Open Jerusalem Project Achieves the Classification of the French Consular Archives (1843-1914)

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Seal of the French Consulate of Palestine (294PO/B)

As part of the Open-Jerusalem research program (funded by the European Research Council ERC), a systematic and standardized description of the archives of the French Consulate of Jerusalem has been launched for the period 1843-1940. This mission was funded by the Open-Jerusalem project and received the support of the French Consulate in Jerusalem and of the CADN (Centre des Archives Diplomatiques de Nantes). The purpose of this first mission (one month, January 2016) was to treat the part concerning the 1843-1914 period of the series 294 PO / B (71 archive boxes = 6.7 linear meters).

Since its repatriation in France in 1978, the series 294PO / B has indeed been much solicited by researchers. The original manuscript inventory of 1956 was not very detailed, many files were no longer located at their initial place, and some boxes were particularly disorganized. For all of these reasons, the reclassification of all of the 71 boxes and the consolidation and deepening of the existing inventory was undertaken as part of this mission. This was done in order to facilitate the consultation and the valorization of these particularly rich and exciting archives for the history of Jerusalem. Indeed, the records contain numerous documents on the political situation in the holy city, the relationship between local authorities and Ottoman government, municipal taxes, business affairs, the maintenance of public order, conflicts and solidarity between religious communities, public works and urban development, health issues, etc.

The very rare and high quality of these archives must be highlighted. They were reorganized on site by the Consul Boppe in 1904, and inventoried (still on site) by Paulette Gustin in the 1950s. In a 1958 inspection report, the French consulate of Jerusalem is complimented for the quality of its records: “Jerusalem can serve as an example to other Consulates”. To prepare the successive returns to the Centre des Archives Diplomatiques in Nantes, several missions have been implemented in the consulate: the archivists Miss Pouillon and Mrs Pozzo di Borgo realized an archive mission in Jerusalem in October and November 1977, just before the return of the archives in France in 1978.

Moreover, it should be stressed that very few European consulates in Jerusalem were able to keep  records of such an excellent level, quantitatively and qualitatively. At the time when the Ottoman Empire entered the war against the powers of the Triple Entente in November 1914, consulates of France, Britain and Russia hurriedly closed. During the first world war, the Spanish consulate (neutral country) was in charge of looking after the interests (and archives) of the Allied powers. As a result of the Russian Revolution in 1917, the Russian Consulate archives have been lost, until now. The British consulate archives have largely been absorbed by the new occupying authorities and agents from 1917 onwards, which now makes them difficult to locate: they have been “diluted” in the Mandate archives. Regarding the archives of the consulate of Prussia and Germany, they were sealed by the British authorities in 1939 and then partially recovered by the new Israeli State Archives (ISA) after 1949. Among other ongoing investigations, the Open-Jerusalem Program strives to locate and describe all the consular archives in Jerusalem, including current missions in Rome and Madrid, for archives of Italian and Spanish consulates.

Brief history of the Series CADN / 294PO / B

The fund “Archives du Consulat de France à Jerusalem” preserved in CADN (Centre des Archives Diplomatiques de Nantes) consists of two sub-funds encompassing 9 description series. The first sub-fund (1843-1947), which is at the center of our research, includes:

– Series A, which includes the archives concerning the Holy Places, over the period of 1843-1914

– Series B, which includes the thematic files of the consulate of France from 1843 to 1941.

– Both the series A & B were repatriated to France in 1978.

Before the establishment of the Consulate of France in Jerusalem, the interests of France were managed successively by the consulates of France in Aleppo, Damascus and Cairo. It is in 1842 that the Ministry decides to create a consulate in Jerusalem, whose first titleholder was the Comte Gabriel Lantivy. The Consulate has, like other consulates, three main roles: it administers and protects the French community and French nationals abroad, it is in charge of administrative services for French nationals abroad (civil status, notary, issuing of identity documents, registration of French nationals) and finally, it is also an entity that can promote the French cultural identity. At that time, the consulate was placed directly under the authority of the Embassy of France in Constantinople1.

So the French consular archives retrace continuously, since 1843, all the activities of the consulate and its relations with local authorities, religious communities, consulates of other countries, the Embassy and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Achievements of the mission

  • The mission lasted one month, from 4 to 29 January 2016. Initially, the mission allowed to better understand the history of the fund and the arrangement of successive repatriations and to better document the series, through the consultation of the record of the Archives Department on the consulate of France in Jerusalem (odds 13ACN / 239).
  • Secondly, the systematic treatment of boxes 1-71 (representing 6.7 linear meters) helped to consolidate the ranking and to refine (or to correct if necessary) the initial manuscript description of the records (1956). The documentary typology was systematically clarified. In addition, the documents have been replaced in the specific order described by the 1956 manuscript, despite significant disorder prevailing in some boxes. For future better conservation, all the documents have been repackaged with neutral paper shirts and neutral cardboard boxes.
  • Alongside this work of repackaging, the 1956 manuscript inventory has been fully typed in a word processor. This greatly simplifies the search inside the files and allows queries by date or keyword.
  • Furthermore, a systematic survey of the relevant thematic elements for the Open-Jerusalem Project was drawn up with the help of a table of predetermined topics.
  • Finally, with a view to a possible future digitization, a tracking and reporting (in a separate list) of oversized documents or documents in bad condition has been made. The complete digitization diagnostic is still in progress.

Adélaïde Laloux (Master “Métiers des archives et des bibliothèques”, University of Angers), under the supervision of Bérangère Fourquaux, Vincent Lemire & Yann Potin

  1. See M. Degros, «Les créations de postes diplomatiques et consulaires», La Revue d’histoire diplomatique, 1986, pp. 44-46 ; J.-Ph. Mochon, « Le consulat de France à Jérusalem: aspects historiques, juridiques et politiques de ses fonctions», L’annuaire français de droit international, 1996, pp. 929-945. []