News from the Amsab

Accessions, finding aids, publications, research

Amsab - Institute of Social History (Ghent)

Amsab, Archives and Museum of the Socialist Labour Movement, was founded in 1980. At the end of 1999 the name changed to "Amsab, Institute of Social History". In this way, Amsab wants to characterize itself as an institute for the study of a large variety of left wing, protest and emancipatory social movements, organizations and initiatives, and to preserve their heritage.
In May 2000 Amsab celebrated its twentieth anniversary. For this occasion we organized a successful open house, open museum and booksale on May 21 2000.
One of our most urgent problems is the lack of storage. Our collections grow every day, the number of visitors still increases, but our storage facilities for archives, books and other materials are overflowing. Insufficient funding from the Flemish Government prevents us from finding a long term solution.


Amsab recently acquired the following collections:

  • the records of various socialist ministerial cabinets, both of the federal and regional level. This transfer was a result of the elections of June 1999 and the consequent change of government
  • SEVI, the think tank of the SP (Flemish socialist party), 1960-1995
  • the national secretariat of the SP and a number of affiliated organizations such as SV (political organization of socialist women) and CSC-Vormingswerk (organization dealing with social and cultural matters), 1980-1998
  • SAGO Latijns-Amerika Centrum (solidarity group with Latin-America), 1972-1997
  • collections of two social photographers : Karel Heirbaut (working conditions in the shipyards) and Frans Pans (left movements in the sixties)
  • the private library of Gerda Dieltiens (about 1,300 books and pamphlets about feminism and free-thinking)
  • the archives and library of Karel Maes (valuable communist periodicals, such as the complete bound collection Sovjet-Union, an illustrated magazine for foreign propaganda)
  • 800 dissertations made by students of the Higher Institute for Social Cultural Work - High School for Workers (HISKWA)

In 1896 the International Federation of Ship, Dock and River Workers was founded in Antwerp. This laid the foundation of the "Havenarbeidersbond" (Dockers' Union), which in 1913 became the "Belgische Transportarbeidersbond" (BTB, Belgian Transport-Workers' Union), with its national seat in Antwerp. The records of this union, acquired by Amsab in 1999, mainly comprise a review of the activities of the trade group "Mercantile Marine". Particulary well documented are the wartime conditions (1940-44), when this union was located in England. Of course, its frequent international contacts are also reflected in the archive.

Finding Aids

Bert Boeckx, Inventaris van het archief van het Vlaams Aktiekomitee tegen Atoomwapens (VAKA) (Inventory of the archives of the Flemish action committee against nuclear weapons (VAKA)), Amsab-Werkinstrumenten 10, Gent: Amsab, 1999, 88 p.


  • Getuigen - Armand Verspeeten (red P. Creve), Gent: Amsab, 1999, 88 p.
    Last year Amsab started a new series, "Getuigen" (Witness), intended to present the life-stories of socialist militants as told by themselves. First in line is Armand Verspeeten, born in Ghent in 1910. As a child he had to leave school and to earn money for his family. This experience led him to socialism. His life-time spans a career in a variety of socialist organizations and in politics.
  • Anthony Carew, Michel Dreyfus, Geert Van Goethem, Rebecca Gumbrell-McCormick, Marcel van der Linden (ed), The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, Peter Lang, Bern etc, 2000, 616 p.
    This study of the ICFTU and its precursors was originally commissioned by IALHI with support from the Belgian and Dutch authorities, and was coordinated by Amsab, Institute of Social History (Ghent) and the IISH (Amsterdam). It is the first history of this important organization. An international team of researchers describes the development of the ICFTU's precursors (the International Secretariat of National Trade Union Centres, the International Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU), and the early World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU)) and reconstructs the complicated history of the ICFTU itself, from its origins during the Cold War, through anti-colonial struggles, European unification, international campaigns against Apartheid and many other issues. A final chapter discusses the organization's prospects in the twenty-first century.
    Contents: Wouter Steenhaut: Foreword; Bart De Wilde: Introduction; Michel Dreyfus: The Emergence of an International Trade Union Organization (1902-1919); Geert Van Goethem: Conflicting Interests: The International Federation of Trade Unions (1919-1945); Anthony Carew: The World Federation of Trade Unions: A False Dawn (1945-1949); Anthony Carew: The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (1949-1972); Rebecca Gumbrell-McCormick: The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (1972-1996); Marcel van der Linden: Conclusion: The Past and Future of International Trade Unionism. The publication includes Biographical Notes and Statistical Data, a Thematic Bibliography, and an Index.
  • Brood & Rozen: Tijdschrift voor de Geschiedenis van Sociale Bewegingen (Bread & Roses: Journal for the History of Social Movements), quarterly periodical (1999) 3, 4; (2000) 1, 2. Number 2 is a thematic issue, devoted to left-wing movements and municipal politics.
  • Gender and class in the 20th Century. The acta of the international colloquium with the same name will be published by September 2000.


  • Project "Vlaams-Brabant"
    Project commissioned by the provincial governement of Vlaams-Brabant on the social and economic history (1750-2000) of that province, in collaboration with Kadoc (Catholic Archives Documentation and Research Centre) and CES (Centre for Economic Studies of the University of Louvain). The project will lead to a publication and an exhibition (City Museum of Louvain) in September 2001.
  • Doctoral thesis Rik Hemmerijckx
    The foundation of the ABVV (socialist trade union) in May 1945 must be situated in the general renewal of Belgian society after the second world war. In his doctoral thesis Het ABVV 1940-1949: Van Verzet tot Koude Oorlog (The ABVV 1940-1949: From Resistance to Cold War), Rik Hemmerijckx studies how unity between the different forces of the left wing trade union resistance movements was reached, and how the social-democratic wing succeeded in gaining power and in neutralising the communist tendency.
  • ODIS
    Amsab is participating in ODIS, an ambitious research project that is aiming to create an encyclopedia of Flemish/Belgian social history. ODIS -- Onderzoekssteunpunt en Databank Intermediaire Structuren in Vlaanderen, 19de-20ste eeuw (Research platform and database of intermediary structures in Flanders, 19th and 20th century) -- is a collective project of four documentation centres, financed by the Flemish Fonds voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (Fund for Scientific Research), and comprising five researchers on a four-year basis. The encyclopedia will be open for public consultation as a database on the Internet ( from 2004 onwards. The project also emails a yearly workshop and will be concluded by an international symposium in 2003.
  • Valorization of the source material of the Flemisch co-operative movement (1880-1980)
    This project of the Fund for Scientific Research started in April 2000 and runs until December 2003. The project has a double approach. On the one hand it wants to make available the sources being preserved at Amsab and to track those of other institutions. On the other hand, this global inventory must be the start of scientific research in this field for which a renewed interest is growing.
  • International Free Trade Unions during the interbellum period
    Geert Van Goethem is finishing this postgraduate study to obtain his doctor's degree.
  • Culture and Socialism
    The next project for the Museum of the Flemish Social Struggle of the Province of East-Flanders deals with the relationship between Culture and Socialism. This research will lead to a book and an exhibition in 2004. The research has a social-historical character. The following items will be examined:
    • the socialist cultural policy: a survey (1885-...)
    • the part of the labour movement in general cultural processes (1885-...)
    • the socialist labour cultural movement in Belgium and Germany, a comparative perspective
    • socialist labour cultural movements outside the bastion
    • the cultural movements and initiatives in figures
    • culture and economy within the socialist labour cultural movement
    • the distribution and reception of novels within the socialist labour movement
    • the function of associations
    • left youth and youth organisations as purveyors of culture and as obstructionists
    • social movements and themes as inspiration for artists
    • mass culture and the traditional labour cultural movement
    • youth culture as sub culture

Posted: 28 July 2000