A few years ago, I suggested that students pool together their documents   in order to create a virtual archive–a digital replica of archives in other countries.  At the time I was concerned for the cost of travel with the declining prestige of some branches of history as well as the declining value of the dollar.  The global economy would be enough to make such a project more interesting.  However, the recent collapse of the Historische Archive der Stadt Köln (HAStK) makes such an effort imperative in this one case.  Those of us who have done research in Cologne know that is a unique resource.  Many of us have been able to take images away from the archive–it was even facilitated by the nice, dark back room with the mount and perfectly attuned lighting.  These images should be identified, collected, digitized (if necessary) and offered on line.  The contents of the archive could made quickly available to other scholars, perhaps before German archivists can recover or replicate HAStK’s contents.

What should be done, roughly in this order:

  • American scholars who have worked at HAStK should identify themselves (or should be contacted).
  • Monographs and articles that are founded on research at HAStK should be cataloged.
  • Scholars should produce lists of their personal holdings of images (digital, photographic, photocopied) by Bestand.
  • A list of these holdings should be made available along with contact addresses.
  • Copies of images should be assembled and digitized, if necessary.
  • A site should be established to present these material publically.

We are often jealous of our research, as we often reach into our own pockets to fund it (at least in part).  I think that German history would be set back if HAStK remains innaccessible.