regarded as a crime. This decree led to great indignation among scholars and journalists and even in official circles the decree caused commotion. At the same time the government took the initiative to publish information from the colonial records. In the words of the minister of colonies, disclosure of information from these colonial records should only be limited if the content of the records was not suitable for publication or for the sake of national security. The date of the record shouldn’t play any role in the assessment. Questions I will address are: what were the arguments for these two seemingly opposite lines of reasoning? How did the government reconcile these two principles of access and secrecy? What were the effects on records management practices in governmental offices? How was the process of active publication of government records organized? Who were involved in this process?

Charles Jeurgens studied history and archivistics and did a PhD in history of planning. He worked as editor of archival sources of the Batavian-French period in the Institute of Netherlands History in The Hague and he was municipal archivist of Schiedam (1994-1999) and Dordrecht (1999-2009).  In 2004 he was appointed as professor of archivistics at Leiden University and since 2009 he held several positions in the Dutch National Archives.