Researching the City: The Municipal Archive

by Bob Pierik

A great place to study The Hague is through its very own archive: the Gemeentearchief. The Gemeentearchief houses documents on the municipality and public organizations, as well as private organizations and businesses that have donated their materials. Historical archives form a huge collection of knowledge, parts of which still have to be unearthed. It’s like the desert of Egypt, but then right in our backyard.

That pile of knowledge is becoming ever more accessible. Archives all over the world are putting more of their documents online, although sometimes they limit digitization to their most important collections or to certain themes, as it costs a lot of time and resources to digitize documents. In some cases, the online collection may be more of a showcase than a database, or is simply incomplete and thus far less useful than a visit to the archive itself.

Luckily, The Hague’s municipal archive has an ongoing digitization program, which means that documents that are not yet online will be scanned for free and made publicly available -- whenever someone requests them. Thus, instead of choosing which documents to make more widely available, the archive lets its own users drive the further digitization of The Hague’s history. This way, the archive’s users gradually digitize the 14 kilometers of documents of the archive, while working on their own research.

Meyer, Fotoburo. 1976. Stadhouderslaan, de Internationale Schakelklas van de Johan de Witt Scholengemeenschap

Meyer, Fotoburo. 1976. Stadhouderslaan, de Internationale Schakelklas van de Johan de Witt Scholengemeenschap

For the students in the current LUC Community Project course on multicultural education, there are quite some documents on schools in The Hague. It didn’t take long to excavate this photograph of the Johan de Witt School’s international transition class in the 70s. Besides academic value, it’s also just a lot of fun to browse the archive’s image database!

Be sure to not to forget the Gemeentearchief and its thematic sub-collections if you want to study the history of the city. For detailed instructions -- including screenshots that can be helpful for researchers who do not speak Dutch -- please consult the Engage The Hague Guide to The Gemeentearchief (PDF).


Bob Pierik is a third-year student at LUC. He is currently writing a capstone thesis on urban redevelopment and urban space in the Transvaal neighborhood of The Hague.