Archives, practices and paper: thoughts from Munich, Early Modern Post

By Gretchen | September 26, 2013

by Elizabeth Williamson

I’m writing this blog on the plane home from Munich, where I’ve been at a conference for the last few days. I was invited by the lovely Prof. Markus Friedrich, who was on the same panel as me at The Permissive Archive, to give a paper at the ‘Frühneuzeittag’, or annual meeting of Germany’s early modern historians (not where I expect to find myself on a Friday afternoon).

The panel was, you guessed it, on archives, but the conference itself took the theme of ‘practice/s’. My co-panellists were Randolph Head of Riverside, California, talking about registers and registries in Innsbruck’s multiple chancelleries, and Megan K Williams of Groningen on the role of the dramatic growth of the paper industry in making possible, even in causing, the development of (particularly residential) diplomacy and the increasing bureaucracy of the early modern world. I’ve always considered myself to have a very material eye when it comes to historical sources, but will now pay more attention to the procuring of paper, all too often taken for granted.

This related to one of Markus’ opening points, about taking the archives for granted, in a plea that historians pay more attention to the archive as historical object itself. Another of his points that I found interesting, and perhaps challenging, is his argument that archival history needs to go beyond the evident subject areas of their role in knowledge production and administration: studying early modern archives and archiving can take us to other areas too, including economic and social history, where we find theft, forgery, avenues for social mobility, and much more.

As well as cataloguing and the technology of the codex, Randy also spoke about a proto research network and project in development. This was at a workshop/dinner on his ‘Global archivalities’ project later that evening; he’s in the process of forming a scholarly group of interested archival historians, encompassing but going beyond Europe, in order to recover the methods of keeping and organising in societies globally.

Going neither beyond England nor beyond administration and knowledge production, but in my humble view a useful topic nonetheless, my paper explored the practice of archiving political and diplomatic papers in the government of late Elizabethan England. I returned to particular manuscripts that appeared in my doctoral work – manuscripts that suggest the organisation and indexing of collections of early modern state papers, of letters – though here in the context of ‘practices’, and, my own pet interests at the moment, the internet and networks.

Read full post here. (originally posted September 23, 2013)