CENDARI Archival Directory

The CENDARI Archival directory is implemented through AtoM, which stands for Access to Memory. It is a web-based, open source application for standards-based archival description and access in a multilingual, multi-repository environment. This software was chosen because it adheres to international standards and as a user friendly tool to produce archival descriptions.

2. Disclaimer

Archival institutions have been chosen for description according to the following criteria, according to CENDARIs case studies:

World War I

  • to have all countries which have participated in the First World War covered
  • to give special attention to East European and South East European countries and to describe so-called hidden archives which did not dispose of a digital representation so far
  • to describe archival institutions with significant holdings with priority to central national archives, national military archives, national war museums
  • archives with a wide scope of digitized finding aids

Medieval Culture

  • to cover most Western countries, including USA and Australia
  • to give special attention to East European and South East European countries
  • to cover collections of interest for the scientific community according to their relevance in the academic bibliography
  • to cover archival institutions with an advanced digitization level

Descriptions of archival holdings: Please bear in mind that the archival holdings described in the CENDARI Archival Directory cannot be seen as being exhaustive, even if there are several dozen entries available for an archive. Archival descriptions have been produced according to the needs of the topical Archival Research Guides and not with the aim to provide a comprehensive overview of all sources available in an archive. The selection on sources depends on the research question and therefore exhaustive descriptions of archival sources can never be reached. Since descriptions of archival holdings can be added by users registered as contributors, and since they can be made publicly available by users registered as editors, the Archival Directory can be seen as work in progress, never complete, and depending on the contribution of users.

3. Frequently Asked Questions

Are users allowed to add descriptions and what kind of descriptions are users being allowed to add?

Users which are not logged in (reseachers) have view-only access to the CENDARI Archival Directory. Users are allowed to add archival descriptions once they have received a DARIAH-account, are authenticated and have been granted contributor’s rights, i.e. to read, create, edit archival descriptions. Users with contributor’s rights are not allowed to delete anything or to create archival institutions. Archival descriptions can be added according to the needs of these users while observing the standards of the International Council on Archives. If users want to have their archival descriptions being published and thus freely accessible for everybody, they should ask a user with editor rights (usually their mentor) to check for the quality of the descriptions and afterwards change the status of the archival description from draft to published. If users want archival institutions to be created, they should ask their mentor.

What kind of agreements does CENDARI have with Archives and Libraries regarding the sharing of records?

CENDARI does not have any specific agreements with Cultural Heritage Institutions. The Archival Directory AtoM will be open for Cultural Heritage Institutions a s well as for users to add descriptions according to their needs while observing the standards of the International Council on Archives. If users want to publish archival descriptions and the content of finding aids within CENDARIs Archival Directory, they should first talk to the archives whether or not they are allowed to do so.

Will there be any translating of the institutional and archival descriptions be done?

Unfortunately, no translations will be provided. Users are kindly requested to generally search independently from the language within the collections. If you are looking for results in certain language, type keywords in this language (and in the appropriate script, f.ex. cyrillic) into the search box.

Will there be a browse by period function?

Currently, it is foreseen to provide a browse by period function; it will be enabled only later. The reason why it is not yet there is simply that the majority of archival holdings described have been produced in the same period, i.e. 1914-1918.

Why do labels provided in the Subjects and Places categories not correspond to all the archival holdings available?

All the entries have been produced manually. Therefore it depended on the decision of the describing person to add subjects and places labels where she or he decided this to be appropriate. Therefore, the categories Subjects and Places correspond not to archival description, only to a part of the descriptions produced by the MM teams and WW1 historians. In many cases these categories are not filled at all. If users think these descriptions would be helpful, they can fill in these fields by themselves, where appropriate. This can be done by entering an archival description after having logged in, click on edit at the foot of the page, click on Access points, start writing the appropriate Subject or Place in the field given (note: you have to wait for some one or two seconds after having started typing since the subjects and places already available in the system show up), and after having chosen or typed manually the appropriate subject or place click on Save at the foot of the page.

Why is there no comprehensive search tree in a hierarchical order?

Hierarchised searches need pre-fixed taxonomies, on which the possible users of the Archival Directory should have agreed upon. In a system like the one provided over here, such a pre-fixed taxonomy cannot be foreseen. Instead, CENDARI chose a more open approach where users are free to choose their subjects and places according to their needs without having them pre-ordered in a hierarchical tree. Users can even add subjects and places which have not yet added to the Archival Directory (compare here the FAQ “Why do labels provided in the Subjects and Places categories ...” on how to do this).

Why is there no hierarchy in the archival descriptions according to the level of fonds, subfonds, items etc.?

The software of the Archival Directory does not allow to link fonds, collections, items etc. to each other if they are being produced separately, i.e. by several contributors. That is why to arrange a comprehensive search tree in a hierarchical order is problematic.

4. Manual for the use of the Archival Directory AtoM

Within the CENDARI project, an electronic Archive Directory of sources for medieval and modern history was set up to establish descriptions of holdings, collections, records, and single items. The software used was AtoM or Access to Memory. It aims to be user-friendly and checks the quality of the descriptions thanks to mandatory fields. Explanations guide users through the process of creating an archival description. It stores the content in the standardized format Encoded Archival Description (EAD), which can be later exported. This archival standard is used in almost all European and many non-European countries. It is approved by the International Council on Archives (ICA), the institution that collaborated in the development of the AtoM software. AtoM is free web-based application, and as a multilingual multi-repository interface and database for archival descriptions, all elements in AtoM can be translated into multiple languages (using the translation interface).

The CENDARI project has a strong transnational focus, and one of its goals was to include many archives and institutions which are little known or rarely used by researchers. It is focused on archives and libraries containing documentation for historical research on the Middle Ages and World War One. The CENDARI Archival Directory AtoM can be accessed both directly from the website and indirectly via the link in the Note-Taking Environment (NTE). The CENDARI Archival Directory AtoM contains entries for archival descriptions and institutions. A basic FAQ is available to assist users who are browsing and searching for archival descriptions and collections. Information is also provided on creating and editing entries.

What is an archival description?

For all historical research, any historical source needs to have indications on the context in which it was created and distributed. Moreover, it should have information regarding its history – its use, storage and authenticity. Usually, cultural heritage institutions (archives, libraries and museums) possess the legal authority to give an account on the credibility and reliability of source material they are responsible for. Their catalogues and finding aids contain the necessary information on the subject of single holdings and record groups, integrating essential explanations on how to use any given inventory and how to interpret its contents.

AtoM uses the standardized format Encoded Archival Description (EAD) to present information about an archival unit, which can range from a huge collection to an individual item in an archival institution. The International Council on Archives (ICA) defines an International Standard Archival Description (General) (ISAD(G)) as “The creation of an accurate representation of a unit of description and its component parts, if any, by capturing, analyzing, organizing and recording information that serves to identify, manage, locate and explain archival materials and the context and records systems which produced it. This term also describes the products of the process.”

This standard can contain twenty-six data elements, of which six are mandatory in the creation of a compliant archival description. Following ICA rules, the obligatory elements are:

  • Reference code: identifies uniquely the unit of description and provides a link to the description that represents it. To assist international standardisation, it needs to contain the country code, the repository code and a specific local reference code, control number, or other unique identifier.
  • Title: this is the name of the unit of description. It can either be the formal title or an abridged title (as long as the latter follows national conventions and the rules of multilevel descriptions.
  • Date(s): this records the date(s) of the unit of description. It can be either a single date or a range of dates, as appropriate. The date(s) is either the data when the records were collected or when they were first created.
  • Level of Description: identifies the level of arrangement of the unit of description. For example, it is a single item, a file, sub-series, series, sub-fonds or fonds.
  • Extent and Medium of the Unit of Description (quantity, bulk, size): this element identifies and describes the physical or logical extent of the unit in Arabic numerals (and unit of measurement) and the medium of the unit of description. For example: one folder, containing 73 items.
  • Name of creator: identifies the creator or creators of the described unit.
  • Repository: This is not an official mandatory field in the ISAD(G) standard, but it is a mandatory field in the standard developed and used in the Archival Directory.

Here is an example of these mandatory fields in an archival description in the Archival Directory:

Reference code: GB Add MS 49683-49962

Title: The Balfour Papers

Date(s): 1868-1936

Level of Description: Collection

Extent and medium: 280 items

Name of creator: Arthur James Balfour

Repository: The British Library

This archival description also contains non-mandatory elements such as Scope and Content, Language of material, Finding aids, Name Access Points and Archivist’s note.

The ISAD(G) standard is not obligatory and it does not reflect practice in all archival institutions. When the idea of an international descriptive standard was first put forward, there was debate on whether such a standard was really necessary. The advent of computerised description, digitisation and digital finding aids that cover multiple archival institutions has strengthened the idea that a standardised methodology for describing archival units is very useful.

The International Council on Archives Committee that developed the ISAD(G) recognised that all archival institutions are very different, and that their arrangement and subsequent archival descriptions will reflect different needs, whether these are organisational, national, or cultural. The ISAD(G) should be used in conjunction with national standards or as a basis for further development of existing national standards.

Useful links:

  • International Council on Archives on ISAD(G) (it also includes accepted translations of all of the terms).
  • International Council on Archives Committee on Descriptive Standards.
  • UNESCO Archives Portal (provides information on archival institutions all over the world).
  • International Standard Archival Authority Record. For Corporate Bodies, Persons and Families http://www.icacds.org.uk/eng/ISAAR%28CPF%292ed.pdf.
  • ISDIAH: International Standard For Describing Institutions with Archival Holdings https://wiki.ica-atom.org/RS-3#4.7.

What is an archival institution?

Every archival description in the Archival Directory is linked to an archival institution entry. An archival institution has been defined as “an institution holding legal and physical custody of noncurrent documentary materials determined to have permanent or continuing value. Archives and manuscript repositories are archival institutions.” This includes all institutions that manage, preserve and/or store historical source materials. The International Council on Archives has developed an international standard to describe archival institutions: ISDIAH (International Standard for Describing Institutions with Archival Holdings). It has also developed a standard to describe corporate bodies, persons and families as units within an archival descriptive system: ISAAR (International Archival Authority Record for Corporate Bodies, Persons and Families). Detailed documentation on these standards can be found on the ICA’s website.

The holdings can cover a diverse range of materials, including:

  • Documentary material, which can be divided into:
    1. Printed material: most printed material is not kept in archival institutions but in libraries.For various reasons, such as rarity, historic importance, limited print run, and age, such material may be preserved in archival institutions (for example: pamphlets)
    2. Manuscripts: All archival material that is written by hand or typewritten. Can be bound or unbound, and cover a wide variety of genres (letters, handwritten books, etc)
  • Audiovisual material: sound recordings, which might appear in a variety of formats

  • Iconographic material: this can cover maps, plans, drawings, sketches, paintings, postcards, posters, and advertising material.

  • Objects

Unpublished archival material can be found both in archives and special collections in libraries. For example, both might contain bound and unbound manuscript material. Along with libraries and archives, museums are also considered to be memory institutions. While they may not hold documentary material, they hold objects which are historical sources.

Regarding medieval archival materials, due to various historical factors related to the dispersion of materials, individual bound manuscripts are usually found in special collections in libraries (example), while documentary material, often unbound, (for example, court rolls, accounts, charters, etc) are found in archives. Regardless, both are considered technically archival institutions in the Archival Directory.

The Archival Directory was set up as a component of the CENDARI research infrastructure in order to pursue two goals. Firstly, to give visibility and accessibility to many archival institutions and their holdings which did not have a digital representation along with enabling the CENDARI team to establish entries for archival descriptions and institutions according to the methodology and criteria established by the team members. And secondly, to allow further users of the CENDARI virtual research environment to easily create archival descriptions with the help of a user-friendly tool and thus broaden the basis of digitally available descriptions of archival content.

How the CENDARI Archival Directory AtoM can be used

The CENDARI Archival Directory AtoM can be a very useful tool for historians researching in any archival institution. As AtoM provides an intuitive user interface, its archival forms can be used as a sort of registry, where the researcher can record information on the archival institutions and collections. However, as the CENDARI AtoM is a web-based application, the institution where the historian is researching needs to have an internet connection.

An increasing number of archival institutions offer researchers electronic finding aids. These describe specific collections, including information related to both the archive’s structure and content. Common descriptive fields are creator, date of creation, medium and extent, languages and system of arrangement. Other collection guides can be internal archival guides (focusing on collections of special interest) or shared spreadsheets. If none of these sources are available, it is best to request advice directly from the archivist, who would have detailed knowledge of the collections available in the archive as well as their structure and order. The archivist might also give the researcher access to resources that are only available off-line or after submitting a written request. It is highly recommended to contact the archivist when researching in a cultural heritage institution and before creating archival descriptions in the CENDARI Archival Directory.

There is a distinction between modern and medieval sources in the Archival Description field in AtoM. Modern sources are usually grouped in collections or fonds, as most modern sources such as documents or registries are grouped in large numbers. Medieval sources are usually grouped in collections or fonds when they involve documentary material and usually found in archives. Medieval sources of authored texts, in manuscript format, are usually found in special collections in specialist libraries. An example of the former can be found in the ARG Dispersed Medieval Monastic Archives in Florence, which documents manuscript materials in archives. Meanwhile the ARG Italian Vernacular Bibles details individual manuscripts in codex format in libraries (Special Collections).

Apart from using AtoM to search and create archival descriptions and collections, the CENDARI Notes Taking Environment (NTE) allows researchers to upload images such as scans or photographs of the documents. These can be analysed in a private virtual working space, with the possibility to annotate and describe them. This allows the user to access, in a digital working environment, both the reference to the examined archive and collections, and the photographed items, which can be transcribed and tagged in the NTE.

This is possible because all the data – manually established data in AtoM as well as data provided by cultural heritage institutions – were brought together in the repository. In other words: All the data contained in AtoM is migrated to the repository on a regular basis. The automatic indexation of the named entities contained in the archival descriptions, like names, places and dates, enhances the search possibilities offered to the users in the Note Taking Environment. As an example: the results of a search for person in the repository will show all related hits from both manually and automatically ingested data, along with all hits from the ontologies. These search results would included the people, places and dates related to the individual subject of the search.


Remember that in uploading photographs, scans or digitized objects into the CENDARI Notes Taking Environment, users have to stick to the terms and conditions provided by the CENDARI project; moreover, it is good practice to discuss this intention with the archivist, and if necessary to request a formal permission to the archive.

Please note that CENDARI does not have any specific agreements with any cultural heritage institution (archives, libraries and museums). Cultural Heritage Institutions and users can add descriptions according to their needs to the Archival Directory, as long as they observe International Council on Archives standards. If users wish to publish their archival descriptions and their search results from Archival Directory, they should discuss relevant permissions with the archive in question. Similarly, it is strongly recommended that there should be a clear agreement between the archive and the researcher before any material is uploaded to the Note Taking Environment.

Adding archival institutions to the CENDARI Archival Directory

Important information can be found in the descriptions of archival institutions. These descriptions consist of seven fields (called areas):

Identity area Contact area Description area Access area Services area Control area Access points

The Identity area lists the institution’s formal names. The Contact area provides contact information as well as street addresses, locations of reading rooms, etc. Official websites of archival institutions can give further information, and the researcher can also directly contact the archivists (via mail, telephone call or on site in the reading room). This information is available in the Access areas, for example information on Opening times.

The Description area of archival institutions contains information on the history of the archival institution (“History”), their most important collections (“Archival and other holdings”), information on finding aids, guides and publications (in the corresponding fields). Additionally researchers can find information about the geographical and cultural context of the holdings and on the archival institution’s records management and collecting policy (in the corresponding field).

Within the Services area a user can learn more about research services provided by the institution. If a user aims at providing information in this field, he can write down information over here like, for example, whether you can speak English with the archivist, who can advise you on-site, computer facilities, etc. In the field reproduction services information can be provided on facilities are available to researchers such as the possibility of photocopying or scanning materials, fee information, internal archival regulations, etc.

The sub-area Public area provides useful information to facilitate research and the time spent in the archival institution. For example, if the internet connection is free or there is a charge, existence of cafeterias or restaurants, or if cash machines are available inside or nearby the institution.

Due to lack of existing data, many archival institutions have empty fields in their descriptions in the Archival Directory. CENDARI users are welcome to contribute updated information on the archival institutions to the aforementioned fields.

The Archival Directory AtoM provides users with the possibility to edit and publish new archival institutions and archival descriptions. However, these possibilities are limited by the users’ rights. This has been done in order to ensure the quality of the archival descriptions. A user can only add archival descriptions once they have a DARIAH-account, been authenticated and granted contributors’ rights. Users who have not logged into the CENDARI Archival Directory (“researchers”) have view-only access. Contributors’ rights allow a user to read, create, or edit archival descriptions. However they do not allow the user the ability to delete any archival description nor create a record for a new archival institution. This can only be done by users with editors’ rights. A user with editor rights might be the mentor (a historian, librarian, archivist or someone with similar experience) of a user with contributors’ rights, who is not yet familiar with the software AtoM or with the establishment of archival descriptions.

A user with editor rights can create records for archival institutions. To add a new archival institution, click on the Add button (the plus sign symbol) in the top right hand side of the Archival Directory AtoM. When you start filling the fields explanations will appear below each field. Information should be placed into the field in the accordance with the international standard ISDIAH, and users are requested to stick to them.

Adding archival descriptions

Archival descriptions should be added in accordance with the International Council on Archives ISAD(G) standard. In order to their archival descriptions freely accessible to all Archival Directory viewers, the user would need to contact a user with editor rights. The user with editor rights will check the quality of the submitted archival descriptions and then can change the archival descriptions’ status from draft to published.

To create an archival description, click on the Add button on the top right (represented by a plus symbol) and select Archival Description. The user can name their archival description, which is initially designated ‘Untitled’ at the top of the page until changed by the user.

The areas are:

Identity Area, which includes:

  • Identifier [mandatory] This should be a specific local reference code, control number, or other unique identifier. The country and repository code will be automatically added from the linked repository record to form a full reference code. Alternative identifiers can be added if desired (http://www.worldcat.org/webservices/registry/xsl/identifiers/).

Title [mandatory]:

  • This can either be a formal title or a concise title according to the rules of multilevel description and national conventions.
    • Date(s) [mandatory]
    • Level of description [mandatory]
    • Add new child levels [optional]
    • Extent and medium [mandatory]

Context Area, which includes:

  • Name of creator [mandatory]
  • Repository [optional]
  • Archival History [optional]
  • Immediate Source of Acquisition or Transfer [optional]

Content and Structural Area

Conditions of Access and Use area

Allied Materials Area

Notes area

Access points

Description Control area

Rights Area

Administrator Area

Links to digitized objects

Multilinguality of the Archival Directory

Many archival institutions in the Directory were described with names in Russian, Ukrainian, Lithuanian, etc. The original name can be seen in the identity area (the field “Authorized form of name”). The translated name of the same institution (usually in English) is available in the next field “Parallel form(s) of name”. This field can also contain different forms of authorized names. For example, there can be provided abbreviations and acronyms of institutional names. For example, in a search, typing the Latin letter form “GARF” will bring up as a result the State Archive of the Russian Federation. Typing in the Cyrillic “ГАРФ”, will bring up the same institution (Государственный архив Российской Федерации)

In the title field for archival collection descriptions in some Eastern European archival institutions, the name of the archival unit is available in both English and Russian. For example:

  • Fonds 601 - Nicholas II of Russia / Николай II

When adding new descriptions, it is best to enter the original language the institution’s proper title and the descriptions of their archival holdings, along with inputting an English translation of the titles. This will help future searches.

Using the Notes area

The Notes area allows the user to add annotations according to their individual research interests. Users can inform the CENDARI community about important details regarding the archival collections. For example, the researcher’s experience of working with this collection, on-site or personal discoveries which could be useful and interesting for other users, etc. Every user can open a new note for his annotations by clicking on “Add new”. The notes should be accurate and understandable for other researchers. Editors monitoring the content may not accept notes if they do not correspond to the relevant archival descriptions.


Uniting dispersed sources of the same institutions or persons

The dispersion of sources poses a major problem for historical research. Different tools are available, so that extensive travel might now always be necessary in order to find and describe sources. There on-line archival catalogues, databases, blogs, email expert advice, and projects such as as CENDARI. Archival sources can be found in unexpected places, for example, among the papers of secret services, state organizations or private papers, which might be in the process of being described and digitised. Some previously top-secret files may be declassified.

To discover archival collections, the researcher should be familiar with the history of its creators. Help can be provided by both primary sources (published collections) and secondary sources (encyclopedic entries, thematic monographs and articles).

The case of Jewish archives: the American JDC archive

Jewish sources are scattered across different countries and various cultural heritage institutions (Jewish archives, national and regional archives, national libraries, museums, etc.). Due to wars, migrations and deportations the Jewish archives were dispersed and even split among different countries. For example, the records of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) can be found in different institutions of Eastern Europe, America, and Israel. This organization operated in over 90 countries. Their main task was to bring urgent aid to Jewish communities as well as to individuals in need, including refugees, orphans, POWs and other groups. The activity of the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee was very important after 1914, when the JDC was involved in charitable activities in the warring countries and later in the newly established states of Central and Eastern Europe (Poland, Lithuania, Hungary and others). In the 1920s the JDC supported programs such as medical assistance, training and resettlement of Jews from shtetls, in the Soviet republics until its activity was stopped by the Soviet regime during the years of the Great Terror (1937-1938).

Many sources might be dispersed or have been relocated. For example, leaders of political parties were mobile people, and their private papers as well as the records of their organizations wandered with them, while another part remained in place. Nowadays many sources are preserved as separate collections or as parts of other collections within various archival holdings. For example, records of the Russian revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky (Leo Trotzki) are held among archival holdings in Russian, Dutch, American, and other archives.

Internationaal Instituut voor Sociale Geschiedenis

Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History

Houghton Library, Harvard College Library, Harvard University

Information on dispersed collections can be consolidated in the Archival Directory:

  • To virtually consolidate some collections, use the section Allied materials area within an archival description.

  • In the field Existence and location of originals, the user can mention other archival institutions as well as libraries and museums where original records are located. This field can also provide details on whether the originals do not exist anymore or if their present location is unknown. For example, for records lost or destroyed during the Second World War. It would be best if the user provides control numbers.

  • In the field Existence and location of copies, the user can add information on the location of copies. Nowadays many archival institutions run programs to exchange their data. National archives in many countries are keen to receive original records or copies from foreign institutions on some important events relevant for national history or on outstanding compatriots, or the history of the diaspora. Some institutions, like the Central Archive for the History of the Jewish People (CAHJP) or the Yad Vashem archives focus on searching for data on the history of Jewish people in foreign archival holdings.

  • In the field Related units of description, the user can add information on the units of description from the same repository or from another relevant one. Some archival collections (fonds) have up to now no proper inventories or finding aids that contain archival descriptions. In this way users can enlarge the common knowledge by contributing data.

  • The field Related descriptions demonstrates the relationship between archival descriptions in CENDARI Archival Directory. The user can choose from proposed variants of archival descriptions or add own ones.

  • In the field Publication notes the user can enter information on publications, studies or analysis of the sources. Information on published facsimiles or transcriptions can also be provided.

Another way to unite some collections or other units of descriptions (series, files, or even parts of descriptions) is to provide labels and adding new terms.

Users can add labels (subjects and/or places) to any archival description in the Archival Directory AtoM. This can be done both with entries that they have created themselves or those already contained in the system. This can be done by logging in and clicking on the edit button at the foot of the appropriate archival description page. Then click on Access points and enter the appropriate Subject or Place into the field. After either having typed manually or having chosen from the listed subjects and/or places, click on Save at the foot of the page. The categories Subjects and Places only partially correspond to the descriptions created the Archival Directory. This is due to all entries being entered manually, where it was personal decision of each compiler whether to add a relevant subject or place label to the entries.


The labels produced by users can help to identify proper collections even though they are placed in different countries and in the various holdings. For example, the subject label Cinema will list different collections relevant to the history of the film industry and to records of different institutions which were responsible for propaganda and the production of movies during WWI, personal papers of actors, filmmakers, as well as copies of newsreels and movies.

When producing new terms for archival descriptions, the user should consider that similar terms may have been previously created and that it is unnecessary to duplicate them.

The terms must be generally accepted by the scholarly community. Slang, unquotable and misspelled words are unacceptable. In the case of places, only real or previously existing places should be added (cities, states, villages, regions, etc.). It is obvious that imaginary and fictional places (such as Middle-earth from Tolkien’s world) are not appropriate.