Archiving at Academia Sinica

Last week I did some short-term archival research at Academia Historica in Taipei and found that the procedures for pulling records there were very different from what I was expecting. This week I migrated over to the Institute for Modern History (Jinshisuo) at Academia Sinica, and again found that waiting times for original document requests were a little longer than I expected. Here’s a brief overview of the procedure there that may be of interest to anyone planning a visit in the near future. Impatient readers may want to skip to “Pulling Documents.”

Starting Out. I’m not aware of any English-language user reviews of the Jinshisuo archives, so here’s a brief overview of the experience: When you enter the white building that houses the archives (somewhat hidden behind the Jinshisuo’s main building), you sign in at a counter on the first floor, then take the elevator to the third floor where you should put your belongings in a free locker before entering the reading room. Staff in the reading room will ask you about your research interests and have you fill out a form on which you indicate which collections you’re interested in. You also have to sign in to the reading room (yes, this will be the second time you sign in).

At clearly explained on the Jinshisuo website, their archives are divided into four collections: Diplomatic Archives (Waijiao dang’an), Economic Archives (Jingji dang’an), Personal Papers (minjian ziliao) and Maps. Make sure to indicate all of the collections you think you might possibly use, because, as I found, some of the computer work stations only access particular databases. In my case, I was originally placed at a work station that had access to the Diplomatic Archives but not the Economic Archives, and had to ask to move. When you get to a computer station, you fill out an electronic form that largely replicates the paper form you just filled, and after a few minutes the staff give you login information for the databases. You’ll need three pieces of login info: a “group” name, a username, and a password of your choosing.

Accessing digitized documents is easy, and at present the staff will let you photograph documents on the computer screen (but they don’t seem equipped to print, at least for the economic archives). They did, however, ask that I record which documents I photographed and how many photos I took.

Pulling Documents. Pulling original docs was a little more complicated and time-consuming. In fact, you should probably allow at least one full week to complete the process-so, if you start on a Monday, you can probably wrap up by Saturday. There are three major steps. First you request your docs, then you receive them and have a chance to photograph them if you wish, and finally you receive a CD or DVD containing your images. Here’s my experience:

I arrived at the Jinshisuo archives on a Monday with a list of requests in hand, since I’d browsed the index before coming. Most of the files I wanted were in the economic archives and almost none were digitized, so I submitted a request through their electronic interface. That’s when the staff told me that it would take up to three days to review my request after which I would probably receive the files I wanted. They’d let me know by email when they were ready.

I made sure to politely tell the staff that I was flying out early the next week, and they said they would take that into account. Indeed, by Tuesday I got an email saying that my documents were approved and available for reading.

When I got to the archives on Tuesday, the staff had my files ready. They invited me to photograph them with a camera provided by the archives–in fact, you must use their camera, and using your own isn’t allowed. As with photographing digitized files, they asked that I record which files I photographed and how many photos I took. They also ask that you write the index number of any given file on a small slip of paper and include it in each image you take of that file. On Tuesday I got through about half of my 17 files and I finished photographing on Wednesday.

At that point I returned the camera to the staff and filled out a form requesting either a CD or DVD containing my images. You pay for the media you choose, but it won’t exactly break the bank–the archives charge NT5 for a CD or NT10 for a DVD (that’s for the entire disc, and not per image!). Then they asked that I again wait for an email indicating that my disc was ready, which could take up to three days.

My disc was ready by Thursday afternoon, and all of my images were there, unaltered in any way. In all it took me four days to get through the 17 files that I wanted, from request to CD pickup, but this required three separate visits to the building (altogether about 8 hours of travel time in my case!).

Service at the Jinshisuo Archives was impeccable, the reading room was perfectly comfortable, and this was overall probably the best archives experience I’ve had yet. A special thanks the the staff member who, noticing that I didn’t have an umbrella on an unusually rainy February afternoon, walked me to the bus station with her umbrella after closing time.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s