Damages & scanning

The Danish National Archives houses millions of documents, maps, photographs and much more, which relate the history of the Danish West Indies in words and pictures. Most of this material is in good condition and is accessible on this website. A small part is, unfortunately, in such bad shape that scanning is not possible.

The Danish National Archives contain 12,913 boxes or approximately 1,300 linear meters of material about the colony in the West Indies. One third comes from the then central administration in Copenhagen and two thirds from the local administration in the Danish West Indies. In 1997 the collection was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list.

Accessible to all

More than 99 percent of this collection has been scanned and digitized to make it accessible and preserve it for posterity. The approximately 5 million scanned pages is accessible for search on this site and visible at Arkivalier Online. But the remaining small percent – 122 boxes, which come from the local administration – are in such bad condition that scanning would cause great damage. Instead, there will be information at Arkivalier Online that the documents could not be scanned. There will also be photos showing examples of the state of the material.

Questions regarding the 122 boxes which could not be scanned can be addressed to mailboxRASEK@sa.dk

Fungal attack, iron gall and insect damage

The most common damage to the documents was caused by fungal attack, iron gall ink and insect or mouse infestation. The tropical Caribbean climate, with its high humidity and temperatures, has also caused the paper to disintegrate.


Fungus in the documents.
Tropical mould fungus has attacked the paper, and the roots of the fungus have grown into the paper and are degrading it. The fungus on the documents is old and inactive, but if the right climatic conditions reoccur, the fungus will immediately begin growing again (The Danish National Archives).

Iron gall

Iron gall on the documents.
In older days, ink with substantial amounts of iron was usually used, so-called iron gall ink. In a tropical climate, this ink darkened the paper and degraded its fibres so that in the worst case, it becomes just as fragile as burned paper. In some cases, the documents are so damaged that they cannot be saved (The Danish National Archives).

Insect gnawing

Insect gnawing in the documents.
Insects thrive in a tropical climate, causing a great deal of damage, especially from worms and termites that in the worst cases can cut paper into so many pieces that it becomes an impossible jigsaw. Furthermore, the faeces of the worms functions as glue, making the pages stick together so that they are virtually impossible to separate without being torn even more (The Danish National Archives).

Mice bites

Mice bites in the documents.
Mice, rats, and other rodents have had ample opportunity to gnaw, and this kind of damage is widespread in the documents. (The Danish National Archives).


It may be possible to scan some of the damaged material in the 122 boxes when it has been conserved. But conservation is expensive and is only considered for documents containing information that cannot be found anywhere else. In the case of a damaged letter copybook, for example, the original copies of the same letters can be found in the archives of the recipient, often in the archives of the central administration in Copenhagen.


Scanning is carried out on various types of scanners depending on the various sizes and formats of the documents. During scanning there is an in-depth quality control of the image. When any faults have been rectified, the image of the documents is transferred to an external hard drive and an additional back up is made before conversion to a technology-neutral preservation format as well as JPG. The Danish National Archives make the scanned documents available through reading rooms and digitally online. For example, access is regulated by the Danish legislation on archives that determines when access can be granted to the document in question.