The previous essays in this volume have highlighted the various ways that social context shaped the content and organization of, and access to, documents in early modern archives. This essay extends the discussion diachronically to show how the current ‘archival turn’ highlighted in these case studies has important methodological implications for historians seeking to understand the early modern world though the interpretation of archival documents. It does so by exploring the relationship between archival power and narrative structures. By archival power, I refer to the ways in which the organization of archives as physical repositories of artefacts influences the formation of knowledge in ways that can distort rather than illuminate the past.1 By narrative structures, I mean the arranging of specific facts into often implicit plots that carry ideological weight as much as, and sometimes more than, the inherent knowledge transmitted by any...

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