Every month we discuss one archive which has been particularly useful for a French historian. This month Dr James Connolly (Simon Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Manchester) talks us through the archives in Lille and the surrounding area.
My work on the occupation of the département du Nord in the First World War led me to live and carry our research in Lille for 15 months. The capital of the département is easily accessible via Eurostar and is home to some excellent archives and libraries. Chief among these are the Archives départementales du Nord (http://www.archivesdepartementales.lenord.fr/), where I spent much of my time. Located to the south-west of the city in a relatively new building, this is a great place to work, even if the surrounding neighbourhood can come across as grim: indeed, there are signs in the archives warning that car thefts are frequent. The ground floor houses the reception and the very small ‘lunch area’ which fits about six people. Everything else is upstairs. Here, lockers are provided and the reading room to the left is relatively large – I never had trouble finding a seat, although there is often competition for window seats, as Lille’s weather means that the room can be somewhat gloomy, despite the table lamps provided. An excellent collection of books on local history and printed catalogues can be found on the shelves bordering the reading room, whereas a separate room to the right, behind the collection desk, houses further catalogues. You order documents using the computers in the area (which contain a digitised catalogue) to the right of the upstairs entrance, where you can also consult microfiches. Both reader registration and document ordering can be done in advance online (http://www.archivesdepartementales.lenord.fr/?id=formulaire). Documents are collected and returned at the main desk – ask for the class-mark when you think your carton has arrived. The archivists are very friendly and knowledgeable. For those interested in the First World War, the 9 R series is the place to start and offers a wealth of different documentation, from letters and German posters to photos and police reports. Two words of warning: firstly, the archive can be quite loud, as it is open-plan and often people consult documents in groups/chat to each other, and few seem to care about noise (I once saw a man who clearly knew the archivists bring in and use his own printer-scanner, its electronic chugging driving me crazy). Secondly, bring your own food, because the vending machines in the foyer offer a poor choice and there are not many shops or cafés nearby.
Lille’s municipal archive (http://archives.lille.fr/) is also well-stocked, if somewhat harder to find. It is located in the basement of the Hôtel de Ville (Place Augustin Laurent, between Marie de Lille and Lille Grand Palais métro stops, or about 10 minutes’ walk from Gare Lille Flandres). Enter through the main doors of the Hôtel de Ville, cross the hall into the corridor straight ahead, then go down the stairs on your left. The reading room is extremely small, fitting no more than about six people, but it is rarely full. Again, a good selection of local histories can be found in the reading room, where the main catalogue is kept – a printed document which you may have to request from the two approachable archivists. Document are ordered by filling out request slips, and they are brought directly to you; put them back on the trolley when you are finished. This archive contains a variety of maps, letters, civic records, police reports, local newspaper articles, and more. For the First World War, consult the 4 H series. At both the ADN and the AML photography is permitted.
There are also some useful libraries. The various public libraries all fall under the umbrella of the Médiathèque de Lille (http://www.bm-lille.fr/), which allows free consultation in reading rooms (like the British Library) as well as free internet access. I found the Médiathèque Jean-Lévy to be a particularly comfortable place to work, although it is a struggle to get a seat during exam periods. Note that documents are ordered on a paper slip containing many details, so give yourself some time to fill out such slips. Lille’s public libraries contain a surprisingly rich collection of rare books, especially regarding the First World War – some of which I have not found elsewhere, not even in the BNF.
Lille’s universities also house their own libraries, although I only used those at the humanities-orientated Lille 3 University (located slightly further afield in Villeneuve d’Ascq). The architecture is depressingly grey and characterless, so it is not an aesthetically-pleasant work environment, but there is a good collection of theses and other books. There are multiple sub-libraries, the most helpful of which for historians is the Bibliothèque Georges Lefebvre (https://www.univ-lille3.fr/bibliotheques/reseau/irhis-histoire/). The staff here were especially patient and pleased to see a foreigner use their collection. This is another basement treasure trove, so I recommend asking a member of university staff for directions, as Lille 3 is famously labyrinthine.
Whether you visit Lille for a few days or longer, there is much to be found here, especially for those interested in the First World War. More archives are located in Lille’s nearby sister towns of Roubaix and Tourcoing; this, plus Lille’s friendly inhabitants, explains why I spent 15 months there – and I still feel there is more to be discovered.
ARCHIVES DEPARTEMENTALES DU NORD: KEY FACTS
ADDRESS: 22 Rue Saint-Bernard, 59000 Lille, France
GETTING THERE: Métro stop ‘Porte des Postes’ (Line 1 and 2, requiring a two-minute walk afterwards) or Montebello (Line 2, requiring a three-minute walk afterwards).
OPENING HOURS: Tuesday-Thursday 9am-5pm, Friday 9am-4pm, NOT OPEN ON MONDAYS.
Thanks James! If you would like to contribute to the ‘Feature Archive’ section we’d love to hear from you. Please get in touch with Alison at email@example.com.