Historical Archives of the European Union

Accessing history: The privilege of working with primary sources

An interview with Persian Gulf University doctoral candidate Reza Aghababadastjerdi

18/11/2021 | News - Research

One aim of the Historical Archives of the European Union is to enhance transparency in the functioning of the EU institutions by making their documents available to the public and for research.

While we might sometimes take the purpose of public archives for granted, a recent Vibeke Sørensen Fellow reminds us of just how important that function is.

Reza Aghababadastjerdi, who came to us from the Persian Gulf University in Iran, has just wrapped up a 50 day research visit to the HAEU, exploring Iran’s commercial relations with the European Economic Community from 1957 to 1979.

Accessing information

For Reza, the HAEU and the Vibeke Sørensen Grant Programme offered an extraordinary opportunity for him to pursue his research.

“In Iran,” he explains, “it is very difficult to access documents from the previous regime, especially those which have political ramifications.” Although he had carried out preliminary research in some of the best libraries of the country, information on the early trade negotiations between Iran and the EEC was difficult to find.

Instead, the HAEU was able to furnish him with an “unbelievable” amount of documents on Iran. The country had established a delegation in Brussels to negotiate more favourable trade deals with Europe on some vital products. The first trade agreement of the EEC with a non-European country was signed in 14 October 1963 with Iran—an agreement that provided a tremendous boost to the Iranian economy.

At the HAEU, Reza found hundreds of documents related to these negotiations and others. “Here I was able to see the documents which basically should be available in my country too, but they are not,” he said. “It was a new experience for me.”  

Looking ahead

Reza now has enough data to proceed with his doctoral dissertation, and looks forward to eventually publishing it as a book.“

I want to especially thank Dieter Schlenker, Laura Burgassi and the Historical Archives of the European Union for selecting a scholar from a non-European country. I know there were some difficulties, and I appreciate their efforts that made it possible for me to come.”

He also acknowledges the staff at the Archives, who facilitated his research with “patience and kindness”.

“It was a great atmosphere,” he states, “and it really helped my research.” 

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