XXVII Conference, Athens 1996 A Word From the Secretary

At the 1996 Conference, Wouter Steenhaut, of the Archief en Museum van de Socialistische Arbeidersbeweging (Ghent), was elected secretary for a five-year term. Here is his program.


It is with a certain diffidence that I take over as secretary from Jaap Kloosterman. During his two successive periods as secretary he succeeded in increasing membership, in making IALHI the safety net for numerous institutions in Eastern Europe, and in establishing a Museums working group within IALHI. In achieving this, the bonds of friendship, so typical for IALHI, have not been lost. On the contrary, because of the intensified work our mutual dependence regarding our field was even more emphasized, and the bonds of friendship were drawn tighter. It is, after all, obvious that labour history and its working problems do not stop at national borders. And IALHI remains first of all an international forum for historians and institutes which apply themselves to labour history.

The traditional bonds of friendship and our common study field are the perfect basis for the set up of collective projects. You might have noticed that during the last months severeal governments, on a national as well as an international base, are paying more attention to (interdisciplinary) scholarly research in the humanities, whether or not in relation to, or by means of, new technologies. IALHI is the appropriate instrument by or through which each institution - big or small - can be involved in joint projects, which can be presented to national or supranational governments.

The solidarity of the members guarantees that smaller institutions, which are financially and technically less developed, can be helped by the bigger, more expanded sister institutions. After all, for thinking up the projects and formulating the problems, one has to be able to have at one's disposal competent staff or the means to give certain aspects of a project to competent and specialized firms so they can work it out.

In the past it was almost a matter of course - and I am not talking about IALHI - that only the big and rich institutes, which disposed of extensive means, were assigned projects to. The smaller institutes, which urgently needed the additional subsidies as well for their scientific and technical as for their structural development, were left in the cold mostly. Therefore I suggest that the IALHI members would cooperate more in presenting projects, for example to the European Commission. For example, the National Museum of Labour History, the Työväen Keskusmuseoyhdistis (Tampere) and the AMSAB (Ghent) have collectively presented a banner project to the European Commission. The project, however, was not selected for lack of financial means and given the large amount of presented projects. Yet we cannot let this first setback discourage us, but it should, on the contrary, urge us to conceive new scientific initiatives and structures in order to increase our chance of success.

The project "Fifty Years International Confederation of Free Trade Unions" provided IALHI with a success. Upon the request of IALHI, the IISH and AMSAB coordinate a scientioofic study on this subject, which has to lead to a publication and a colloquium in 1999-2000.

In this field it is up to IALHI to serve as a basis for the creation and coordination of projects and initiatives, and to be an intermediary of the badly needed information on the subject. Alongside the reporting in the yearly IALHI Newsletter the secretariat will acquaint its members with it and keep them informed by way of circulars. Some of these projects stipulate as a condition, within the scope of the aid to Eastern Europe and Third World countries, the participation of one of these countries. This is one of the reasons why the IALHI should canvass new members in these countries. At a meeting of the International Council on Archives (ICA) I noticed that many institutes in these countries could be potential members of IALHI. The travel fund of IALHI, which is fed sympathetically by its members each year, should go in the first place to these countries. This is a possibility to break even more the Westeuropean character of IALHI and to expand our international working. The coming XXVIII Annual Conference, held from September 1st until September 4th in Washington, is another step in the right direction. This international expansion towards the Third World countries, Eastern Europe and non-European countries is also a scientific necesiity for our historical study of our own labour movement, which in the course of its evolution has often been influenced by factors which occurred in foreign labour movements.

We shoudl also come to an interaction regarding another area. The study of the labour movement merely based on its sources, is narrow, limited and biased. The sources of the opponent - the patron, the government - should also be involved in the study. Our colleagues of the business archives (in the bosom of ICA) contend in their sector regarding the prospecting, acquisition and processing of the data, with about the same problems as we do. A joint conference of the IALHI and ICA/SBL concerning that, as Jaap Kloosterman proposed in his speech at the XXVII IALHI Conference 1996 in Athens, is also one of our priorities.

In that same speech Jaap announced that the IISH was willing to keep on publishing the IALHI Newsletter at its expense. Through this friendly gesture the work of the IALHI secretariat was made easier, financially and materially.

In spite of this financial contribution of IISH and the foreseen financial aid of my institute we will still have to look for more means. The financial basis of the IALHI, consisting completely of membership fees, is too weak. Although we have already indicated in the past the European way and explored it sporadically, in my opinion we will have to formally adjust our structure if we want to be successful at all.

The IALHI, being an international organziation, is not the appropriate instrument to receive European subsidies. We have to examine the possibility of establishing European sister organizations. However, the European Association of Labour History Institutions has to remain inextricably bound up with IALHI. The relation of EALHI to IALHI can be compared with the working and the relation between the Museum working group and the IALHI. The informal character of this group within IALHI has already paid rich rewards with regard to lending out exhibitions and establishing joint projects such as the Banner project for the European Commission. These matters can be discussed extensively during the coming IALHI Conference in Washington. For the first time in its existence IALHI has organized its conference beyond the European borders. If only because of this, the XXVIII conference should be a success.

Wouter Steenhaut, Secretary-General