A review of Academia Historica (國史館), Taipei, Taiwan.
My research explores Sino-German diplomatic relations between 1938 and 1944, with a particular focus on relations after the outbreak of the Second World War in Europe. The proposed research in Taiwan will take up to 3 months, from January 2012 until the end of March 2012. Further research will then take me to Nanjing and Germany, for 3 months respectively.
In Taiwan, my focus was primarily on Academia Historica’s archive [website here], which holds a major part of the Foreign Office papers, especially on diplomatic relations. Material on economic issues is stored in Academia Sinica (中央研究院). The archives of the Academia Historica consist of two parts: the city branch (總統副總統文物館, hereafter City Office) and the Xindian branch (新店辦公室). This article aims to provide my observations for both of the branches.
The most readily reachable part of Academia Historica holds all digitalised material. It is located at 10048 臺北市中正區長沙街一段2號 (10048 Taibei, Zhongzheng District, Changsha Road, Section 1, No. 2). Researchers should take the MRT Blue Line to Ximen station and leave through Exit No. 3. The archive is right next to the Presidential House and only 10 minutes by foot from the MRT station.
On weekdays the office opens from 8.30a.m until 16.45p.m. Since all the material available in the City office is digitalised, there are no certain times for ordering documents. The reading room is situated on the ground floor; visitors will be guided to it on their first visit. In order to register with Academia Historica, foreign researchers should bring their passport and supporting documents (if available). During the initial visit, a registration form has to be filled out first. Furthermore, copies of the passport and supporting documents will be made, which will be kept on record. Every time a researcher returns to the archive, the first step is to hand in one’s passport. In a second step, the receptionist will hand out a visitor badge and a time sheet. This time sheet is very important, as it will be required when the passport is returned. After entering the reading room, the time sheet has to be given to the staff, which will return it to you at the end of the day. An advance registration procedure is not needed, but it will take up to 20 minutes on the first visit to register.
Before searching the catalogue, that staff will locate a computer and log the visitor into the system. Researchers are allowed to use their own laptops to make notes. For Wifi access please ask the staff – they will type in the username and password.
The catalogue is rather easy to understand and to use. It might take up to one or two days to get familiar with it. Keyword search in Chinese is the only option, both in Pinyin and Bopomofo. Very rarely, a foreign name might be in English, but almost all foreign names are translated into Chinese. It might be useful to make a list of Chinese versions of names beforehand. The initial search can be narrowed down in a second step and material can be arranged by year, topic or individuals involved. Reference numbers are given at the bottom of each document to note down. Perhaps the only problem I faced with digitalized documents in Academia Historica is that I sometimes got a headache due to staring at the screen for 7 to 8 hours (such is the nature of the work), so it is advised that the researcher takes short periodic breaks. Facilities to read microfilms are available, as well as a printer and a copy machine. In general, the printing of material is possible, but with exceptions such as the 蔣中正總統文物 (Jiang Zhongzheng zongtong wenyu). For more information on the printing status of particular files, please refer to the staff. An A4 printout costs 2TWD per page. On each printed page the file number is written on the top of the page. However, reference information is its entirety is not given, so these have to be searched for in the catalogue.
I would like to give some small advice regarding Chiang Kai-shek’s infamously unreadable handwriting. Academia Historica published a collection of notes taken by Chiang’s secretary, and it includes daily reports and information regarding on sent and received telegrams. Additionally, Academia Historica also holds a small library in the reading room open for researchers.
Xiuxi, or the lunch break, starts around 12 noon and the staff will sit outside the reading room in the hallway and have their lunch. During xiuxi it is possible to stay in the reading room and continue with the research, and the room will not be locked. I would advise bringing along some lunch and some water (alternatively, the Ximen area is close by, with some restaurants and convenient stores). For myself, it was better and less time consuming to bring my own lunch.
In my experience, the City Office’s atmosphere is relaxed and friendly. The two women responsible for the reading room have always been supportive. (I was invited to a coffee one day and we had a nice chat. Their friendliness and willingness to help have made my research much easier and more enjoyable.)
Before entering the reading room visitors will have to take off their shoes and put on slippers provided by the archive. The visitors would also be required to put their bags and personal belongings in one of the lockers in front of the room. Please remember to bring small coins as the lockers take 10TWD coins.
Any non-digitalised material is stored at the Xindian branch, which is located at the end of the Xindian line of Taipei MRT. The address is 23152 新北市新店區北宜路2段406號 (235152 New Taibei City, Xindian District, Beiyi Road, Section 2, No. 406). To reach this section of the archive, it is necessary to take the MRT Green line towards “Xindian” and get off at the final station. From there take the bus (Green 5, 647 or 650) until “Zhongsheng qiao tou” (中生橋頭 ) station. Next to the bus stop is a group of buildings located on the side of the hill, which appears as if they do not fit into the suburban area. In order to reach the archive, follow a path down the road, away from the street. At the entrance of the road is a board saying 國文館 (Guo wen guan) – go down that road and just follow the street until the end. At the entrance to the compound a guard will stop every visitor and follow the same procedure as in the City Office (keeping the passport, handing out a time sheet, etc).
The reading room is rather small, and holds around 5 computers that can be used to look up digitalised material. Opening times are exactly as in the city branch: 8.30a.m until 16.45p.m.
The reading room is again supervised by two women, who introduce every visitor to the system. I was able to order material throughout the day, and there was no limit on the number of ordered materials. The procedure to order material is online and is pretty straight forward. First, the researcher has to select the files. Then the user name (which is one’s passport number) and the password (which the staff can provide) is to be entered into the system. Once accepted, orders for materials can be submitted online.
Within 20 to 30 minutes a member of the archive staff will bring a box with the material. Before getting access to documents, the researcher will be requested to sign a paper and put on gloves, which will be provided by the archive. The staff will inform researchers of any material that is not allowed to be copied and, as in the city branch, only half of the papers in a file are allowed to be copied. The price of a copy is the same as well: 2TWD for one A4 page. It is possible to use a personal laptop on the side.
Compared to the city branch, Xindian offers more options with respect to both digitalised as well as non-digitalised materials. However, the rather long and complicated travel to the archive makes it a less suitable option to work in, at least in my case. Almost all of my material is digitalised – therefore I prefer to work at the city office. After finishing the ordered materials, I returned them and started ordering new documents. Just follow the above-mentioned procedure and everything should go smoothly.
As mentioned before, at around 12.30 p.m., the staff will have their lunch break inside the reading room. Visitors can use a room in the building next door, where chairs and tables are provided. However, it is possible to continue reading; the staff will not ask visitors to leave. Due to the archives location, food places are rare – therefore I would suggest bringing your own food. The staff is helpful and friendly, and whenever a problem or a question arises, they do their best to help.
Nele Friederike Glang
The University of Sheffield, United Kingdom
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