Author: Sergey Saluschev
Dear researcher, if you are interested in the history of the Caucasus, you must visit Georgia! The National Archives of Georgia houses one of the largest in the region collection of archival materials and unique manuscripts that shed light on the region’s rich history on a broad temporal spectrum. As a PhD student in the department of history at the University of California, Santa Barbara, I visited the archive in Tbilisi for the past three years with the latest research project supported with a grant from the American Councils. My interest in the history of the 19th century Caucasus, with a specific focus on labor, captivity, and international slave trade, allowed me to gain an insightful perspective and positive experience with the day-to-day work of the National Archives of Georgia in Tbilisi.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Georgia’s government and the country’s civil society have undergone a series of significant transformations. Unlike some other Soviet successor states, in Georgia these changes made the county more open to the world and its institutions more transparent to its citizens and guests. Of course, things are not perfect; the country continues its march toward democracy and free civil society. However, the spirit of openness and institutional transparency are particularly palpable at the National Archives of Georgia where researchers interested in the history of the region, and Georgia in particular, will find a trove of invaluable archival information. Although the rules governing the researchers’ access to the archives have been changing every year, the archive’s staff remains committed to providing both Georgian and foreign visitors with service and curtesy that are difficult to find on the post-Soviet landscape.
For any historian or researcher interested in working at the National Archives of Georgia, one should begin by carefully exploring the archive’s official website - http://www.archives.gov.ge/en. The website features a well-organized English language web-page. In order to receive permission to work at the archive’s recently renovated reading room (located on the second floor of the building), one must contact the archive via email or in person and fill out the official form requesting access to the reading room. On average, it takes 5 working days to receive a response from the archive’s administration. Therefore, one would be wise to make the necessary research related arrangements with the archive’s administration prior to arrival in Tbilisi.
Located on 1 Vazha-Pshavela street, the archive’s building is tall and architecturally distinctive. Researchers who live outside of Saburtalo district, will find it convenient to take a metro train and exit the metro at Medical University station, which is located within four-minute walk from the archive. Furthermore, the archive’s new reading room is modern, spacious, and comfortable. Once inside of the reading room, the easiest way to begin research is to review the archive’s catalogues composed in either Russian or Georgian languages. In general, communication with the staff at the National Archives has never been an issue. In fact, if you are like me, still struggling to master the nebulous system of Georgian language’s grammar, spelling, and pronunciation, you will find people at the archive who will offer you assistance in either Russian or English language. Also, in my experience, email and online communication with the archive’s staff has improved significantly in the recent past. While working in the reading room, reading and analyzing documents, you can bring a notebook, a writing utensil, and/or personal computer to make notes and transcribe the documents. You may also request to digitally scan certain documents that may be of particular value or interest. However, be advised that you will be charged for each page of a scanned folio (please refer to the archive’s website for the current charges for scanning documents). The cost of scanning could be significant if you need to digitize dozens of pages from multiple documents. The payment for scanning must be made at one of Georgia’s banks by using transfer number that an archivist will hand you upon finalizing the scanning order. Once the financial transaction is complete, make sure to bring the receipt (prove of payment) back to the archive where you will be given either a CD containing the scanned documents or be able to copy the scanned images on an USB drive. In general, the only, albeit insignificant, shortcoming that I encountered while working in the archive was lack of a cafeteria in the building itself.
Georgian archives remain one of the most important and open repositories of knowledge about the Caucasus and its people. Researchers searching for clarity and truth about the region’s complicated history will find a lot of invaluable information here. And once your research is complete, don’t forget to appreciate the country’s many wonders and breathtaking vistas of steep rolling hills, lush green valleys, and proud snowcapped mountains. Thus, dear researcher, if you are interested in the history of the Caucasus, you must visit Georgia and its archives.
Sergey Saluschev is a graduate student in the Department of History at UCSB, analyzing the cultural intersections, intellectual exchanges, and military rivalries that took place between the Russian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and Iran in the XIX century Caucasus. More recently, his research examines the practices of slavery and the slave trade in the region in the same time period. His work will provide the first comprehensive account of the institution of slavery in the Caucasus and put the findings of my research in conversation with historiography on slavery in the Ottoman Empire, Iran, and the broader Middle East.