Our archives – the story of a man and a movement
As Abbé Pierre's sole legatee, Emmaus International is responsible for promoting its founder’s ideas and works and of preserving his memory. Emmaus International owns Abbé Pierre’s personal archives as well as those of the Emmaus movement, so it manages them and puts them to good use. To preserve the archives and make them accessible to researchers, Emmaus International deposited them at the National World of Work Archives (ANMT) in Roubaix in December 2000, in the presence of Abbé Pierre.
The responsibilities are split into several areas:
- Emmaus International has a duty to conserve Abbé Pierre’s personal archives because of their historic importance, global interest and relevance to the public and the Emmaus movement.
- It must use them to continue challenging public opinion and the authorities, mobilising action on the ground and campaigns, which Abbé Pierre himself was so good at doing.
- Emmaus International owns the copyright to Abbé Pierre’s works – books, photographs, films, sound recordings and audiovisual materials. Many of his books have been translated into several languages. The first multilingual bibliography about Abbé Pierre and Emmaus, which strives to be as complete as possible, covers 1941 – 2014 and will soon be on the website.
- Emmaus International is responsible for making sure Abbé Pierre’s name is not misused or deformed in any way, having inherited his right of personal portrayal. It must also protect the memory of Abbé Pierre from all forms of abuse or defamation.
On a global scale, this is a colossal and complex task as Abbé Pierre has become so well-known a figure and a leading example in the fight against poverty and injustice.
The archives: a treasure trove…
> ...to sift through…
Two hundred linear metres of Abbé Pierre and Emmaus International’s archives have been deposited at the ANMT – paper documents, the oldest of which date from 1927, a photo library, posters, sound recordings and audiovisual material. It has taken five years to classify and catalogue the majority of the paper archives, make a rough inventory of the audiovisual material and half of the photo library.
This responsibility of classifying and cataloguing will require several more years’ work. The archives, which are numerous and largely little-known, are truly precious. They are full of different perspectives on Abbé Pierre’s life and works, his speeches and activism around the world, as well as Emmaus International’s history and action across the globe.
> …to store...
Digitalising the archives to preserve and make them accessible represents a real challenge. Aside from the significant amount of funding that needs to be raised, the task will take several years. Nonetheless, the older audiovisual material needs to be saved as a matter of urgency. So far, only a fraction of the paper documents, photographs and some of the audiovisual material has been digitalised.
> …and to put to good use
In 2012, to mark the centenary of Abbé Pierre's birth, Emmaus International opened the Abbé Pierre – Emmaus Centre in Esteville which drew on a wide range of the archives for its set design. It also brought out a coffee table book (available in French only): ‘Previously-unpublished activist texts, personal writings and correspondence by Abbé Pierre’ 1. Two other books published in 2012 (in French only) also made use of a selected assortment from the archives for their illustrations: ‘Abbé Pierre, My friends, come and help me!’ 2 and the biography, ‘Abbé Pierre, a free man’ 3 .
To celebrate the centenary, the ANMT also organised a special exhibition from December 2012 to April 2013, whose title, ‘Abbé Pierre, brother to the poor, activist for peace’ was taken from the personal statement of one of Abbé Pierre’s CVs.
Set up in 1994, an exhibition, ‘Abbé Pierre, photographer’, reveals a little-known and more intimate side to Emmaus International’s founder. The exhibition has been back on display since 2012 at the Abbé Pierre – Emmaus Centre and at many other locations, and has stirred much interest from the public.
At the end of 2014, Emmaus International will publish a book of quotations by Abbé Pierre. They address society’s big debates and have for the most part never been published before.
At the suggestion of the French Ministry of Culture and Communication, Emmaus International is currently putting together an application for this legacy to be included in the UNESCO Memory of the World register. The register compiles all types of documentary heritage that is selected for its outstanding and universal value.
1 Abbé Pierre, Inédits. Textes de combat, écrits intimes, correspondances. Published by Bayard.
2 L’abbé Pierre, Mes amis, au secours ! Published by Découvertes Gallimard.
3 L’abbé Pierre, un homme libre. Published by Le Dauphiné libéré, collection Les Patrimoines.