Home » “By partially lifting the veil of secrecy, some companies are making the opening of archives an element of communication”

“By partially lifting the veil of secrecy, some companies are making the opening of archives an element of communication”

by drbyos

Dn a climate of heightened global competition, companies must maintain their scientific, technological, organizational and social lead. Secrecy becomes an imperative, which covers industrial and commercial strategy, research and development, manufacturing processes, products, etc. Secrecy also constitutes a challenge for the historian who wishes to write, in complete academic independence, the history of a company or a sector. Especially when businesses are still in operation.

Given the stakes, the caution of companies regarding access to their archives is legitimate. The most common response to consultation requests is therefore: “Rejected”. Historians can attest to that. They easily argue about the “sensitive” nature of the activity, particularly among those who claim to be “innovative” or “high-performance”, especially in the aerospace, pharmaceutical, IT, agricultural and agricultural sectors. industry or chemistry.

But this difficulty also constitutes the heart of the profession of historian. This leads him to find other entries, secondary or indirect sources, the publication of which is mandatory, such as activity reports, social reports… or even advertisements, media reports, testimonials from staff or directors. elders. In all cases, and in particular for oral sources, methodological and scientific expertise is essential in order to question and construct documents with the necessary rigour, moderation and modesty.

History, a useful mediation

But today, the issue of corporate social responsibility raises the issue of secrecy and access to documents, mainly for companies located in Europe and North America. They must indeed manage their reputation and possibly render accounts for their past actions. This dilemma is an opportunity for the historian, who can thus see easier access to the archives by invoking the deleterious aspect of secrecy for the image of the company! History can indeed act as a useful mediation, placing the facts in their context. Explaining a decision, recalling the conditions of the time, makes it possible, without ever excusing anything, to avoid clichés or quick judgments.

Also read the column: Article reserved for our subscribers The meaning of work goes through companies and administrations “with a mission”

Some companies concerned about their reputation have understood this well. They prefer to authorize, at least partially, access to the archives while controlling the nature of the documents communicated, a strategy which originated in the 1980s, in the United States, with the development of business history. These are often large companies that welcome researchers through archives, heritage services or a “history committee”. The relationship between the company and the historian is sometimes formalized by signing confidentiality agreements.

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