The United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS)

Almost 100 years old: Digitizing documents from the League of Nations archives

The Palais des Nations in Geneva once was the headquarters of the world’s most important multilateral institution – the League of Nations, otherwise known as the League. Established in 1919, under the Treaty of Versailles, the League was created to promote international cooperation and achieve peace and security. The League dissolved in 1946 after failing in its attempts to prevent a second world war and was replaced by today’s United Nations.

For many years, the archives of the League have been buried deep in the Palais des Nations in Geneva, difficult for even scholars to access. Now, thanks to a project between the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG) and UNOPS, the full archives of the League will be carefully digitized and made available to online audiences.

During a recent visit to the project, UNOG Director-General Michael Møller of UNOG remarked, “Digitizing and making accessible globally such an important historic collection is crucial for facilitating research and access to knowledge.” He further added, “[…] together, UNOG and UNOPS are ensuring that this critical period of world history is accessible to all, from specialized scholars to a high-school student in Uganda.”

“This is a flagship project. At a time in which many question the UN’s ability to maintain international peace and security, it is important that we do more to understand the challenges of our predecessor institution.” said Moin Karim, UNOPS Director for Europe and Central Asia Region.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

- George Santayana

The archives are home to the original files of the League, such as correspondence and documents of the Secretariat of the League, and records of external League offices and entities. They contain private papers on international peace movements and materials from League of Nations officials and persons or associations related to the League of Nations. The document collection contains official publications, minutes, working papers and documents of the various League organs.

Recognized by UNESCO for their historic value, the delicate condition of these almost century-old documents has made them difficult to access. Until recently, people interested in exploring the fascinating content within had to request a special appointment and access the archive in person. This deprived eager scholars and others from studying the unique history of the League of Nations.

This project will open up access to approximately 15,000,000 pages of material, covering the period from 1919 to 1945.

Geneva

From Geneva, UNOPS manages partnerships, trust funds and project portfolios that support people and communities around the world. This includes, among others: the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria; Stop TB Partnership, UN-Water Interagency Trust Fund; Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council; and the Enhanced Integrated Framework.

About the project

As UN Geneva is gearing up to celebrate 100 years of multilateral diplomacy in Geneva, the United Nations Library Geneva launched a major five-year project (2017-2022) to digitize the entire League of Nations archives.

As part of the project, UNOPS is providing both the pre- and post-digitization teams, as well as procuring specialized scanning services and physical preservation supplies for UNOG. Project management and process excellence have already resulted in considerable benefits.

The project will encompass several phases: Physical preparation and preservation of documents, scanning, metadata creation, digital preservation and state-of-the-art online access. Project outcomes will include 15,000,000 digital master files and 500,000 access files, 250TB of data, over 500,000 units of descriptive metadata, rehousing and conservation of all physical originals and modernized climate control.


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