The Vera and Donald Blinken Open Society Archives (OSA) at Central European University (CEU) is a complex archival institution. OSA is both a repository of important collections, primarily related to the history of the Cold War and grave international human rights violations, and a laboratory of archival experiments on new ways of assessing, contextualizing, presenting, and making use of archival documents.
OSA is a research institute dealing with archival, taxonomical, informational and historical problems related to its holdings, and also reflecting on the role, obligations, and limits (as well as on overcoming these) of repositories that preserve important historical sources. As an archival institution, OSA seeks to work in a self-reflective way, problematizing its existence, its tasks, its practices. OSA serves reasearchers coming to work in the archives, and at the same time works together with them, drawing upon their experience to assess and evaluate its holdings and practices. Together with the International Visegrad Fund, OSA provides research fellowships to scholars who are encouraged to digitize, tag, comment, and make publicly available the documents they find in our holdings in the Parallel Archive. We develop tools to help all those interested in our collections to digitize the documents, to organize, tag, and—if they wish—share them; to build virtual collections, and import primary documents from other sources.
OSA, its holdings, and the research based on our collections, are the basis of an expanding teaching program. OSA receives students from the CEU and institutions around the globe, who come here to study the role and use of archival evidence, the changing functions of the archives, how to build trust in new types of archival institutions, and the special methodological problems of studying the sources of the fantasies on which the Cold War was constructed. Our professional archival and research work is integrated with complex public programs, some of which we also archive, and our Galeria Centralis serves as the focal point of exhibitions, performances, installations, film screenings, lectures, and seminars.
OSA is an archive of the copy, meaning that we are primarily interested in the content, rather than the materiality of our documents; we actively seek out non-traditional documents—material previously marginalized based on its content, social origin, or form. OSA is also “an archive of last resort,” helping important organizations and institutions whose holdings are in danger for organizational, ideological or political reasons, to find a secure and professional archive for their endangered documents. Through all of these endeavors, OSA advocates open access, equal rights to information, the ethical use of private data, open formats and open standards, and broad access to cultural heritage; and fight globally for the opening of archival collections. OSA is one of the original signatories of the Budapest Open Access Initiative.
One of OSA's aims is to broaden access to primary sources by overcoming technical, legal, geographic, and socio-cultural barriers. The Open Access Movement has made a valuable contribution by opening up scholarly sources to a wider audience. Nevertheless, as it stands, the concept of open access is still mostly limited to scholarly publications, and excludes archives and primary source material. This has negative implications for the shape of historiography and humanities scholarship. Our goal is to extend the concept of open access to include archival holdings. This is one of the reasons we have developed a strategy which includes large-scale digitization, multilingual description, and the implementation of open-source solutions and open standards. The use of current international benchmarks, and our collaboration in large-scale international digitization programs, serve to secure our status as a trusted digital repository.
Our traditional archival holdings comprise approximately 7,500 linear meters of records. Based on their provenance as well as their focus, OSA holdings are divided into three main groups.
Communism, the Cold War, and their Afterlife: Fonds include the extensive collection of the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) Research Institute, background and reference material accumulated over 45 years of activity. The collection is an essential source on the post-war political, social, and economic history of the region. We also hold the personal papers of a range of political, cultural, and counter-culture figures from the Cold War era to the present, and several series of Soviet, Polish and Hungarian underground literature which constitute a major international collection of samizdat materials.
Human Rights: Includes fonds created by non-governmental and supra-governmental organizations, as well as individuals active in post-war Central and Eastern Europe documenting human rights violations and war crimes. Most important among these fonds are the UN Expert Commission on Investigating War Crimes in the Former Yugoslavia, the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF), Index on Censorship, as well as the Physicians for Human Rights (PHR).
Open Society Foundations Network and the CEU: As the official archives of the Open Society Foundations network and the CEU, OSA is responsible for the long-term preservation of and access to network records. We also supply records management services to network entities and offices, and it is in this capacity that in 2005 we launched a digital repository called the Soros Network Archival Portal (SNAP).
The region's recent history and human rights record and the Open Society Foundations' specific mission are strongly interconnected, and thus the above categories serve only as a starting point for research. To assist researchers in making better use of our holdings, OSA has established a series of Reference Information Papers (RIP) on selected topics.
Blinken OSA's rapidly-growing audiovisual collection comprises both archival holdings and materials from our film library. As an audiovisual research center, we are actively collecting with an intent to establish a non-circulating video library comprising: regional propaganda; historical, feature and documentary films; regional TV news programs; historical home movies; and amateur footage—from the interwar period up to the present. Except in the case of some very important collections, OSA does not have the right to make most of the films in its care publicly available. These films and images can be used for research, exhibition, and educational purposes, and provide valuable sources for scholars—even when the images cannot be reproduced for copyright restrictions.
OSA Library houses a non-circulating reference library of books—including many books long-discarded by most other libraries, but which remain important sources for the study of post-World War II history—as well as a collection of more than 6,500 dailies and journals published from the 1950s onwards in over 40 languages. It also offers special publications from the region: numerous titles of informal and regional press and ephemera.
OSA Archivum Guides
- OSA brochure: December, 2009, English PDF / Hungarian PDF
- OSA brochure: May, 2006, English PDF / Hungarian PDF
- Open Society Archives: PDF
Edited by Leszek Pudlowski, Iván Székely. Open Society Archives at Central European University, 1999, 206 pp.
Written by staff archivists, this White Book tells the story of OSA, its holdings and their pre-history, offering insights into our most interesting materials, combined with practical information on research possibilities and our public programs.