Þing þjóðskjalavarða - enska

Round Table on Archives
Hotel Loftleidir
10 october 2001

I take great pleasure, on behalf of the Government of Iceland, in welcoming you this 35th Round Table Conference on Archives here in Reykjavík, the Directors General of National Archives which are members of the International Council of Archives and other participants. We are indeed pleased to see how many of you decided to come in spite of what we are witnessing on the world arena.

Historical studies and the preserving of historical records has been a preserve of the Icelandic people from the outset. It is likely that some of the first settlers knew how to write both in runic and alphabetical script. The first works written in Icelandic, that we know of for certain, were law codes written down in the beginning of the 12th century, and thirty years later the first historical account of Iceland is written, and it refers to both written and oral sources. It should then come of no surprise when I mention that the holdings of the National Archives of Iceland span more than 800 years of continuous record keeping. I am told that you have been presented with a special reproduction of the oldest original document in the National Archives as a memento of your visit to Iceland. This is the Deed to Reykjaholt Church, which lists its belongings and rights, and cannot be more recently dated than from the year 1185.

The topics of the conference are all of great interest, not least since they touch upon many vital contemporary issues. Modern society with its processes of constant change makes new and totally different demands on archives. The preservation of data which reflects contemporary times spans a much wider area than just public documents. This became clear here in Iceland in the first decade of the 20th century when the National Archives were given the additional task to collect private documents. But no one considered the question whether the archival holdings reflected the mirror image of society. Are important forces, decision-makings that affect the destinies of men and nations, beyond the pale of written sources in their widest extent? Are the historical records of social groups and companies uncared for? These vital topics which the conference addresses are certainly complex and difficult to handle, but it is necessary that they be addressed in a scientific manner.

We here in Iceland have always thought it wrong to destroy data which has historical value. Perhaps we have been more loath than many others to weed documents because we are aware of the fact that a society with clear cultural roots and national identity
such as ours, that has continuous written records dating from the 12th century onwards, can be of special interest as a sample in many fields of the social sciences, owing to the smallness of the population of this island, which yet supports a fully fledged society. I mention the social sciences here not least because medicine and genetics have a clear head start in research of this kind.

The preservation of contemporary data will involve wider reaches of society than before and the great novelty is that they all make use of the same web-related medium. Of course this has not been perfected as of yet but the quality of digitalised copying increases by the week as well as becoming easier. One can also surmise that the preservation resources are becoming safer and more durable. You are truly not lacking in tasks dear conference guests but I know you are used to tackle serious issues in a serious manner and make available all your knowledge and expertise to ensure that future generations can enjoy the cultural heritage of our times.

As I said at the outset it is a special pleasure to see so many of you here today coming from all over the world. We are all living under the shadow of the shameful attack on New York and Washington and its dramatic consequences. One cannot too strongly express condemnation of these acts of terrorism and the Government of Iceland supports the actions already taken to punish those responsible. But you are here to consider how future generations will be able to study and analyze our times and to ponder upon whether the data collected by the archives truly reflect these times and enables future scholars to reconstruct them without prejudice to social institutions, nations or social groups. Nothing puts a stop to the march of time and what it preserves. We must, however, learn from history in order not to repeat its mistakes.

I thank the International Council of Archives for convening this conference here in Iceland.

I bid you welcome to 35th CITRA and may your work here in Reykjavík be productive. I declare the conference in session.