Early Modern Post


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Archives, practices and paper: thoughts from Munich

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.

The term ‘practice’ suggests to me two main things: firstly the relationship of reality to theory, of activity to ideal – this is where ‘practice’ is set up as the physical instantiation of or opposing force to ‘theory’. It is what actually happens. Secondly, practice is habituated behaviour, where activity becomes ingrained by repetition to become systematised; individual activity becomes the system. It is the way things happen, the norm. My paper was about both of these things. It concerned the theory and action of early modern archival preservation, during a time when the sheer volume of letters and treatises received by the Elizabethan governing elite caused the formation of a system. The repeated practice of receiving, keeping and re-using letters itself created the system that held it.

Archiving is a necessary and even inherent aspect of what you could call an information age: it allows you to keep things by allowing you to let go of them; it allows the individual to forget without losing the knowledge. Today, people use the term ‘information age’ regarding the internet and this is sometimes seen as comparable to the printing press in the early modern period; however, I wouldn’t relate the ‘information age’ to print alone – it is also due to the growth in the humble letter, whether within the ‘Republic of letters’ or concerning the diversification of state apparatus and increase in travel (whether for leisure, trade, exploration, diplomacy).

Like the invention of writing itself, archives and libraries are a particular step in the evolution of a society; they permit the further expansion of knowledge by taking the immediate ownership of it out of the hands of the individual. By introducing a middle stage, a holding area, whether that is the codex, the catalogue or the computer, the individual (and importantly, perhaps any individual) can reach far further than their hand or mind could otherwise stretch.

But – to make use of these holding stages you need two things: you need to be able to access them and you need to be able to navigate them. The ideas of searchability and accessibility, and their relationship to meaning, value and use, are highly pertinent at the moment. Less than thirty years after Tim Berners-Lee christened the World Wide Web, we know we’re in an information age and we’re in the process of working out ways to cope with it. One new way could be the idea of ‘distant reading’ (as opposed to ‘close reading’) in the humanities: it’s a way of using technology to find out what something says without having to read it; it’s about determining what’s relevant.

Adam Crymble talks about Big Data and Old History in the 2 minute thesis, from PhD Comics

Without at least some of these navigation methods, our jobs as historians and scholars, even as readers, would be very different and very difficult. Equally, without a way to keep, process and refer to the many letters the Elizabethan elite was sent, they would have no political afterlife: they would be read once and then forgotten. Instead, they are kept. Even this first action is telling. Then, they are endorsed, and often they are either collected in a bundle or even in a book. As anyone who has studied Elizabethan (or any other I should think) government will know, this makes for a lot of information, a lot of paper.

The practice I saw being developed was in the keeping, in the archiving, that because of sheer mass grew into habitual behaviour: it was the norm to keep everything. I also saw attempts at organising and indexing this paper world (or worlds); manuscript lists that pointed to codification (in the literal sense), alphabetical bundles and browsable indices. But, if this kind of new behaviour (the navigating, the helpful, overt organising) was so useful, allowing access and turning amorphous mass into user-friendly resource, why did I not find more of it?

As much as I love the manuscripts that I found, mainly for showing me exactly what I wanted to see, part of the this excitement was because I did not find it everywhere – it was not common. What was common was ream after ream of endorsed but otherwise apparently unnavigable Elizabethan letters. It took me long enough to find something I wanted, with the addition of British Library catalogues and free-text searches, lord knows how such masses could be used otherwise, and the question then presents itself of why they bothered keeping it all? Indexing and organising was growing practice perhaps, but it wasn’t the norm – I suppose my wondering now is why it was growing but not grown.

The ultimate example of control and hierarchies of knowledge.

The ultimate example of control and hierarchies of knowledge…

I think there are two explanations as to why there wasn’t more of this overt organising. The third sly point is that there was some, but its traces aren’t always easy to see. Otherwise, I think one reason is cost – of time and money. The other reason is perhaps located in the very advantage it offers. Perhaps such papers weren’t easy to navigate because they didn’t want to make them accessible. If the collection is otherwise owned, controlled and navigated by only one or a few individuals, unlocking it may be the last thing they want to do. Keeping the key, the knowledge, in their heads, they are an integral part of the archive themselves: why would they welcome replacement or relinquish control?

As Bill Sherman says, writing about the library of celebrated polymath John Dee: ‘the apparent disorder and inaccessibility of the library were quite possibly part of its design, since they served to make the librarian indispensable for unlocking its secrets and bringing it to life’. If you can’t navigate something – if you’re not initiated – even if you are permitted to, in reality you do not have access.

Theoretical access is only the first step. The next is enabling by the sharing of ownership, a releasing of the chains; the reverse of which is the obfuscation of knowledge, and the mystification of education.

Part two to come, when I have that third thing that permits work, thought and knowledge: time.


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Running a conference and learning by doing

This blog post, as promised, is about some of the practical, behind the scenes details of the Permissive Archive conference, which was run by the graduate students of the Centre for Editing Lives and Letters in November 2012. It doesn’t promise to show the only or even the best way of doing things, but aims to give a snippet view of the good, the bad and the ugly, as we experienced it.

As with a lot of things in early career academia, part of the impetus behind organising this conference was our desire to learn how to do it, quite apart from its intellectual content. Running a successful conference is a concrete skill, and though you can get advice, you only really learn by doing.

The learning process shouldn’t be forgotten in this; these things don’t just appear by magic, and I think that (especially considering recent changes in the UK university system) we need to shout more about these valuable marketable skills that are part of research careers and PhDs.

Anyone who thinks that PhDs and researchers grow grey-haired writing in isolation about obscurity is just plain wrong.

I learned a huge amount by being involved in this process. The intellectual content of the day was extremely high and, I think, valuable and original. But as well as this, I learned a lot about teamwork, project management and, yes, myself: though this may sound like buzzword waffle, I really do mean it. Forget your team building days and leadership courses; if you want to develop yourself, get stuck into a big project, and learn by doing it, don’t wait for someone to teach you.

Planning

Home-made cakes: a conference must-have

Home-made cakes: a CELL conference must-have

Although I said in the previous post that we spent a year planning this, it was actually a year from its inception, with a varied amount of work required at certain intervals (sending the call for papers, choosing speakers etc), and most of the work was done in the final couple of months.

We were quite a large organising team, and the size had both its strengths and weaknesses. It meant that there were enough of us to stage-manage the day well, meaning we were able to pay attention to the details, and that some of us could listen to (and deliver!) papers whilst others tidied, shepherded and arranged food and coffee. If you were a smaller group, I’d recommend begging some friends/colleagues/students to help the day flow well. You never know which bit is going to go wrong (something will).[1]

The down side of this is that inevitably some organisers will see more of the day than others, which is not fair but probably necessary, since if proceedings are going to be published, there should be an attentive listener in each session. We could have done better at making this fairer, as it meant that some people integral to its success missed out on the intellectual content of the day, kind of like this.

Being a large team, we would have benefitted from taking strong roles earlier on – though we did adopt a more systematic way of doing things, from clarifying roles to minuting meetings, it would’ve saved time to do this from the start.

My amazing colleagues worked so well and in such an organised fashion on the day – the team had a dry-run earlier in the week and had a list of tasks and designated responsibilities both before and on the day – ensuring that all in all everything ran very smoothly!

Style:

Now this is where I think CELL and its grad students really come into their own. I headed this section ‘style’ because that’s what I think a conference needs, in its detail and in its attitude, and that’s what I think can easily be missing from a lot of academic conferences. To think that attention to the stylish detail takes something away from the academic substance of the event is, in my humble opinion, completely wrong. Let’s have our cakes, decorate them, and eat them.

Beforehand – mainly we have Kirsty Rolfe to thank for this one. Our resident cartoonist-meets-academic, Kirsty drew us an amazing visual version of our call for papers.

Kirsty_schedule

Excerpt from Permissive Archive schedule

On the day – Again, Kirsty drew us simply the best conference schedule, to go on doors and in people’s conference packs. And a little bit of merchandise is not a bad thing – we had good quality conference folders printed, little CELL badges made, and branded cloth bags so that delegates could tote their notes in style. And in case anyone forgot a pen for jotting notes, questions and contacts, we dropped one in each bag. These things cost much less than you might imagine, and are (on the whole) practical and useful as well as fun.

CELL only works as a scholarly group because students want to study with us and people come to us with research projects and opportunities. Self-promotion here is about making a small but vital research centre survive, and I reckon with things like the delegate bag we promoted our name and something of our personality.

There were also fresh-cut flowers on the panel tables, home-made cakes for afternoon tea (far cheaper than professional catering), and pastries with the morning coffee for those who arrived early.

Digital Humanities:

I was keen to promote the online presence of the conference, especially considering the vitality and number of early modern scholars and ‘twitterstorians’ on twitter and in the blogosphere. We made sure that our hashtag #permissivearchive was on the conference schedule, and set up a guest account for wireless internet access at the university. Since I was giving a paper, I included the hashtag with my personal details on my powerpoint presentation.

I was overwhelmed by the online buzz about the conference, and the real digital conversations it sparked: all told we had several hundred tweets on and around the day.

Here’s a link to a ‘topsy’ page with the tweets recorded (but this won’t last). And here’s a link to some stats data about the tweeting (I love this stuff). I may blog in more detail about this aspect of the conference. TOP TIP: aggregate your tweets early, soon after the conference, as twitter searches only go back 10 days. Use Snapbird to search further back, Topsy to export data, and Storify to collect everything together into one visual record of the event.

That’s going to have to be all for now, as it’s my first day back after Christmas and I’ve got a list as long as my arm of things to do. Do comment on the blog if you think I’ve forgotten something important. Once more, none of the above would have been possible without the support of our department, the incredible organising committee, our brilliant speakers and chairs and our attentive delegates. Thanks all, and a Happy New Year to everyone!


[1] Special mention goes to those who literally ran to a shop to buy vegan lunches, as we’d been let down by our caterers – as well as being a bit short on the quantity of food, they didn’t supply the vegan food we’d ordered…


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The Permissive Archive – a review

In November 2012, the graduate students of the Centre for Editing Lives and Letters put on a one-day conference to mark CELL’s ten year anniversary. ‘The Permissive Archive’ was the result of a year of planning, 24 speakers in four parallel panels, one keynote lecture by Lisa Jardine, and the most wonderful set of organisers, colleagues and delegates you could hope for.

This post was going to say a little bit about what the conference was about, and a little about what I learned from the process, but this ended up being, well, on the long side. So, here’s a bit about the intellectual content of the day, and IOU one blog post on the practicalities!

What is a Permissive Archive, anyway?

We were intentionally open-minded about what the enigmatic ‘permissive archive’ might mean. Bar limiting the period focus of the conference from 1500-1800, we left it to our speakers and delegates to explore what they thought the archive permitted, forbade, complicated and provoked. How does information reach us, what is preserved and what is lost, and how does this affect the questions we ask and the answers we find? We wanted to take a new look at the ‘archival turn’, at the intersection between archivists, historians and literary scholars, and at the history – and future – of archives. Ambitious? Probably. But what was covered in an expansive and open way on the day can hopefully slim down into something more directed in any future publication (watch this space on that one).

The papers

The audience wait expectantly for the first panel.

The audience wait expectantly for the first panel.

Being one of the organisers, I wasn’t able to attend all the panels, but the papers I did see impressed the socks off me. I was also presenting at the conference, alongside two fascinating papers that together made up the first panel, on the ‘original context’ of the early modern archive.

In brief, my paper was on the ‘afterlife’ of letters – that is, in the diplomatic arena particularly, what happens to letters after their initial sending and reception, and how do they become the sources of ‘History’ with a capital ‘H’? Do aspiring diplomats write with this use in mind? Who kept and preserved daily diplomatic letters, and why? I argued that such letters could become the substance of government, used not just as an epistle to convey information, but in their immediate ‘afterlife’ preserved and re-formatted to become political resources in their own right.

Christopher Burlinson discusses early modern filing.

Christopher Burlinson discusses early modern filing.

This fit well with my co-panellist Christopher Burlinson’s paper on early modern filing, examined alongside Spencer’s The Faerie Queene. One really interesting point (among many made) was that filing and archiving can be ways of allowing one to forget as well as allowing one to remember – a really fascinating tension that I need to think more about. Our third member was Markus Friedrich, who explored the difficulties and possibilities of accessing archives in early modern Europe. We heard stories of the wining, dining and bribing of individuals in order that scholars could get their hands on materials, suggesting that the archive’s power dynamics lay less with princely display and politics, and more with local and social barriers to be navigated.

Parallel to my panel was a group of speakers on the future rather than the past of the archive – the ubiquitous but potentially ill-defined ‘digital humanities’. Unsurprisingly for a panel of tech savvy folk, you can find much of their material online already. Take a look at Samuli Kaislaniemi’s paper here, and his postscript that cheered in its conclusion that the audience were already reasonably au fait with the risks and complexities of the digital medium. Perhaps we’re now getting used to both the advantageous access and problematic filtering and misrepresentations of digital sources. If you weren’t there, you can find notes and slides from Paige Morgan’s talk on her Visible Prices project here.

The issue of how old and new methods of access affect our work was reprised in Helen Graham-Matheson’s paper on the under-studied counselloresse Elizabeth Parr[1]. Where the nineteenth century Calendars of State Papers excised this influential woman almost completely from history, the State Papers Online’s mass digitisation of original documents has allowed Helen to recover her story.

Amanda Vickery chairs the panel on 'What the Victorians did to us'.

Amanda Vickery chairs the panel on ‘What the Victorians did to us’.

This aptly named panel, ‘What the Victorians did to us’, was also made up of Eleanor Collins’ brilliant paper on the mediated nature of the Caroline Revels accounts, and Pete Mitchell’s inimitable presentation on the India Office records, the remaking of Colonial history and a particularly well illustrated kind of Victorian antiquarian pride.

Eleanor’s discussion of lost and manipulated originals tapped into something that threaded through the whole day – that we do not need to treat the problematic archive with pessimism or with reverence, but with a careful use that maps and explores what’s both there and not there.

This was seen in panel 5, which explored the relationship of the life of the individual to the life of ‘their’ archive. Noah Moxham took us through the biography of Robert Hooke and the Royal Society, challenging us to think about the overlap between the individual and the institution, and asking what leads to the preservation of a collection. Kelsey Jackson Williams, on John Aubrey, reminded us how donating a collection is a projection of the self, but one that is always fragmentary and incomplete.

Sarah Broadhurst shows us Isaac Rand's name inked onto the book edge.

Sarah Broadhurst shows us Isaac Rand’s name inked onto the book edge.

Towards the end of the day, this idea was revisited in a very physical form by Sarah Broadhurst’s deeply provenance-focused survey of the books in the Chelsea Physic Garden. Here we had the archivist’s approach, materially tracing the inscriptions of names down the sides of bookcases and books, as well as touching on networks of knowledge and friendship amongst such luminaries as Hans Sloane and John Ray. I only wish that I had some more images to put up here, both from this paper, and especially from Arlene Leis’ paper on a collection of eighteenth century visiting cards and from Anna Marie Roos’ wealth of Lister ephemera from earlier in the day.

The last paper was delivered by Ian Cooper, and discussed the finding of the Seymour of Berry Pomeroy manuscripts which reveal the role of Plymouth during the Armada years; a paper by Ian on a similar theme, published by James Daybell and Andrew Gordon in a special edition of the open source journal Lives and Letters can be found here.

The day was rounded off in excellent style by a stimulating lecture by Professor Lisa Jardine, which doubled as the keynote lecture and the launch of the impressive Annotated Books Online project. If you didn’t manage to catch her then, I strongly recommend going to her inaugural lecture at UCL on 15th January next year, titled ‘Temptation in the Archives’.

There were, of course, more excellent papers that I’ve not room to mention – otherwise this would be an article rather than a blog post. This is no reflection on the papers themselves, and if you were there I’d love it if you wanted to share your thoughts in the comments section below – especially on the half of the day that I didn’t see.

Once more, a massive thank you to my colleagues for organising, the chairs for presiding expertly over the panels, and all the speakers for their hard work. In my humble opinion, you’re all awesome.

The Permissive Archive organisers were: James Everest, Helen Graham-Matheson, Daisy Hildyard, Nydia Pineda, Kirsty Rolfe, Will Tosh, Elizabeth Williamson, Clare Whitehead.


[1] The term ‘counselloresse’ was found by Helen in a letter describing these kinds of powerful women around Elizabeth I’s privy chamber. I know Helen would love to hear from you if you’ve encountered its use elsewhere.


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The end of the beginning

Yesterday, I had a conversation with a friend of mine about where I am now, post-phd, pre-job, early career, whatever you want to call it. Post-phd can be a difficult time: you’ve spent the last few years on a single project, embedded in a community of like-minded people who just by their presence give what you’re doing real worth, and then, suddenly, you’re cut adrift, having to make huge decisions about where you want to go next. What makes that worse is that any decision you make is 100% dependent on someone else; I may decide what career I want to go into, but it is someone else who will give me the job (or not!).

I’m also moving away from my department, which makes the cut feel sharper. However, as my friend pointed out, I’m really lucky in that once you are part of CELL, or the Centre for Editing Lives and Letters, you are always part of it. I think this is the real measure of a community; if they continue to embrace you after any ‘official’ connection has ended.

My life is following two streams at the moment: I am trying to get a job out in the real world, and I am continuing my association with CELL. The great thing about both doing the PhD and being an active member of an academic community is that it’s given me so many useful skills that range far beyond knowledge of sixteenth century politics; if an application form wants evidence of project management, team work and communication skills, a PhD provides it.

A concrete manifestation of this is the upcoming conference that myself and my CELL/QM colleagues are organising. I’ve mentioned this already in a previous post, but now – excitingly – the day’s schedule is settled, so I thought I would post it here too. If you want to come, please do – just register at http://permissivearchive.wordpress.com/registration/.

So it’s the end of the beginning of my career, and I can’t wait for the meat of the next step, wherever that ends up being. I also feel that the end of the beginning is an appropriate tag for the Permissive Archive conference itself. The title was chosen because we wanted people to think about what archival research permits, what archives make happen and what they limit. It was a question – what is the permissive archive? For a truly inspired visual representation of this question, see the excellent ‘Avoiding the Bears‘ blog by Kirsty Rolfe. I think that plenty of historians and literary scholars understand the point of archival research, and web 2.0/the digital humanities etc have increased access to primary sources hugely. But what’s the next step? What are we taking for granted and how does the way we access our sources and the archive affect our research? How does it affect the questions we ask and the narratives we write? Where do we go from here?

The Permissive Archive

*A CELL/Queen Mary initiative, to be held at UCL, 9th November*

DAY SCHEDULE

8.30-9.15 – Registration, coffee and pastries

9.15-9.25 – Welcome and introductions

9.30-11.00 – Session 1

Panel 1. The Original Context: the Early Modern Archive

a)      ‘The Early Modern Archive and the After-Life of Letters’ – Elizabeth Williamson (Centre for Editing Lives and Letters)

b)      ‘The File and the Early Modern Letter’ – Christopher Burlinson (Jesus College, Cambridge)

c)       ‘Permissive Archives, Secret Archives: Producing Early Modern Historiography Between Courts, the Republic of Letters, and the Repositories of Writing’ – Markus Friedrich (Goethe-Universität, Frankfurt am Main)

Chair: William Sherman (University of York)

Panel 2. The Digital Archive: Practice and Problems

a)      ‘“Liable to much fallacy”: Order and Disorders in an Eighteenth-Century Medical Archive’ – Jennifer Bann (University of Glasgow)

a)      ‘Visible Prices: Archiving the Intersection of Literature and Economics’ – Paige Morgan (University of Washington)

b)      ‘The Permissive Digital Archive’ – Samuli Kaislaniemi (University of Helsinki)

Chair: Jenni Thomas (Rothschild Archives)

11-11.25 – Coffees and teas

11.30-1.00 – Session 2

Panel 3. The Later Context: What the Victorians Did To Us

a)      ‘Cutting and Pasting in the Archive: the Caroline Revels Accounts’ – Eleanor Collins (Independent Scholar)

b)      ‘“To bring Antiquities, smothered and buried in dark silence, to light”: the Hakluyt Society, the India Office Records, and the Remaking of Colonial History’ – Pete Mitchell (Queen Mary, University of London)

c)       ‘Trapped in the Archives, Freed by a Camera: The Role of Digitization in Understanding Early Modern Women in Politics’ – Helen Graham-Matheson (Centre for Editing Lives and Letters)

Chair: Amanda Vickery (Queen Mary, University of London)

Panel 4. Listening to the Archive: Reconstructing Voices

a)      ‘Voices in the Archives: Socio-Stylistic Approaches to Sixteenth-Century Confessional Manuscripts’: Mel Evans (University of Birmingham)

b)      ‘The Letters of the Knyvett Sisters’: Gillian Weir (University of Glasgow)

c)       ‘Permitting an Intellectual Biography: the Archive of Robert Baillie (1602-1662)’: Alex Campbell (Trinity Hall, Cambridge)

Chair: Nadine Akkerman (Leiden University)

1-1.55 – Lunch

2-3.30 – Session 3

Panel 5. The Personal Archive: Shaping an Identity

a)      ‘The Archive as Mask: Looking Behind John Aubrey’s Donations to the Ashmolean Museum, 1692-1695’ – Kelsey Jackson Williams (Balliol College, Oxford)

b)      ‘A Discovery of Lister Ephemera’ – Anna Marie Roos (University of Oxford)

c)       ‘Writing Lives out of Registers and Registers out of Lives: ‘The Life of Dr Robert Hooke’ and the Royal Society Archive’ – Noah Moxham (University of East Anglia)

Chair: Ruth Ahnert (Queen Mary, University of London)

Panel 6. Writing in the Marginalized: Gardeners, Widows and Common Soldiers

a)      ‘’’The Garden Books’; un-covering the gardens of Arbury Hall, Nuneaton, in Warwickshire from 1689 to 1703’ – Sally O’Halloran (University of Sheffield)

b)      ‘Widows at Law: Searching for ‘Sole Female Plaintiffs’ in The National Archives’ – Katy Mair (The National Archives)

c)       ‘Narratives of Old-Regime Common Soldiers – A Tip of an Iceberg’ – Ilya Berkovich (Peterhouse, Cambridge)

Chair: Hannah Crawforth (King’s College, London)

3.30-4.10 – Afternoon tea

4.15-5.45 – Session 4

Panel 7. Read All About It: Manuscript and Print

a)      ‘Joseph Mead and the ‘Battle of the Starlings”’ – Kirsty Rolfe (Queen Mary, University of London)

b)      ‘The Unsought Privacy of Zachary Boyd’s Dramatic Poems’ – Peter Auger (Merton College, Oxford)

c)       ‘Vellutello’s Petrarch and Tottel’s Wyatt: From MS to Print and Back’ – William Rossiter (Liverpool Hope University)

Chair: Joad Raymond (Queen Mary, University of London)

Panel 8. The Archive in Motion: Fugitive, Networked, and Reassembled Collections

a)      ‘Rethinking an Eighteenth- Century Archive: ‘Miss Bank’s Truly Interesting Collection of Visiting Cards and Co.’’

– Arlene Leis (University of York)

b)      ‘“Out of old bookes in good faith cometh al this new science that men lere”: Locating Provenance and Networks of Learning in the Books of the Chelsea Physic Garden, pre-1740’ – Sarah Broadhurst (Centre for Editing Lives and Letters)

c)       ‘An Exciting Rediscovery in Wiltshire: the Seymour of Berry Pomeroy Manuscripts’ – Ian Cooper (Plymouth University)

Chair: Alan Stewart (Columbia University, New York)

6-7.30 – Keynote lecture

Professor Lisa Jardine (University College, London)

A place at this lecture is automatic for those registered and attending the conference. Those not registered are strongly advised to contact thepermissivearchive@gmail.com to book a place.

7.30-9 – Reception

9-late – Knees-up


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The Permissive Archive, or why have I been elbow-deep in paper for four years?

Last week, I passed my viva and was granted my PhD. That explains the dearth of posts in recent months, as I have been frantically polishing, submitting, reading and trying to get my head around what I’ve spent the last three and a half years doing. More on that later, when I have a little more time (somehow, don’t ask me how, I am still quite busy).

My PhD was heavily archival – it used many primary sources, mainly sixteenth century manuscript letters, to reconstruct a picture of political information gathering and diplomacy between figures abroad and recipients at home (as well as undercutting any sense of easy division between these groups).

At times, I analysed the manuscripts from a deeply material perspective, looking at stitching, watermarks, handwriting and so on, in order to try to understand their construction, use and point of origin. I also spent a lot of time discussing the immediate provenance or ‘afterlife’ of these letters, in order to understand how and why these were preserved, and how both contemporaries and historians come to use and perceive them, as person-specific missives turned political resource.

The field of early modern letters and letter-writing has enjoyed ten or twenty years of fruitful research and work on the former – i.e. the emphasis on materiality – and now perhaps it is time to ask more probing questions of this approach; its benefits, difficulties and disadvantages. Additionally, I would suggest that much more attention could be paid to the latter aspect – there’s room for a more directed focus on provenance and the immediate use of the manuscripts that we employ in the construction of historical narrative.

This leads me nicely onto a little self-publication for the department that has been my intellectual home for the past five years. ‘CELL’, or Queen Mary’s Centre for Editing Lives and Letters, is 10 years old this year, and so in celebration we are holding a conference on all things archival – case study, theoretical analysis, practical demonstration, uses and abuses – whatever interaction you have with the archives, we want to hear about it.

The deadline for proposals for papers of 20mins (and other formats) is the end of July, to be sent here <hjgrahammatheson@gmail.com> – so get thinking, and spread the word. I look forward to seeing you there!

WEBSITE: http://permissivearchive.wordpress.com/

CALL FOR PAPERS: 

For ten years, the Centre for Editing Lives and Letters (CELL) has pioneered original archival research that illuminates the past for the benefit of the modern research community, and beyond. To celebrate this anniversary, in early November 2012 we will be holding a conference examining the future of the ‘Permissive Archive’.

The scope of archival history is broad, and this conference seeks presentations from a wide range of work which opens up archives – not only by bringing to light objects and texts that have lain hidden, but by demystifying and demonstrating the skills needed to make new histories. Too long associated with settled dust, archival research will be championed as engaged and engaging: a rigorous but permissive field.

We welcome proposals for papers on any aspect of early modern archival work, manuscript or print, covering the period 1500 – 1800. Topics may include, but are not limited to:

  • The shape of the archive – ideology and interpretation
  • The permissive archive: its definition and its past, present and future
  • Alternatives to the permissive archive
  • Archival research as discovery or construction
  • The archive which challenges or disrupts
  • Uncatalogued material – how to find it, how to access it, how to use it
  • New findings
  • Success and failure
  • Broken or dispersed collections
  • The archive and the environment
  • The archivist and the historian
  • The ethics of the archive
  • The comedy of the archive
  • Order and anarchy

Please send 300-word proposals to hjgrahammatheson@gmail.com. Deadline July 31st.

Submissions are not limited to the 20-minute paper. CELL will be holding a workshop on the use of archival materials, and we are keen to hear from scholars with ideas for alternative presentations such as group sessions, trips or guided walks. Submissions will be peer-reviewed by Professor Lisa Jardine.