National Archives: where national and historical records are kept
Under the theme “Archives: Governance, Memory and Heritage” the 70th anniversary International Archives Day, which falls on on 9 June, will be marked with a two-week long activity, including displaying national heritage records in the national archives in Yangon and Nay Pyi Taw from 1 to 14 June.
An interview was conducted with National Archives Department Director General U San Myint to inform the public about the National Archives Department.
Q. What are the duties and responsibilities of the National Archives Department under the Ministry of Planning and Finance?
A. The annual aims and plans are established yearly to fulfill the duties and responsibilities of the National Archives Department.
The three main duties are collecting records, maintaining the records using technology, and conducting supporting projects for the public to use and refer to the records and archives. Regarding the collections, records are collected from union ministries, government departments and state and region government departments. In maintaining records, conventional records, such as paper records, are kept in a temperature and humidity controlled environment. Records that are brittle and fragile are disinfected, acidity is removed and tissue is used to bind them in an archival technique. Before computer systems, micro films were used, though now they are being digitalized.
Departments, organisations, students, teachers and researchers are permitted to view the archives and make copies, according to the law, as a service to the public. Starting in 1999, the holding list in the archive was available to be searched using a database.
Q. What are stored in the archives?
A. Administration and governance records of successive governments, policies that were enacted, works to implement the policies, important meeting minutes, regulations, laws, rules, projects, programmes, numerical records and tables are stored. Regarding the word successive, records from the monarchy period to present day Republic of the Union of Myanmar are maintained.
For the monarchy period, governance records of the last two kings of the Konbaung dynasty are kept. Especially the kings’ correspondence with lower Myanmar, which had become a colony, and British Administration records are stored.
Colonial era records, states and divisions Gazetteer, Civil List, Acts, Laws, Codes, Rules and procedures are also kept. Records during the occupation of Japan, such as BDA, BIA organization (setup), pre-independence period records like Panlong (agreement), Aung San-Attlee (agreement), Nu-Attlee (agreement), post-independence parliament
democracy era records, Revolutionary Council era records, Myanma (Burma) Socialist Programme Party era records, State Law and Order Restoration Council era records, State Peace and Development Council era records to the present Republic of the Union of Myanmar records are kept.
Q. How important is the Archive for the State and the people, and why?
A. A state need to have a defined boundary, sovereignty, leader, citizens, national emblem, flag, language and literature. Colonial era records kept in the Archives are more than 200 years old, and without the Archives such records could not be found and would be lost forever. These are the history of the state, as well as being a (cultural) heritage. It is a reference for future generations. For example, the first Hluttaw (parliament) existed during the parliament democracy era. Records of that Hluttaw were referred to by the present Hluttaw. When the 2018 Constitution was prepared, reference was made to the 1947 Constitution and 1974 Constitution, which were kept in the Archives. Reference couldn’t be made without the records kept in the Archives. Only when such references are made, can a proper administrative and governance system be established. This is beneficial for the people.
Q. How is the National Archives Department maintaining the records? What sort of international cooperation has been obtained?
A. The National Archives Department conducts its work according to the ICA and SARBIC work process and systems. Records obtained are preserved and protected from natural dangers using various technologies and methods. Conventional paper records are kept in an environment where temperature and humidity are controlled. Copies are made and kept separately in the Yangon (branch) Archives and Nay Pyi Taw (head office) Archives.
In 1982, ten years after the establishment of the Archives, UNDP provided technical and material support under the Strengthening of the National Archives program. Personnel from the National Archives were sent to archives experts in western countries to learn about the management of records and archives, as well as to study the National Archives of other countries. Cooperation with ICA and SARBICA was made for the Archives operation to be brought in line with international Archives. For example, in the digital age the issue of new software and hardware obsolescence are always encountered, and how digital preservation is conducted internationally needs to be kept in view, studied and imitated or improved.
Q. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the Archives?
A. The strength is in having a record of the country that can be termed a national treasure. The weakness is the Archive being known to only a few people. The result is in it being difficult in obtaining records. Another weakness is the knowledge gap. None of our staff has a degree in Archives. There is a need to conduct capacity development of the staff.
By Hmwe Kyu Zin (MNA)
Photo : Kyaw Ye Swe