One hundred years ago today in Sarajevo, Gavrilo Princip assassinated the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie.  Princip was part of an organization called the Black Hand that wanted Serbia to become independent from Austria-Hungary, whose heir to the throne was the Archduke.  Austria-Hungary presented a lengthy ultimatum to Serbia on July 23, 1914; although Serbia conceded to most every demand by Austria-Hungary, it was not enough to satisfy Austria-Hungary, which declared war on Serbia exactly one month after the assassination.  As alliances involving Russia, Germany, France, and Great Britain kicked in, the so-called Great War began.

The media has given much attention to this centennial in recent weeks.  In case you’ve missed it, some examples include this story NPR did on All Things Considered and an article in the New York Times.  The element that I find most interesting from the perspective of archives is the variety of ways in which Princip’s action have been interpreted over time, with some holding him up as a hero and others labeling him as a terrorist.  But rather than worrying about how documents might be interpreted in the future, I think it’s more important for the profession to focus on the records scheduling, arrangement and description, and reference service that provide the invaluable context necessary for patrons to be able to interpret the records for themselves as time unfolds.  Political priorities and cultural sensitivities have a way of changing, and as I’ve pointed out in earlier posts, many argue that it’s impossible for archivists to be completely objective.  So it’s vital for there to be some fundamental principles that shape our work, and the Society of American Archivists has done a good job of defining those in its Core Values.  Prioritizing accountability and preservation and service will go a long way toward guaranteeing that necessary records will be available for generations to come.

As a result of his actions in Sarajevo in 1914, Gavrilo Princip was imprisoned at Terezin and died in April 1918 of tuberculosis.  This camp in the current day Czech Republic was used by the Nazis during World War II as a labor camp and a transit camp for European Jews who were sent on to death camps at other locations.


cell at Terezin

Princip’s cell at Terezin