Researching with the Open Society Archives from Vienna

From secret speeches and jammed radio messages, to accounts of political operators, the collection of the Vera and Donald Blinken Open Society Archives (OSA) at CEU offers researchers a trove of documents and media largely related to the history of the Cold War, the afterlife of communism and international human rights.

Instigating a research conversation at the top of the semester, the Director of the OSA and Professor Istvan Rév together with Senior Reference Archivist Robert Parnica addressed students on October 6 during the Department of History's seminar on the topic of "Credibility, Authenticity and Usability of Archival Documents."

In addition to discussing significant aspects surrounding the preservation of otherwise dispersed texts, the chain of custody of documents, and historical issues with respect to tampering, the seminar more generally illuminated how students and researchers can access significant parts of the OSA from a distance while studying in Vienna or remotely, which is of great value particularly during the pandemic.

To bring the Budapest-based archive to this online session, Rév appeared among the stacks during his talk. Parnica in turn directed CEU students to two key areas of the online site to access significant components of the OSA digitally. First discussed was the Digital Repository, a classical database containing collections such as the "Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Background Reports," the "Soviet Propaganda Film Collection" and the "UN Special Committee Documents," which can be accessed directly from the web. The Curated Collections were also highlighted for remote research. These collections contain materials clustered by archivists on selected topics.

For those less familiar with the archival institution, the OSA at CEU is complex in that it serves as both a repository of important collections and a laboratory for archival experiments on new ways of contextualizing, presenting and using archival documents. It is an open-access facility aiming to make materials available to users on equal terms.

The archive's original collection was accumulated by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and contains extensive documents and records from the Cold War. These remnants from the longest propaganda war in modern history were in part produced and collected in order to aid and cover a large covert operation related to the work of the Radios.

The OSA also actively collects, solicits and acquires important documents regarding issues connected to human rights. Such records, which expose the past, aid in the preserving of memory with the aim of preventing human rights violations and crimes against humanity from recurring. Furthermore, by keeping documents from the events and proceedings of various truth commissions, tribunals and civil organizations together in a collection with equal regulations regarding access, OSA's collections foster comparative research.

If you would like to go deep with the OSA, check out the organization's "White Book," edited by Leszek Pudlowski and Iván Székely (1999) available on the OSA home page, which tells the story of the OSA and its holdings combined with practical information on research possibilities. The text articulates the historical bonds between the OSA and CEU, which were initiated early on as the first circle of the archive's staff was largely drawn from among CEU historians, who were native speakers of the languages of records included in the holdings.

To conduct research with the Open Society Archives digitally, visit the "Digital Depository" and the "Curated Collections" on the website.