Global memories: an expat archive

The Expatriate Archive Centre in The Hague is preserving a global memory of expat lives, writes Molly Quell.

Would you like to preserve your memories as an expat while helping academics with research into expatriate issues? The Expatriate Archive Centre is actively looking for new material to add to its collection.

Scrapbooks, diaries, even school reports and greetings cards are among the tangible evidence of mobile lives being collated at the centre in The Hague.

The EAC has its roots in the The Shell Ladies Project, an organisation of Shell wives who wanted to document the lives of the Shell employees who were frequently posted to various places in the world.

The group collected writings, poems and drawings from Shell families and published them in an anthology in 1993 entitled Life On The Move. It was such a success they followed with a second one in 1996.

Mayor

Ultimately, a former Shell CEO donated an unused property in The Hague to the group and they were incorporated into the Shell Outpost. Eventually the organisation became an independent one, inaugurated by the mayor of The Hague in 2008.

The EAC has gone from a small project organised by the spouses of employees at a single company to a fully-fledged archive

‘We started it not knowing where we would go… empty rooms with five hundred separate pieces of source material… And now it is absolutely in place as a top-notch… dedicated collection,’ says EAC co-founder and former director Dewey White. Contributions to the collection originated from over 64 countries and are in 12 different languages.

The staff have been digitising the entire collection so it can be made accessible to academic researchers.

‘It’s a growing field. Our collection offers a uniquely rich picture of global expatriate life that could be useful to researchers in social history, migration studies, human geography, psychology and more,’ says Kristine Racina, who is the centre’s current director.

Counted in the collection are the detailed account of the voyage of a ship from the Netherlands to the Dutch East Indies in 1917 and the personal letters of the Verkerk family who worked for KLM in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Turkey among others during the 1950s and 1960s.

Away from home

The collection isn’t limited to traditional expats either. The centre defines an expatriate as ‘someone who is temporarily outside the country that he/she considers to be his/her home country’.

Alongside the memories are items from au pairs from Thailand and cleaning staff from the Philippines. It also includes a selection of materials from migrant workers who came to the Netherlands, including those from southern Europe and later Turkey and Morocco.

The EAC is currently accepting donations of diaries, letters, scrapbooks, and other printed materials such as school documents and greeting cards. There is a full list of the items they accept on their website. Items can be in any language and from any expat worldwide

Find out more about donating your story