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Working with Archives

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Talk to the Quadrivium postgraduate conference, 'Boundaries of the Archive', University of Glasgow, 10 November 2018

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Working with Archives

  1. 1. WORKING WITH ARCHIVES Andrew Prescott, Quadrivium, University of Glasgow, 10 November 2018
  2. 2. Part of the entries for Yorkshire in The Great Domesday, 1086, The National Archives, E 31/2/1. Domesday Book is actually in two volumes, ‘Great’ and ‘Little’ Domesday. Domesday Book is regarded as the earliest English public record.
  3. 3. Exon Domesday, preserved in the library of Exeter Cathedral. Note the imprint of the spearhead. This is one of the documents created in the course of compiling Domesday Book, but it is not regarded as a public record. Why?
  4. 4. The earliest surviving English royal charter. King Hlothhere of Kent grants land to Abbot Berhtwald and his monastery at Reculver in 679: British Library, Cotton MS Augustus II.18 This royal document is more than 400 years older than Domesday Book but is not regarded as a public record. Why?
  5. 5. Love tokens (including a piece of thread and the shell of a nut) left by mothers with their babies at the Foundling Hospital in London in the eighteenth century, so that mothers could be identified if they ever reclaimed their children. These artefacts are a foundational part of the Hospital’s archive
  6. 6. Collection Area: Western Manuscripts Reference: Add MS 40007 Creation Date: c 1195 A parchment codex Language: Latin Contents: This manuscript consists of letters and historical works written by Ralph of Diceto (d. 1199/1200), chronicler, ecclesiastic and dean of St Paul's Cathedral, London. This volume was probably produced in the scriptorium of St Paul's. The prefatory letter to William de Longchamp (d. 1197), chancellor of England and bishop of Ely, is found only in this manuscript, suggesting that it might have been the original copy presented to William de Longchamp (see Sharpe and Willoughby, Medieval Libraries (2015)). The list of writers on f. 35v that ends with Ralph de Diceto states that he finished his historical work in 1195 (see Watson, Catalogue of Dated and Datable Manuscripts (1979)). Cotton MS Faustina A VIII (from the Augustinian priory of St Mary Overy) and Cotton MS Tiberius A IX (from the Augustinian abbey of Osney) have the same contents, except the prefatory letter to William de Longchamp. Decoration: Puzzle initials in red and blue with pen-flourishing in green and brown, throughout (e. g., ff. 2r, 7r); simple initials in red or blue, with green and brown pen-flourishing and penwork decoration (e. g., ff. 12v, 21r, 23v); small initials in red or blue. Rubrics in red. A human figure added in the margin of the text (f. 21r). Maniculae in the margin (f. 22r). Physical characteristics: Materials: Parchment. Dimensions: 415 x 285 mm (text space: 300/20 x 200/230 mm, in 2 or 3 columns). Foliation: ff. 43 (+ 1 unfoliated paper flyleaf at the beginning + 2 unfoliated paper flyleaves at the end); ff. 1, 43 are former medieval pastedowns. Script: Protogothic. Binding: Pre-1600 binding. 14th-century binding with wooden boards, originally covered with white parchment. The parchment cover is now fragmentary; marks of a chain and clasp: a small part of the iron chain remains on the back cover; a 14th-century book-label in horn (inscribed: 'Cronica Ricardi de Diceto') remains on the back cover. The manuscript was rebacked in 1922; the spine inscribed in gold at the British Museum: 'R. DE DICETO OPERA MINORA'.
  7. 7. Pipe Roll, 1129-1130: The National Archives, E 372/1 open at m. 9 (side view) [Is the concept of recto relevant here?]
  8. 8. • We refer indiscriminately to literary manuscripts, administrative documents, printed books, computer records and even artefacts as belonging to the archive • Yet distinctions are made between different types of material. How and why? • Do these distinctions remain valid? • Why are some types of material treated in one way and some in another? • How does this affect us as users of archives? • What are the practical implications for the way in which we work with archives?
  9. 9. • The archive has been closely associated with administrative documents. It is therefore closely associated with the exercise of power – an instrument of power. • The Latin archivum derives from the Greek arkheion, which was ‘a house, a domicile, an address, the residence of the superior magistrates, the archons, those who commanded’ • Edward Chamberlayne (1669) describes the Tower of London as not only a fort and royal palace, but also an arsenal, a treasury, a mint, a prison and ‘the great Archive where are conserved all the Records of the Courts of Westminster’ • Ranke: ‘the historical sources themselves are more beautiful and in any case more interesting than romantic fiction’ • Sayles (1979): archives ‘the only way by which we can escape from the uninformed guesses of chroniclers’ • Steedman (2001): ‘the religious and state archives of Europe and North America and their more local records of government and administration were (and still are) evoked in order to describe what it is a historian does’
  10. 10. • Hilary Jenkinson (1922): An archival document is ‘drawn up or used in the course of an administrative or executive transaction (whether public or private) of which itself formed a part; and subsequently preserved in their own custody for their own information by the person or persons responsible for that transaction and their legitimate successors’. Importance of official custody. • Theodore Schellenberg (1956): all books, papers, maps, photographs, or other documentary materials, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received by any public or private institution in pursuance of its legal obligations or in connection with the transaction of its proper business and preserved or appropriate for preservation by that institution or its legitimate successor as evidence of its functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations, or other activities or because of the informational value of the data contained therein. • We drive openness, cultivate public participation, and strengthen our nation's democracy through public access to high-value government records (NARA)
  11. 11. • The consensus evident in the 1950s about the nature of the archive has broken down under a variety of pressures including:- • The effects of the emergence of new media, including sound, moving image and electronic records • New historical methods eg oral history, photographic history and growth of interdisciplinary research • Complicity of the archive with immoral and corrupt governments eg apartheid South Africa • Concern to introduce new voices into the archive and to break down its relationship with existing power structures • Ability of new digital platforms to allow communities and individuals to generate their own archives
  12. 12. • The term archive is today applied not only to administrative archives but also to: • Sound recordings (National Sound Archive in the British Library) • Film (British Film Institute National Sound Archive) • Television (BBC Archive) • Newspapers (British Newspaper Archive) • Web archives • Archive functions within e-mail and other digital packages • Archive of endangered languages (SOAS) • Seed archive • Medical Research Council Frozen Sperm and Embryo Archive • Animal DNA Archive (University of Liverpool)
  13. 13. Muro de la Memoria, Parque de los Reyes, Santiago. A collective archive recording those who disappeared during the dictatorship of General Pinochet in Chile
  14. 14. Patchwork documenting the experience of Chilean exiles in South Yorkshire: www.chilescda.orgPatchwork recording the experiences of Chilean exiles who settled in South Yorkshire www.chilescda.org
  15. 15. • Is the term ‘archive’ nowadays simply a catch-all for anything recording memory? • If so, why do we continue to have separate galleries, libraries, archives and museums (GLAM)? Merely for historic reasons? • What is the difference between working with archives and working with (say) Special Collections in a library? • There may not be many differences in terms of content between archives and the Special Collections in a library, but there are major distinctions in terms of: • Acquisition • Appraisal and selection • Processing and cataloguing • This has implications for us as researchers. The way we work with archives is very different to the way we work with (say) manuscripts in Special Collections • However, the boundaries between archives and other collections are more fluid and interconnected than Jenkinson would have admitted • Some of our most common search and discovery techniques are of limited value with archives and we need to consider other methods
  16. 16. A major issue in working with archives is their VAST SCALE While manuscript volumes can be individually counted, the size of archival series is often expressed in the kilometres of shelf they occupy. The National Archives has over 167 kilometres of records. “Unsettling and colossal…stacked on shelves, measured in kilometres like roads, the archive seems infinite, perhaps even indecipherable. Can you read a highway, even if it is made of paper?” (Arlette Farge)
  17. 17. Roger Ellis as a young Assistant Keeper in the Public Record Office: ‘the majesty of the records themselves fired my imagination from the start. There they lay in their silent caves, great stalactites of history, some left complete, some truncated, as the imperceptible currents of life had turned to run elsewhere, some year by year still growing’. The Cotton Manuscripts in the British Library comprise approx. 1,400 manuscripts and over 1,500 charters and rolls. The rolls of just two courts in The National Archives (King’s Bench and Common Pleas) comprise over 10,000 formal rolls produced between 1273 and 1500 containing more than four million individual membranes, dwarfing the Cotton Library. When the National Archives were evacuated during World War II, ‘it was first necessary to shift 300 tons of records from the basement to the upper floors, and after that, 600 lorry loads were brought back in the following eight months at the rate of about 17 loads a week’. By comparison, the British Library manuscripts collection ‘would hardly fill the back of a baby Austin’. Overwhelmingly, the roll and the charter are the characteristic scribal productions of medieval England.
  18. 18. • The methods of the archivist reflect the scale of the archive • Archivists are just as much concerned with the managed destruction of records as with their preservation. Appraisal a key activity (in 1989, only 3% of Home Office papers reached TNA) • Records boxed • Numbering systems are short, flexible and reflect administrative hierarchies eg C 54/221 or KB 145/3/6/1 • Records are listed rather than catalogued • Greater concern with record groups than with individual items • Archivists seek to preserve the original administrative structure and arrangement of their records – the principal of ‘respect des fonds’ i.e. grouping documents according to the administration, organization, individual, or entity by which they were created or from which they were received.
  19. 19. The Peasants’ Revolt of 1381: Richard II attempts to address the rebels at Rotherhithe. From a 15th-century copy of Froissart’s Chronicles: Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, MS Français 2644, f. 154v
  20. 20. Indictment against the Suffolk rebel leader, John Wraw, taken in Suffolk by a commission under the Earl of Suffolk in July 1381. Summoned into Chancery in May 1382, and afterwards transferred to King’s Bench: The National Archives, KB 9/166/1 m. 39.
  21. 21. Proceedings on the appeal of John Wraw in the Court of King’s Bench in 1383: The National Archives, KB 27/484 rex m. 26
  22. 22. Record in the King’s Bench roll of proceedings on John Wraw’s appeal, which indicates where many of the supporting documents are filed: The National Archives, KB 27/484 rex m. 27
  23. 23. King’s Bench Recorda file for 4 Richard II which contains fuller copies of many of the documents relating to Wraw’s appeal, The National Archives, KB 9/145/3/4/1
  24. 24. Chart of the development of the King’s Bench files by C. A. F. Meekings. Note how the different file series branch off and how archival work on recovering them proceeded like an archaeological excavation.
  25. 25. Why the principle of ‘respect des fonds’ is vital • The hierarchical relationships (both vertical and horizontal) between different record series preserves evidence of administrative processes and the context of documents • Attempts at ‘rationalization’ in past have destroyed lot of information • V. H. Galbraith’s vision of ‘archival history’: “to the archivist, the past presents itself as a vast collection of ‘original documents’ ... To name a century to the archivist is to call up a mental picture of the relevant records, the progress of history appearing to him as a slow pageant of slowly changing records, marked from time to time by the occasional disappearance of one class and the gradual emergence of another”.
  26. 26. Petition by Adam Pinkhurst (supposedly Chaucer’s scribe) to Henry IV, requesting confirmation of grants to him by Edward III and Richard II in Surrey and Sussex, 1400: The National Archives, SC 8/134/6655 SC stands for ‘Special Collection’, an artificial collection created in the nineteenth century. The arbitrary rearrangement of documents such as this destroyed evidence as to how petitions were handled by the royal government
  27. 27. Thinking about ‘respect des fonds’ • Keyword searching has limited value in structures which emphasise administrative context and interconnections • ‘Respect des fonds’ does not necessarily imply continuous official custody – far from it • ‘Respect des fonds’ has in the past been used to create hard boundaries, but a more fluid view of the interconnections of the archive seems more appropriate • Does archival thinking provides a different perspective to the approaches of the library and museum. Should we be developing a new blend of these approaches?
  28. 28. Search results for ‘Geoffrey Chaucer’ in TNA Discovery. There are over 400 life records of Chaucer in the National Archives. Discovery retrieves just three of them.
  29. 29. Trial of William Huntyngfield, accused of robbing Geoffrey Chaucer of £10 at ‘Le Kage in Holbourne’, 24 November 1391. Huntyngfield was found guilty, although there is no record of his execution: The National Archives, KB 27/521 rex m. 18
  30. 30. Grant on behalf of John of Northampton, formerly mayor of London, relating to lands in Edmonton, Tottenham and Shoreditch in Middlesex, 1393, also in hand of Adam Pinkhurst. London, British Library, Additional Charter 40542. Illustration from L. Warner, Chaucer’s Scribes (2018) Jenkinson felt that such charters were the ‘wreck of archives’. However, it forms part of a small ‘fond’ in the BL, apparently abstracted from the records of the Middlesex manors held by Northampton
  31. 31. Receipts and issues of the Exchequer passing through the hands of Sir William Herrick, one of the four tellers of the Exchequer of Receipt, 1621-1622. Note how each transaction is signed by the recipient or depositor of the money. London, British Library, Additional MS 41578
  32. 32. London, British Library, Additional MS 61947: Teller's view of Account from the Exchequer of Receipt for the half year beginning Michaelmas 1587. Fills a gap in this series of records in the National Archives, between E 405/433 and E 405/434. Purchased at Sotheby's, 20 July 1981, lot 9.
  33. 33. Linking archival records: The Digital Panopticon: www.digitalpanopticon.org
  34. 34. Linking archives to reconstruct forgotten lives in the Digital Panopticon Life Archive
  35. 35. Morning Chronicle, 7 December 1771, from Burney Newspaper collection
  36. 36. Plaster cast prepared for William Hunter of the échorché figure, apparently the dissected corpse of Solomon Porter, 1771, for use in the Royal Academy Research by Frances Osis, a PhD student in the Hunterian Museum, indicates that Hunter’s anatomy collection may include specimens from Porter’s body
  37. 37. I admit that these accounts, which have suddenly leapt across two and a half centuries of silence, have resonated with something deep inside me, more than what we ordinarily call literature […] if I have drawn on them it is most likely because of the resonance I feel when I encounter these small lives that have become ashes, revealed in the few sentences that cut them down. Michel Foucault
  38. 38. Record of trial of John Rykener, a cross-dressing male prostitute, in London, 1395

Talk to the Quadrivium postgraduate conference, 'Boundaries of the Archive', University of Glasgow, 10 November 2018

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