Madam President, dear Georgette Elgey, Director General of Heritage, dear Philippe Bélaval, Director in charge of the Archives of France, dear Hervé Lemoine, Director, dear Agnès Magnien, Members of the Board,
Visitors and readers confronted with a collection of archives often experienced what Jules Michelet felt when he enthusiastically entered what he called the “galvanic dance of archives”. : the feeling of being in contact with a world woven of intersecting existences, communicating, attesting in chorus to a lived history. Yes, the archive says and reveals a world, there is here a vital impulse in the age of virtual memory and dematerialization, which explains, among many other reasons, my presence at each of the Superior Councils of the archives since my arrival on rue de Valois.
Today the meeting of the Higher Council of Archives is about the scientific, cultural and educational project - the PSCE - of the National Archives, whose gestation and writing have been so competently and selflessly taken up by the director Agnès Magnien. The date was postponed because I absolutely wanted to be present and participate in your discussions.
Once again, I would like to express my personal interest in archives – whatever their nature: written or photographic, audiovisual or digital – for public policies conducted by our institutions. There is one of the pillars of the Directorate-General for Heritage, there is a central mission of conservation and transmission placed at the service of a certain idea of the rule of law, of culture, and indeed of the Republic. For the peoples subjected to the yoke of obscurantism and personal power, subjected in the twentieth century to the criminal ideologies of the "new man" have no access to the archives, to these various documents that allow the present to inscribe the individual in a filiation, a tradition, a legacy, in other words to make it a citizen. For me, investing in archives is also a way to invest in the future. That is why I have made arbitrations to support this ambitious policy.
I had the opportunity very recently to meet the staff of the archives working in the territories, especially during my visits to the Archives de l'Outre mer in Aix-en-Provence, in the West Indies, but also more recently to the Archives du monde du travail in Roubaix, in the Departmental Archives of the Meuse, «memory department» of which I inaugurated the new building. Rarely will a minister have spent so much time in the shelving and compactus, not to mention the yards! We will come back to this. I was able to appreciate, on these various occasions, the richness of our collections and the commitment of staff, at all levels, in favour of openness to the public and a better shared memory.
I am fully aware that the National Archives project which has just been presented is also a decisive project for the future of all archives services, for the network of curators and users of archives, for all the actors in what can be called the «planet archives».
A few months before the start of the installation in Pierrefitte-sur-Seine, we are all living in an exceptional situation: exceptional by the very nature of the decision that was taken at the highest level of the State, to endow our country with a new centre for the National Archives, exceptional for the ambition of the scientific project, for the technological and digital tools built on this occasion, exceptional for the level of investment of the State on this site, which will be the site of the scientific and administrative steering of the National Archives and will keep the holdings after 1790. In total, nearly 244 million euros are invested, that is the cost of building construction (194 million euros) and the modernization projects that accompany it: new information system, relocation of funds and collections, digitization project allowing remote consultation. A total of 66,000 square metres of useful space, 320 linear kilometres of archival stores, will house the archives of the central government for the next 30 years. The 5,400 m2 of public spaces will allow readers and the public to receive exhibitions, conferences and school audiences, which will benefit from the expertise, scientific outreach and mediation work of the National Archives. Adjustments have yet to be made between the cultural enhancement missions of the Paris site and the projects that will be developed in Pierrefitte, particularly with regard to school students and audiences from diverse backgrounds; Nevertheless, this program sets a course and maintains the principle of three full-practice sites, while specifying the specificities and fields of intervention of each. It also reflects a strong concern for the reception of researchers and the most diverse public. The remarkable success of the Fichés? This is a good reflection of the demand that must be yours, and which I share, for cultural development.
The National Archives will therefore be three pillars in Ile de France, three sites serving a common establishment project, a project culture included in the Scientific and Cultural Programme (PSCE) that is presented to you.
I do not want to forget the ambitious employment policy to meet the challenge of digitisation, partnerships and the inclusion of the Archives in social demand. With a target of 515 at the opening, the National Archives is exempt from the rule of non-replacement of one official out of two retiring. This is a strong signal, an important commitment in the general context of public employment. It is above all a considerable effort compared to the current situation. I would like to recall that at the beginning of the great adventure of Pierrefitte-sur-Seine, the Service à Compétence Nationale des Archives nationales (SCN) had only 370 staff. I am aware that this effort in favour of recruitment must be continued, in accordance with the commitments made.
For the National Archives, this major real estate project was an opportunity to build a new organization that our joint organizations will soon debate, to develop new scientific partnerships, including academic and educational - to further consolidate their collection and ranking missions. I am pleased that among the audiences mentioned, special attention is paid to young people, to schoolchildren – who already represent 50% of the public of the educational service in 2010 – to middle school students, high school students, but also students. In this regard, the Pierrefitte site allows the opening of new partnerships because of the proximity of high-level academic and research institutions: the neighbouring University of Paris VIII, which will benefit from a Master’s degree in autumn 2012 (Bac+5 level) training in archives, which will be open to continuing training. I don’t want to forget the University of Paris XIII, but also the Laboratoire d'excellence (Labex) Arts et Médiations humaines – which federates universities, art schools, national cultural institutions (Centre Georges Pompidou, RMN-Grand Palais, Universcience, BNF) without forgetting – a few kilometres away – the Condorcet Campus, which will be established tomorrow in Aubervilliers with very high-level research institutions. As everyone can see, Pierrefitte’s project places the national archives well within the ambition of the Greater Paris of culture and knowledge; it places them well within the changing and innovative landscape of our research policies, through committed partnerships with the various Laboratories of Excellence (Labex). Partnerships with local and regional authorities will be strengthened, as will the inclusion of cultural and scientific policy in the major “memorial seasons” – like the commemorations of the centenary of the Great War in 2014, to which my ministry will be associated – and in major national events.
I would especially like to thank Georgette Elgey for her benevolent presence and her moral and intellectual authority, but also the Director General of Heritage, Philippe Bélaval and the director in charge of archives, Hervé Lemoine, for their attentive supervision and for their commitment to this overall policy for archives. But also all of you who contribute, through your presence and your commitment, to perpetuate and modernize this great institution with its collections, its expertise and its influence.
Allow me a word about the convergence, which I hope will occur, between the National Archives and the Maison de l'histoire de France. The Maison de l'histoire de France was created on January 1, 2012, as an administrative public institution (EPA) under the supervision of the Ministry of Culture and Communication. Maryvonne de Saint Pulgent, many of whom here know the great experience, administrative science and intellectual qualities that she was able to demonstrate to the Heritage Directorate, but also to the head of the History Committee of the Ministry. The project is now on track and the Scientific Steering Committee gave me yesterday the final project which has been enriched, amended, tightened on the essential principles that will be those of the House. It was sent to more than a thousand qualified personalities and was the subject of meetings and consultations throughout France to refine the recommendations.
This original public institution must now embrace the “culture of partnership”. He is called to gather around him a network of partners, in France and abroad. Within the framework of the PSCE, its ambitions, its contours, in the concern also to restore and make accessible the quadrilateral of Rohan-Soubise, historic seat of the National Archives, I am certain that the National Archives and the Maison de l'histoire de France are called to work in a convergent way, to dialogue together. I repeat, the Maison de l'histoire de France is an opportunity for the cultural and scientific projects of the Archives: it will make it possible to broaden the public, to find new grounds for their development, notably through joint digital initiatives. I am also certain that the work of collaboration between these two institutions will be built, with respect for the missions of each, and that this neighborhood within the quadrilateral will make it a space of exchange and sharing, a cultural place open to society, an attractive hub for the “factory of history” in all its complexity and diversity, from the source to the widest distribution.
As you can see, the Scientific, Cultural and Educational Programme marks an important milestone: it defines a perspective for the years to come, it draws a path, which you must appreciate and enrich through your debates and exchanges, that I know rich and committed. Choosing Pierrefitte as a centre for the National Archives means believing in everyone’s access to history in its plurality, it means betting on knowledge and knowledge for all audiences, it means making diversity an asset and a wealth. But our archival policy, I do not forget, forms a whole: it is part of a capillary network, inscribed in the territories, of which Pierrefitte must be one of the reference points. It is not conceivable for me to build the Pierrefitte site without strengthening the national network of Archives in France, without developing scientific partnerships at the national and international level. In the society of the “hyper-present” - to use the expression of François Hartog - in which we are too often immersed, in the face of the division between generations, in the face of the culture of the inter-self, proposing places offering a dive into the depth of time, places that are the mirror of diversity, of what I personally call France “country-world”, it makes sense. A France at once one and multiple, at once complex and strong of its principles and its history, open to the great wind of the village- world as to the history of singular individuals, forgotten history, these anonymous buried in the dust of the archives, but exhumed from oblivion by the patient work of researchers, historians - even those of Sunday!