Dear Gérard LONGUET, Minister of Defence and Veterans Affairs, Dear Colette DESPREZ, Dear Mrs. Longuet, Dear Mrs. LONGUET, Dear Colette DESPREZ, Dear Mr. Bertrand PANCHER, Dear Jean-Louis DUMONT, Mr President of the General Council and Senator of the Meuse, dear Christian NAMY, Mr Senator of the Meuse, dear Claude LEONARD, Madam Mayor of Bar Le Duc, dear Nelly JAQUET, Madam General Councillor of Bar Le Duc, Dear Diana ANDRE, Dear Deputy Regional Director of Cultural Affairs of Lorraine, Dear Antoine BOLZINGER, Dear Acting Director of Archives, Dear Isabelle HOMER, Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Friends,
Protecting the archives is a matter as old as the state - that of a written heritage, of the trace to be preserved, of the gates of entry to our past. Often marked by fires and periodic transfers, this slow and singular history is that of the migration of our collective memory, from the parish registers, since the Revolution, from convents to houses, to the buildings that today are dedicated to him. A beautiful story, hidden behind the technicality of linear kilometers, a story built by generations of archivists who were the actors.
A new building, modern, fully meeting the conservation requirements, will serve as a showcase for the historical memory of the department of the Meuse, a department with such a dense history and so rich in men and talents - You also celebrated one of the most important figures a few days ago, Mr Minister, by commemorating the great personality of President Raymond Poincaré. I am all the more pleased to be with you today as this event allows me to reaffirm the importance I bring to the network of departmental archives services in France, This is the backbone of our Archives administration, which Hervé Lemoine leads to me. With the National Archives, the departmental archives and the communal archives, France has one of the most dense and active territorial networks, and I am particularly aware of the shared responsibility of the State and the communities to make it live and animate. That is why I wanted to raise the State budgets for these services in a very significant way. It is also one of the reasons I wanted to be with you this afternoon to participate in this inauguration.
Allow me, Mr President, to congratulate you on this exemplary achievement which endows the Meuse Department with first-rate cultural equipment. The State has supported it with 30% of its initial cost, or just over 3 million euros. This achievement is exemplary in many ways. Culturally, of course, but also technically.
The old lands of history can sometimes play tricks on us. It was necessary to overcome the natural obstacles related to the nature of the soil, water infiltration, the presence of underground caves.
But it is sometimes good to «consider small incidents only as victories that must always be sacrificed to great affairs» - according to this «maxim if necessary to the princes» which the Cardinal de Retz repeats in his Memoirs, that he had written in his Meuse retreat. And these obstacles have been overcome, Mr President, thanks to the will and competence of your services. You have thus made possible the completion of this beautiful building designed by the architectural agency Denu and Paradon with Gérard Buffière and Richard Roussel.
Without going into the details of the building’s design, I want to highlight its innovative dimension. Designed with the aim of ensuring optimal insulation of archives stores and limiting energy expenditure, it happily combines technique and aesthetics, an alliance to which, as minister also in charge of architecture, I am obviously sensitive. It testifies, once again, to the interest that communities bring to the preservation of departmental archives, by offering an effective working instrument, capable of accommodating the future deposits of archives for at least thirty years; it provides researchers with comfortable workspaces, and all citizens with a new “common home”, the home of their memory, the home of a shared history.
I mentioned art and technique. Let’s talk about the cultural aspect. In addition to the sixty-six places provided in the reading room for researchers, a conference room has been set up to accommodate more than 150 listeners. The departmental archives of the Meuse thus have all the desirable means to ensure the promotion of the archives which they ensure the conservation.
I particularly want to emphasize this point, which is very important to me. The role of archives is, of course, first of all to ensure the preservation of the sources of history through the collection of records presenting, after rigorous selection, long-term administrative and historical interest; to process and classify these documents according to standards defined at national level, in order to promote guidance under conditions of perfect equality for all researchers; to ensure their preservation in the best material conditions, and facilitate communication to researchers. But the vocation of archives services is also the enhancement of a living memory. This is the whole purpose of this investment, linked to the preservation of this memory, still today of paper, and tomorrow electronic.
This is an opportunity for me to reflect on the tremendous revolution that has taken place in the archives over the past decades. Archives, a somewhat outdated and unflattering term, have been opened to an increasing variety of audiences: historical associations, academics, genealogists and all citizens curious about their memory. Much has already been done in this field at the Meuse County Archives; I am thinking in particular of the grants granted by the General Council to university researchers to encourage work on archives. The modern building that we are inaugurating is precisely intended to receive these new categories of readers and visitors. With such equipment, the head of the archives of the Meuse - I understand that he will take up his duties in a few weeks - will thus have a working instrument that will allow him to make the archives spread throughout the department and beyond. He will also be able to fit into the cultural policy of the department, taking every opportunity to open the doors of his service, to focus on making better known the resources of the archives, and also to irrigate the department of the Meuse.
New information technologies clearly have a key role to play in this development. The work of dissemination pursued today by the communities has already made it possible to put online funds accessible to all, with an unprecedented qualitative leap for the conditions of research, and a remarkable enhancement of the richness of our written heritage. Participation in national and European portals, the development of the recently opened website, which I already know is very popular, the creation of cooperative indexes with the participation of volunteers, are all projects being developed by the archives services.
The departmental archives, since their creation under the French Revolution, have gradually evolved and their functions have diversified. One that I would like to emphasize is support for the municipalities. It is up to the departmental archivist to follow and encourage the efforts of elected officials to safeguard the memory of their communes, to advise them. It must also take in, sometimes, the old archives of these communes when it is difficult, locally, to ensure their preservation. This is an exhilarating task: to save the remains of the written memory of our communes, these precious parish and civil status registers that deliver the genealogy of our ancestors, but also the registers of municipal deliberations that often form the fabric of the history of our public space. This heritage must be able to contribute to the animation of rural territories, and you know that I have made it one of the priorities of my policy. The modalities of this development are multiple: reading of archives, help in the creation of pages on the sites of town halls, travelling exhibitions, support to local historical associations, etc. It is also the role of the departmental archives to help initiatives in this direction, to respond favorably to the requests of associations, in short to animate the territories.
And then, still in the field of history, the great commemoration of the first world conflict to which the Ministry of Culture is directly associated is being prepared. On this file as on so many others, the department of the Meuse, so marked by history, will be, I know, present with us and us with him.