About the project

The Centre for Business History in Stockholm (CBHS) has carried on a project since 2008 on early Swedish business history in the Caucasus and the then Russian Empire ca. 1870-1920. The project looks at the history of the brothers Ludvig and Robert Nobel as innovators and successful company builders of a multinational oil industry with oil from Baku.

Background

The Swedish journalist Brita Åsbrink worked for several years in the 1990s in Baku, Azerbaijan, for the Red Cross and the Swedish International Development Co-operation Agency (SIDA). Brita Åsbrink came into contact with the history of the Nobel brothers’ and began to study historic documents – letters, diaries and memoirs – about the people in and around the company. Descendants of the Nobel brothers were also interviewed. Many senior employees in the company were Swedes and Finns. Archives were visited and searched in Baku, Sweden and other places. In 2001, Brita Åsbrink published her Swedish book Ludvig Nobel: “Petroleum har en lysande framtid” (Ludvig Nobel: Petroleum Has a Bright Future), with abundant illustrations from private and public archives.

There turned out to be a large amount of archive material about the Nobel brothers’ company Branobel spread across different countries, containing documents written in five, or maybe more, languages.

How interesting would it be to collect all the Branobel material and make it available for research and make it possible for researchers from different countries to shed new light on a forgotten part of the world’s early oil history?

The CBHS caught on to the idea and in 2008 it began to make an inventory of the archive stocks in Sweden and Baku. A project proposal emerged that led to funding. A generous grant by the foundation Stiftelsen Olle Engkvist Byggmästare is covering the Swedish costs to develop a website on popular history and to digitalise Swedish source material as well as contacts and some coordination with the archives in Azerbaijan. The CBHS had also recently developed a digital, historic database that was made available to the project.

Objectives

The project shall:

A)    Collect and make digital copies of historic documents about the Nobel brothers’ oil industry available free for use by researchers via the Internet.

B)    Tell the story of the Branobel company in a popular way on a website in English that contains articles, pictures, films and other material of interest.

C)    Make the database of the collected historic material searchable and accessible via the website www.branobelhistory.com

Recent developments

In 2010, the project gathered pace. A cooperation agreement was entered between the CBHS and the National Board of Archives of the Republic of Azerbaijan to digitalise and make historic material about Branobel available free for research via the Internet. The CBHS will be responsible for developing the website and providing a searchable database, and each country will fund and manage the digitalisation of its own archive material about Branobel. The complete company archive for Branobel’s oil activity has been preserved in Baku and covers approx. 320 shelf metres. A digitalization project was started in 2011 in Baku with financial support from important sponsors and with project management by Azerbaijan Scandinavia Cooperation Organization (ASCO) - a Baku registered non-governmental non-profit organization. Also in the neighbour country Georgia a digitalization project for Branobel historical material is about to materialise. In Sweden, approx. 90,000 pages archives and private collections around Sweden have already been scanned and are now available via this website from the
digital archive.

The members of the Swedish reference group are:

Mats Larsson, Professor in economic history, University of Uppsala;

Helene Carlbäck, Associate Professor in history, Director of Centre for Baltic and East European Graduate Studies, CBEES, at Södertörn University;

Martin Kragh, PhD Researcher, Stockholm School of Economics

The members of the Azeri reference group are: 

Cebi Bahramov, Professor, Deputy Director of Scientific Works, The A.A. Bakikhanov History Institute, Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences.

Haji Hasanov, PhD in history, Chief of New Azerbaijani History Department, The A.A. Bakikhanov History Institute, Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences.

Parvin Ahanchi, PhD in History, Researcher at the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences.

A newsletter covering the progress of the project has been published by the CBHS twice a year. Previous newsletters are available to download under the tab Newsletter on the homepage.

The CBHS is working actively to link further archives in more countries as partners of the project. Contacts have been established with archive institutions in Georgia. Preliminary cooperation agreements were been signed with the National Archives of Georgia and with the Nobel Brothers Batumi Technological Museum, in connection with a study visit by the CBHS to Georgia in March 2011. There are further archives of interest to the project in, among other places, St Petersburg and Moscow as well as Finland, Germany, Italy, France, England and the USA.

The project has the full support of the Nobel Family Society in Sweden and has received much help from the embassies of Azerbaijan and Georgia in Stockholm, the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Swedish ambassadors in these countries.