Archives are the factories and laboratories of the historian. Along with private studies and public libraries, they are the loci of our apprenticeship as scholars and the warehouses from which we acquire the materials to build the history we write. Until recently, however, scholars of the early modern period (as of other eras) rarely paused to consider how and why these repositories came into being, despite the fact that these processes have fundamentally shaped and coloured our knowledge of the past. Too often we mine the documentary sources they house without scrutinizing the decisions about selection, arrangement, preservation and retention taken by those responsible for the care of their contents over successive generations. We still fall into the trap of approaching them as if they provide a transparent window through which we can view societies remote from us in time.
The tendency to regard archives as neutral and unproblematic reservoirs of historical fact is a legacy of the historiographical developments of the nineteenth century. It reflects the style of ‘scientific history’ synonymous with the endeavours of the Prussian scholar Leopold von Ranke, who, by elevating the empirical analysis of primary sources onto a pedestal, established the core methodological principles of History as a discipline. The fetischization of the archive of which we are heirs was a by-product of the pervasive positivism of an era in which the ideal of objectivity emerged as the philosophical hallmark of professional academic practice. It reflected the presupposition that the conscientious scholar could reconstruct what really happened with precision and accuracy.1
The same epistemological moment gave rise to the notion of the archivist as a passive and impartial guardian of the surviving traces of the past. This ethos of invisible custodianship underpinned the official repositories that grew up as an arm of the modern bureaucratic state and gave birth to a new class of civil servants. According to the pioneering Dutch handbook on archival method published in 1898 and Hilary Jenkinson’s influential A Manual of Archive Administration (1922), the archivist was simply the obedient and silent handmaiden of the historian. According to the dependent relationship delineated in these texts, his responsibility was to preserve records rather than to encroach on the domain of the specially trained historical researcher and participate in the task of interpreting them. For Jenkinson the archivist who approached his work ‘without prejudice or afterthought’ thereby became ‘the most selfless devotee of the Truth the modern world produces’.2
These assumptions have exerted ongoing influence and contrived to obscure the extent to which the ‘keepers’ of records themselves have played a critical part in establishing the parameters and boundaries of historical understanding. As Terry Cook has commented in an important article, they have contributed to erecting an enduring and unhealthy divide between historians and archivists and to effacing the ways in which the two operate as ‘co-creators’ of meaning. They have served for too long to occlude the subjectivity of the archive itself.3
Arising from a conference held at the British Academy in April 2014, this Past and Present Supplement builds on the burgeoning body of current work that is approaching the archive not merely as the object but also the subject of enquiry. Whereas once such questions were the terrain of a small band of technical experts, they are now emphatically entering into the mainstream. Over the last two decades historians, anthropologists, literary critics and archival scientists have begun to engage in stimulating cross-disciplinary conversations. Shifting the priority from extracting the contents of archives to interrogating their ethnography, a growing number of scholars are recognizing that, in the words of Kathryn Burns, they ‘are less like mirrors than like chessboards’. They are not static arsenals of information, but sites in which a variety of contemporary and later actors have exercised and negotiated agency, identity and power.4 Simultaneously, close investigation of the nature and genesis of the records that comprise these collections has gained perceptible momentum.
In part, this reflexiveness is a logical corollary of the ‘linguistic turn’ that has reoriented the humanities as a whole since the 1960s and ’70s. It follows directly from postmodernism’s corrosive scepticism about the capacity of the historian to penetrate the veil of language that divides us from the past and to disentangle it as an ontological entity from the texts in which it is embedded. It is a side-effect of the attention that, following Hayden White, scholars have increasingly directed to ‘the content of the form’.5 It is also a consequence of Michel Foucault’s classic interventions regarding the systems that structure Western thought in The Order of Things and The Archaeology of Knowledge. Jacques Derrida’s Archive Fever — an idiosyncratic Freudian meditation on the impulse to keep records as a process entailing the repression of alternative stories and versions of the past —has been a further catalyst to critical enquiry. Treating the archive as a metaphor for the very matrices that contain and frame the dominant discourses of our culture, these scholars have played a key part in constituting it as a topic for investigation. They have fostered awareness of how the archive (in a literal as well as a figurative sense) operates as a distorting filter, lens and prism.6 In the words of Antoinette Burton, they have provoked us to interrogate ‘one of the chief investigative foundations of History as a discipline’.7
Proceeding from the conviction that archival cultures are historically specific and contingent, this collection explores the phenomenon of record-keeping in the early modern period against the backdrop of the significant religious, political, intellectual and cultural developments that served as stimuli to it: the advent of mechanized printing, the expansion of literacy, the rise of new conventions of self-expression and other related changes in the realm of communication; urbanization, capitalism and the emergence of a market economy; social mobility and migration; state formation, civil war and constitutional revolution; the dual Protestant and Catholic Reformations and confessionalization; and the Renaissance reconfiguration of attitudes towards history, memory and time themselves. It focuses attention on the impulses behind the surge in public and private documentation that marked the centuries between 1500 and 1800 and places the processes by which individual, collective and institutional records were created, compiled, authorized and used under the microscope. It delineates the defining features of early modern archival culture and consciousness in order to provide a corrective and a prophylactic:8 to highlight the dangers of projecting back onto that past anachronistic models of the archive that are artefacts of the preoccupations of the era in which it was institutionalized in its modern form.
Envisaged above all as a methodological intervention, this Supplement brings together well-established and emerging scholars to experiment with a range of approaches that together comprise what the leading Dutch archival scientist Eric Ketelaar has called ‘the social history of the archive’.9 It moves beyond the institutional and bureaucratic structures within which the study of archival impulses has hitherto been largely confined and demonstrates how deeply documentation became integrated into the daily routines of ordinary people. It focuses attention not simply on the professional groups that arose to service the paper church and state but also places a wider penumbra of individuals whose lives were affected by the products of this culture under the spotlight. The volume also situates the early modern record-keeping practices it describes in the context of ‘the broader ecologies of writing, paperwork and print’ that surround them .10 Cumulatively, the contributors underline both the value and the necessity of returning to the archive at a time when major projects for the digitization of printed books and manuscripts are increasingly dematerializing them and reducing the repositories in which they reside to virtual realities that can appear and disappear at the touch of a single button on our computer screens. To echo Bill Sherman, they remind us of the importance of ‘digging the dust’.11
The rest of this introduction performs three functions. First it presents a series of working definitions that are themselves crucial tools for rethinking existing approaches to record-keeping. Secondly, it sketches the historiographical frameworks within which the essays in this collection must be set, outlining the literatures from which they take their bearings and to which in turn they contribute. Thirdly, it describes how the contributors approach their task and discusses some of the key themes that emerge from their research.
DEFINING RECORDS AND ARCHIVES
What are records and archives? Classical archival theory distinguishes between the two very precisely. Records are widely understood to be documents made, received and maintained by institutions, organizations or individuals as active evidence of legal obligations or business transactions; archives were collections preserved permanently because of the enduring value of the information they contain. Records have immediate utility; archives are stored for posterity and for the use of others than those who originally created them. But the validity of these strict definitions (themselves the consequence of the administrative revolution of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries) has been challenged in recent years by the complex dynamics of digital records. It is equally problematic when applied to the early modern period, when in practice the relationship between these two categories was complex and fluid.12 Contemporaries deployed both these terms flexibly and they utilized the entities they describe in ways that defy the hard and fast boundaries the earliest archival professionals erected between them.13
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries people often used the word ‘archive’ to describe a place where ancient records, charters, deeds, evidences and rolls, especially those belonging to a Crown or a kingdom were kept, a physical institution or building such as a chancery or an exchequer. Embedded in early modern dictionaries such as Thomas Blount’s Glossographia published in 1661 and Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d’Alembert’s Encyclopédie of 1751, this definition reflected its Greek etymology: its origins are in arkheion, a term denoting the residence of the superior magistrates and governors of a city, territory, polity or state.14 ‘Record’ similarly had a particular judicial and official resonance and ring: it referred to writings deliberately preserved for legal purposes as precedents and forms of proof, and to establish matters of fact.15 Yet both were also used in a more expansive sense: they were deployed interchangeably with other types of depository and document in which information, knowledge and memory were stored, including libraries and museums and the collections of manuscripts, books, maps and objects that comprised them.16
Enshrined in the separation of the Archives Nationales and the Bibliothèque Nationale effected by the French Revolution and replicated in Britain in the guise of the Public Record Office and the British Museum, the sharp distinction between an archive and a library — between places for keeping items relevant to government and those relevant to scholarship and heritage — does not capture the organic and dynamic character of record-keeping between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. In early modern Europe, some ‘archives’ (especially those of elite families) contained material that was not principally administrative or executive in quality and which was collected in the interests of posterity. In turn ‘libraries’ frequently housed transcriptions of legal instruments alongside private papers selected and obtained for the purpose of preserving the past for analysis and study by contemporaries and subsequent generations. In England, for instance, Robert Cotton’s personal library was accessible to scholars and statesmen alike and included much material that pertained to the state and indeed was purloined from it; it also served as an arsenal of ammunition with which to challenge political privileges, including the royal prerogative.17 The collections gathered by the architect of the official archive of ancien regime France, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, were equally eclectic and fed into both of the new institutions created by the famous statute of 7 messidor an II (25 June 1794).18
Against this background, the claim that archival activity broadened outwards from political use around 1800 to include the protection and even assertion of a nation’s cultural assets and patrimony can no longer be easily sustained. Discernable a century before in the civic and domestic sphere, this was part of a more prolonged historical transformation. Records and archives functioned not merely as muniments, but also as monuments and memorials that bore witness to the presence of historical consciousness and of an impulse to preserve the past for the future.19 They must be situated on a linguistic and conceptual spectrum with other kinds of repositories with which they overlapped, including treasuries, shrines, museums and cabinets of curiosities.
Anticipating the Derridean deployment of archive as a meta-term to describe the principal and encompassing cognitive and cultural systems that shape human understanding itself,20 contemporaries also invoked ‘archive’ as a synonym for the powerful abstractions that framed and structured their lives. Among these was the imagined site and space which, as Frances Yates and Mary Carruthers have shown, was how they conceived of memory itself.21 In a 1603 English translation of Plutarch’s Morals, memory is called the ‘unpleasant Archive or Register, and uncivile Record’ which men carry about with them; in Juan de Santa Maria’s Christian Policie: or The Christian Common-wealth (1632) it is declared to be ‘the Archive of the Sciences and Treasury of Truth’, without which ‘to reade and studie, is (as they say), Coger aqua en un harnero, to gather water in a si[e]ve’.22
Others found archive an apt analogy for the providence, wisdom and judgement of God. It was a compelling metaphor for divine secrecy and power. Nicholas Cross wrote of the ‘book of accounts kept in the archive of Eternity, where the debts of all Men are enrolled’ and in a commentary on part of the New Testament published in 1693 the Scottish divine Robert Leighton said that it was ‘a happy thing’ for the Christian ‘to have in the soul an extract of that great Archive and act of grace towards it, that hath stood in heaven from eternity’. 23 William Austin, a lawyer at the Inns of Court, spoke of the Mosaic books of the Bible as ‘the divine Archive’ in a poem about the Great Plague of 1666.24 In The Reasonablenes of Scripture-Belief (1671), Charles Wolseley employed it to describe the container in which the Deuteronomic books were kept, the Ark: ‘the peculiar Archive God had, by his special command appointed for it’.25 By extension, it was also a term for the whole canon of Scripture. The Oxford divine Edward Bernard, by contrast, invoked it to refer to the deity’s most profound creation: ‘Adam, the origine of humanity, the archive of reason and piety, the admirable and admiring possessour of the recent and impolluted world’.26 Stretching its meaning in another direction, a mid seventeenth-century guide to rhetoric used it to describe the bosom of a discreet and intimate friend: this too was ‘an Archive, fit to treasure up the greatest secret, and in whose hands I can repose my life’.27 In a final example, the learned Swiss physician Théophile Bonet deployed it in his guide to medicine, surgery and diet as a striking metaphor for an essential organ of the human body, describing the stomach as ‘the fountain of Digestion and Archive of life’.28
Furthermore, ‘record’ and ‘archive’ were used by early modern writers as both nouns and verbs. If they referred to concrete locations and tangible objects, they also denoted the act of preserving and storing things and the process of ensuring that noteworthy events, actions and persons were not forgotten by transferring them into writing, image or print.29 The polyvalency of the phrase ‘record-keeping’ must be borne in mind: its meanings run the gamut from making and creating records to watching, guarding, saving and preserving them in a proper order and form. It is also telling that in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the word ‘keep’ meant ‘to retain in the memory’ and ‘to remember’.30 It referred to the manner in which information and knowledge became secured in the human mind.
In accordance with contemporary use, this collection of essays adopts inclusive rather than narrow and restrictive definitions of ‘archive’ and ‘record’. It takes the former to refer to a whole range of physical repositories and rooms fixed in particular places as well as to encompass collections that remained on the move and were transported around in cases and chests. The latter is a broad umbrella under which hover not merely manuscripts, registers, rolls and charters, but also commonplace and account books, antiquarian transcriptions, ecclesiastical histories, printed tomes, ephemera broadsides, paintings and written traces of oral tradition, rumour and speech.
Blurring the boundaries between creation and consumption, manufacture and use, the contributors to this volume are interested as much in process as in end-product. They examine the political, economic, religious, social and cultural conditions in which record-keeping occurred and shift attention from the locations of archival activity to its wider ramifications as a cultural practice. Approaching the archive as both an ideological and a sociological phenomenon, they explore how it shaped and was shaped by dynamic interactions between individuals and communities and by the quotidian circumstances of life. Crossing the divide between the institutional and official and the local and personal, they seek to recover the behaviours which led to the creation of records and the public and private repositories in which they were housed, alongside the multifarious ways in which writing and document-making became implicated in social relations.
ARCHIVES, INFORMATION, AND THE EARLY MODERN STATE
This Past and Present Supplement must be situated in the context of a cluster of important historiographical developments. The first of these is the birth of historical interest in archives and the concurrent revitalization of the discipline of archival science. Founded in 2002, the journal Archival Science has been a leading forum for a new style of enquiry that has moved beyond the traditional canonical definitions outlined above, broken out of its teleological framework, and begun to tackle hitherto neglected aspects of its subject. Particularly prominent in this project are Eric Ketelaar and Terry Cook, though there have also been important interventions on archives as ‘institutions of social memory’ by Francis X. Blouin and William G. Rosenberg. Ketelaar and others have encouraged growing awareness of the ‘tacit narratives’ and hidden modalities of authority and power that archives enshrine. They have provoked us to approach them, like the past itself, as a foreign country whose language we must learn to speak if we are to understand the societies from which they arise.31 They have instructed us in the art of thinking with archives.
Provoked by the dramatic changes in record-keeping that have accompanied the digital age, the efforts of these scholars to set traditional archivistics on a fresh foundation have not only inspired fellow specialists, but also an emerging cohort of historians.32 Ernst Posner’s 1972 classic monograph on the ancient world has been supplemented by new explorations of ‘archives before writing’, which describe the monumentalization of judicial decisions and of historical memory in the civilizations of ancient Greece, Rome and the Near East.33 Markus Friedrich’s recent survey of the rise of archival culture in late medieval and early modern Europe, especially Germany, is a further manifestation of a wider trend that is placing record-keeping institutions, practices and personnel from all periods of history under a penetrating spotlight. In this volume, he directs our attention to the neglected seigneurial archives of eighteenth-century France, charting the rise of a professional class of feudistes whose activities shed light on how entrenched archives became in rural and provincial society in the decades prior to the French Revolution. Not merely satisfying demand but also fuelling new archival desires, their entrepreneurial activities both refine and qualify traditional narratives about the development of the archival profession in Europe.34
Meanwhile, our understanding of Italian archives and how they were organized, indexed and catalogued is being transformed by the work of Filippo de Vivo and a team of scholars funded by a major European Research Council grant. De Vivo has exploded the myths that have accumulated around the Venetian Cancelleria Secreta and shown that they reveal more about the rhetoric of the self-styled Serene Republic than about political realities. In other city states, including Florence, the demands of diplomacy and governance also fostered new techniques of record-keeping.35 Similar processes in Switzerland and the Holy Roman Empire have been investigated by Randolph Head,36 while Arndt Brendecke has analyzed the royal archive of the Spanish Crown founded by Charles V at Simancas in 1540 in response to the Comuneros Revolt of 1520–1, during which many valuable charters were lost. Brendecke illuminates its role in regulating political knowledge and in operating as a ‘secure site for forgetting’ — a kind of safe-deposit box to which documents unsuitable for unrestricted circulation could be dispatched.37
These studies are part of a wider interest in official archives and their architects as ‘epistemic environments’.38 Exemplary here is Jacob Soll’s pioneering study of Louis XIV's chief minister, manager and mastermind of information, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, which presents him as the spider at the centre of the vast web of written intelligence that he wove around him.39 But the encyclopaedic coverage and centralization to which Colbert aspired hide the messier and patchier situation that prevailed on the ground, as well as the ways in which officials contested, challenged and manipulated the records of which they had charge.40
In England as in France, the ‘information state’ was highly reliant on the co-operation of an ‘unacknowledged republic’ of unpaid local office-holders in its villages, towns and provinces, by whom its authority was mediated and often diluted and compromised.41 The civic and parochial records to which their activities gave rise are starting to be scrutinized for the insights they yield into how policy was both communicated to and concealed from the people whom they represented and over whom they ruled. Concealed in locked cupboards and chests and literally erased and scrubbed out, the archives of guilds and vestries in early modern London guarded secrets from citizens and skilfully manipulated information as a tactic of government.42 As Andy Wood shows in his study of the Great Yarmouth Hutch in this volume, urban oligarchies beyond the metropolis controlled access to the past and repressed alternative versions that ran counter to those that buttressed their power. Expressions of a nascent bourgeois public sphere, the local histories written by middling-sort authors nevertheless preserve traces of the ‘hidden histories’ of groups they sought to exclude. Such studies permit us a glimpse of a world in which the control and omniscience of the centre was imperfect. If they allow us to ‘see like a state’, it is a state that sits uncomfortably in the mould of the modern bureaucratic regimes examined by James C. Scott in the celebrated book in which he coined this phrase.43 It fits uneasily within the Weberian paradigm of administrative rationalization that has long underpinned the history of archives as a discipline.
The work of historians of the emerging empires of the early modern world has also been vital in complicating these models. Herman Bennett, Kathryn Burns and Sylvia Sellers-Garcia have delved into the prolific archives of imperial Spain and Portugal and demonstrated how documents overcame the tyranny of distance that separated European capitals from their colonial settlements overseas.44 With students of modern colonial regimes, they are demonstrating that a Foucauldian vision of the archive as a tool of domination and a panopticon obscures the participation of multiple other actors and their capacity to utilize them for purposes at odds with those of officialdom.45 The information orders they are excavating were not merely imperfect agents of conquest and surveillance. They were also entangled with and shaped by indigenous systems of knowledge formation in ways that question standard accounts of the rise of orientalism and carve out room for subaltern intervention.46 In this volume, John Paul Ghobrial’s investigation of the role of scholarly migrants from the Ottoman world in transporting and copying many of the Arabic manuscripts that now reside in European archives likewise challenges the Eurocentric bias of its conventional intellectual history and compels us to recognize a wider range of social agents in their creation.
If earlier work on archives focused almost exclusively on those generated by governments and incipient nation states, more recent studies have investigated the spread of archival consciousness in other institutional settings, including commercial, diplomatic and religious ones. As Miles Ogborn comments in his exploration of the English East India Company, understanding the mechanics of trade between Europe and Asia requires attention to ‘the geography of writing’.47 The same insight underpins Ghobrial’s recent reconstruction of the ‘information flows’ between late seventeenth-century Istanbul, Paris and London, using the working archive of ingoing and outgoing correspondence compiled by William Trumbull, ambassador to the Ottoman Empire.48 It also illuminates the activities of religious orders such as the Society of Jesus, whose exceptional dedication to record-keeping was an intrinsic arm of their global missionary enterprise.49 With regard to the newly formed Protestant Churches of northern Europe, historians have begun to illuminate how the Reformation and associated processes such as the dissolution of the monasteries in Henrician England both transformed and initiated new archival regimes.50 Weapons in the violent disputes that splintered Christendom and provoked wars of religion, archives themselves sometimes became the targets of real, threatened or feared destruction. In north-western Germany in the face of imminent military action, they were packed into boxes and tubs for removal and safe-keeping.51
It has also become clear that some of the very techniques by which modern scholars still authenticate documents had their roots in the confessional struggles that punctuated the early modern period. As Randolph Head has demonstrated, the auxiliary science of diplomatics was a product of the debates about juridical proof that emerged around 1700: credited to the Benedictine monk Jean Mabillon, its foundation and subsequent institutionalization as the primary method of testing the reliability of sources has served to eclipse the part played by the archive in constructing meaning.52
WRITING, PRINT, AND THE WORLD OF SCRIBES
The impulses that drove the formation of archives must be connected with a wider set of incentives that fostered the spread of record-keeping in the early modern world. In particular, they need to be brought into closer dialogue with the histories of literacy and communication. A critical starting point is Michael Clanchy’s landmark study of the shift From Memory to Written Record published in 1979, which charted the proliferation of bureaucratic activity in the wake of the land transactions precipitated by the Norman Conquest of 1066 and the rise of a ‘literate mentality’ among the polyglot elite.53 This has stimulated interest in recovering the ‘documentary culture’ of the early medieval European laity concealed in the monastic and ecclesiastical archives of late antique Africa, Carolingian Francia and Anglo-Saxon England.54 It has also set key agendas for historians of record-keeping in the adjacent periods. It has supplied questions to guide those who seek to understand the longer-term transition from a predominantly oral society to an increasingly, if only partially literate one in the early modern era. It has alerted us to how the technology and products of writing seep into social strata that include many people who do not possess the capacity to use them.55
In most of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe, the handwritten text still took second place to the spoken word as the medium by which most information circulated, although the balance between them was altering against the backdrop of educational changes linked with the Renaissance and the technical innovations connected with the invention of the mechanized press.56 Reading, which was conventionally taught first, was clearly more widespread than the ability to write, but there is growing evidence of the downward social diffusion of the arts of inscription and writing in popular as well as learned circles. Juliet Fleming has found graffiti in unlikely places: on pots, walls and bodies, as well as parchment and paper.57 In elite circles, ‘scribal publication’ remained a preferred and safer route for disseminating seditious messages and sensitive news long after the advent of print and historians and literary scholars alike have traced the vibrancy of manuscript culture in the guise of separates, letters and verse libels, in both rural and urban settings.58 In Venice, for instance, the pasquinades and relazioni posted in piazzas and circulated through the streets were part of an extraordinarily rich system of political communication in which all levels of citizen, from barber to patrician, participated.59 Unauthorized copies of sermons delivered by celebrated Protestant preachers that circulated scribally were another symptom of the creative expansion of literacy. The collections of transcriptions that survive in the British Isles and elsewhere constitute a kind of archive of devotion and piety.60 The elaborate systems of shorthand that developed to enable avid hearers to take down the words of the clergy ever more efficiently are another testament to the growing impulse to keep records of ephemeral performances: as early as 1549, the French Huguenot Denis Raguenier devised a form of speed-writing ‘by number and cipher’ to take notes of Jean Calvin’s sermons in Geneva and several manuals outlining the principles of ‘characterie’ or ‘brachigraphy’ were published in late sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England. After preaching at Paul’s Cross in 1621, one minister complained of the ‘bastard and illegitimate Copies . . . which wandred up and down the Town, like vagrants; and were taken Begging, here for a Crown; and there for an Angel’. Demand for such texts helped to foster a metropolitan industry in manuscript production.61
In the city and country alike, an army of amateur and professional clerks, notaries, scribes and amanuenses arose to meet demand for chirographic skills in commercial, legal and personal contexts. In delineating the contours of the early modern cultures of record-keeping that are the subject of this volume, humble private users of the pencil and quill must be set alongside the men — and women — who made a living from wielding them. The paper trail left by the Dutch notary Adriaen Janse van Ilpendam, who worked in the fur trading settlement of Albany in seventeenth-century North America, has enabled Donna Merwick to write a fascinating micro-history of his life and tragic death, utilizing the stories he recorded and then archived in a trunk. Keith Wrightson has painted an equally compelling portrait of the scrivener, Ralph Taylor, who wrote the last wills, testaments and inventories of many of those who died of plague in Newcastle in 1636. His meticulous work casts fresh light on the rise of a profession that was becoming increasingly necessary at a time when people were coming to rely ever more heavily on bills, bonds, indentures, conveyances and other legal instruments.62 Even the illiterate majority lived ‘in a matrix of parchment and paper’.63 Jennifer Bishop’s essay in this collection is a no less illuminating piece of detective work: focusing on Ralph Robinson and Goldsmith’s Company, it reveals the interconnections between administrative record-keeping and literary creativity and demonstrates how such figures fiddled and falsified the books.64
Notaries are another comparatively neglected category of actors in early modern society. Laurie Nussdorfer has investigated their role as ‘brokers of public trust’ in Renaissance and Baroque Rome, against the backdrop of burgeoning urban commerce, a contractual economy, and the growth of civil and private dispute. Her insights into the ambiguous position of these artisans in the interstices between market and state are extended in her contribution here. As she shows, under Sixtus V they became a closed corporation of venal office-holders with a vested interest in promoting the use of their own services and in preserving records that carried the greatest potential for future earnings.65 Meanwhile, Kathryn Burns has taken us into the world of a class of document-makers in colonial Cuzco in Peru whose reputation for corruption and greed sat uneasily with their responsibility for certifying truth. ‘Always in implicit dialogue with an imagined litigious future’, the formulaic records they produced in accordance with conventional protocols are spaces in which we can nevertheless trace the play of power relations.66 The voluminous archives that have provided the basis for these imaginative studies remind us not merely of the pervasiveness of writing in these societies but of the dramatic increase in the supply of cheap paper by which it was fed and which in turn it fuelled.
The rise of papermaking on an industrial scale was also a vital precondition for another development that both facilitated and transformed the keeping of records: what Elizabeth Eisenstein famously described as ‘the printing revolution’.67 While some of her grander claims have since been refined, the advent of the press undoubtedly altered the landscape of communication and the conditions of knowledge formation in fundamental ways. A lingering sense of the ‘stigma’ of resorting to so promiscuous a medium as print made some distrustful of its products and temperamentally reluctant to take advantage of the opportunities afforded by its invention.68 The fidelity and uniformity it seemed to promise too often proved illusory and it frequently proved to be an engine for cumulative error.69 Yet what Lucien Febvre and Henri-Jean Martin called ‘L’apparition du livre’ (‘The Coming of the Book’) ultimately proved unstoppable.70
Print not merely facilitated the rise of an international republic of letters and the evolution of novel concepts of authorship. The promise of durability and permanence that it seemed to offer assisted contemporaries in staving off the danger of losing the treasures of their cultural and intellectual heritage. In his Bibliotheca universalis of 1545, the humanist Conrad Gesner expressed the hope that the press, in conjunction with princely patronage, would prevent the haemorrhage of ancient manuscripts. Typography also held out the possibility of creating a reproducible archive of the writings of famous men which might otherwise disappear into oblivion.71 Elizabeth Yale has provocatively argued that early modern naturalists invented the archive in order to preserve the ephemeral products of their conversations and scribal exchanges for their successors.72 In a similar way, the Elizabethan archbishop of Canterbury, Matthew Parker, saw published editions of sources as a far safer way of preserving the material he and his circle of antiquaries gathered from the libraries of defunct religious houses than the originals he collected and bequeathed to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. In his eyes, the rich deposit of manuscripts now synonymous with him was a less secure and more fragile archive than the sixteenth-century histories that were assembled from them.73
Print also enabled the development of a new culture for the transmission of information. Alongside the ephemeral pamphlets and broadsides that poured from presses across Europe to satisfy the thirst of consumers, one chief hallmark of this was the emergence, starting in the Low Countries, of the regular serial newspaper reporting foreign and domestic affairs. The spread of printed texts did not erode the culture of scribal production so much as coexist symbiotically with it. The latter flourished as a means of evading the restrictions of state and clerical censorship, but even in situations where this collapsed spectacularly (such as in 1640s England) it remained a powerful ingredient in forging public opinion.74 Awareness of the tremendous resilience of written culture in the face of technological change is another critical launching pad for this collection of essays.
No less important is the metamorphosis which the discipline of bibliography has undergone over the last half-century. Rechristened by D. F. McKenzie as ‘the sociology of texts’ in his Panizzi Lectures of 1985, it has become an interdisciplinary social history of the book.75 Following in the footsteps of pioneering Annaliste historians such as Roger Chartier, scholars have learnt to approach printed texts not simply as containers of ideas and vessels of thought but as physical artefacts and commodities that have their own complex histories.76 They have investigated the intricate conjunctions between the materiality of textual objects — their fonts, page formats, paratexts, and cloth, leather and metal bindings — and the construction of meaning. Building on these foundations, recent work by Jessica Berenbeim has begun to illuminate the visual dimensions of record-keeping itself: the ‘art of documentation’.77
Scholars have also increasingly moved beyond questions about the creation and composition of these objects to the problem of reception and use. They have recovered how readers could appropriate and personalize texts in myriad ways and subvert the professed intentions of their authors. Especially through the study of surviving annotations, they have shown how the flyleaves and margins of books functioned as interactive and collaborative environments in which heated debate and dialogue took place and in which people engaged in private meditation.78 Virginia Reinburg’s inspiring exploration of French books of hours between 1400 and 1600 presents these quasi-liturgical texts as ‘archives of prayer’. Preserving and ordering images and intercessions for the use of their original purchasers and subsequent owners, they operated as a link between the official liturgy of the Church and the domain of the home.79
Reinburg’s work is one welcome sign that the artificial divide between bibliography and codicology, book and manuscript studies, is beginning to break down. Another is the closer attention that is being paid to contemporary processes of collection and compilation as acts of literary creation themselves. Examining anthologized volumes in which print and manuscript are intermingled, Jeffrey Todd Knight’s Bound to Read recovers discursive strategies that have been concealed by modern routines of curatorship and rebinding. It diverts our gaze away from the ‘self-enclosed book’ privileged by later collectors and librarians towards the inherently fluid and malleable nature of early modern texts which their interventions have disguised.80 Todd underlines the point that contemporary modes of arrangement and organization imposed meaning on the materials of which compilations are made. His findings converge with those that are emerging from histories of collecting more generally and provide another model for how to write the social history of the archive. Marjorie Swann comments that collections are ‘always steeped in ideology’. Sites of self-fashioning that serve to reinforce or undermine dominant categories, they are themselves ‘modes of subjectivity’.81
LIBRARIES, COLLECTING, AND THE CREATION OF KNOWLEDGE
The public and private libraries and museums founded in the early modern period reflect the insatiable itch for accumulating manuscripts, books, scientific specimens and exquisitely crafted artefacts that underpinned the culture of curiosity that emerged in this era.82 The most imposing monument to this impulse in Habsburg Spain was Philip II’s Escorial, which housed thousands of ancient texts alongside modern humanist classics and his massive collection of relics.83 In Italy too the instincts to possess the past and to possess nature developed in tandem with each other.84 In Protestant Europe, libraries evolved in distinctive ways as a consequence of the Reformation. They were by-products of the dispersal of manuscripts from dissolved religious houses and of the determination of figures such as John Leland, John Bale and Matthew Parker to preserve selected medieval textual relics before they disappeared. The decisions made by these churchmen and scholars about what to salvage and what to discard have been scrutinized by Jennifer Summit. Her book Memory’s Library is a timely and important reminder of how far the manuscript collections upon which we now rely bear the distinctive imprint of the theological priorities and prejudices of those who compiled them. Sifted through the dual filter of an empowering Protestant narrative of history and reformed intolerance of ‘popish superstition’, the documents that comprise them bore witness to a partisan version of the English past and buttressed an exclusive understanding of religious ‘truth’. These preoccupations were bequeathed to later generations of antiquaries such as Robert Cotton and Thomas James, keeper of the Bodleian. Side-effects of a volatile political struggle to redefine the ‘Middle Ages’, these libraries mediate it to us in ways that we have been surprisingly slow to recognize.85 Their status as polemical weapons in the wider battle between rival confessions over the ground of sacred history should give us pause for thought.86 Sites of active epistemological construction, they imprison our enquiries within interpretative straitjackets that are not of our own making. In a similar way, our attitude to the hallowed objects that the reformers denigrated and repudiated as focal points for idolatry has been affected by the locations into which they migrated after the upheavals of the sixteenth century, where they were not actually casualties of these events. Ejected from cathedrals and shrines into spaces and buildings where they sat alongside fossils, fragments of bone, Roman coins, and plant specimens their significance changed. In these settings, viewing them ceased to be fraught with spiritual danger.87 Modern museums are places that perpetuate these early modern acts of desacralization and unwittingly reinforce reformed values anew.88
Patterns of archival selection, collection, disposal and retention were shaped by other tumultuous events in ways that are only now becoming the subject of detailed investigation. Too often mined as a treasury of reliable facts, the assorted material written and gathered by Pierre de L’Estoile, for instance, has contaminated and coloured understanding of the French Wars of Religion since the later sixteenth century, as Tom Hamilton shows in a forthcoming monograph. In his essay on L’Estoile’s ‘Drolleries’ below, he argues that this collection of printed ephemera must itself be seen as an act of iconoclasm, a scrapbook of ‘trifles’ and ‘false idols’ designed to provoke a cathartic, scornful laughter.89 Civil war and sectarian violence all affected the content and character of the collections of books, writings and records that have come down to us in ways that demand careful analysis. So too do other gaps and silences in libraries and archives. Anxious about the afterlife of their correspondence, some politicians and their secretaries literally set fire to their letters lest they come back to haunt them. Arnold Hunt writes of the ‘shadowy counter practices’ designed to keep damaging things out of official files that developed in this period alongside new techniques of record-keeping,90 while Elizabeth Yale describes how the papers of the mid seventeenth-century intelligencer Samuel Hartlib were mutilated after his death in 1662 by various persons (possibly including John Milton) eager to remove from them items that cast their activities during the former Commonwealth and Protectorate in a bad light.91 It was partly fear that their own manuscripts might suffer the same fate that led some scholars and natural philosophers to deposit their literary remains in newly established repositories such as the Ashmolean Museum. One of these was John Aubrey, whose concern to preserve old papers, ‘like fragments of a shipwreck’ from the mistaken hands of zeal, domestic and utilitarian recycling, and the depredations of time, is well documented. At the same time, he actively shaped his own legacy by throwing away material that he deemed too frivolous and ‘light’.92 The apparently arbitary accidents of survival that dictate the foci and direction of historical enquiry frequently turn out to be the function of contemporary archiving strategies.
The subfield in which these processes have been most effectively investigated to date is the history of science. Its historians have proved to be far more attuned to how ‘the overall physiognomy of the archive’ has been affected by contingent developments and by the interventions of contemporary actors than most of their colleagues.93 They have taught us to see the collections of the Royal Society and Académie des Sciences de Paris as projections of a sense of corporate identity and dissected the ways in which the reputation of scientists such as Isaac Newton and Robert Boyle was moulded and manufactured by the custodians of their papers. The latter pruned out letters from alchemists and other ‘enthusiasts’ that smacked of ‘superstition’ and seemed to impugn the seriousness of their other intellectual endeavours.94 The order in which the numerous workbooks and loose manuscripts, which the Dutch mathematician and astronomer Christiaan Huygens left to the University of Leiden after he died in 1695, was placed by his early eighteenth-century and later editors has likewise affected how they have been understood and read.95
In turn we need to acknowledge how particular styles of writing and record-keeping have been instrumental in determining which aspects of knowledge about the natural world came to be canonized as true. Here the insights of Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer have been especially inspiring. In their work on mid seventeenth-century empiricism, they have argued that its triumph as the predominant mode of establishing scientific truth was integrally linked to the cultural practices by which the gentlemen who advocated it attained trust and credibility in contemporary society.96 Equally relevant to the themes of this volume are recent studies of ‘paper technologies’ — lists, diagrams, tables, and the ubiquitous notebooks in which Baconian scientists recorded their observations — as epistemological instruments themselves. The manner in which people organized, précised, preserved and retrieved data was not incidental but integral to how botanical, zoological, geological, astrological and palaeontological knowledge was forged.97 To quote Anke te Heesen, scraps and slips of paper on which extracts were written were ‘the smallest material text-units of intellectual work’.98 The cut-and-paste methods employed by Ulisse Aldrovandi in late sixteenth-century Italy, are amply documented in the four hundred volumes of his manuscripts that survive, while the systems of nomenclature and classification of species of plants now synonymous with the eighteenth-century Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus evolved from his compulsive practice of indexing.99 In the words of Lorraine Daston, the early modern ‘sciences of the archive’ were also sciences of the library: ‘Reading and seeing, collecting words and collecting things were closely intertwined practices in the study of nature during this period’.100
The tools characteristic of this ‘hybrid hermeneutics’101 played a critical part in the making of medical knowledge and practice too, as Hannah Murphy emphasizes in her essay on the archive and library of the Nuremberg physician Georg Palma in this volume. As an epistemological praxis, writing was integral to sixteenth-century German medicine. While it did not alone drive or determine diagnosis or strategies for cure, as Lauren Kassell has shown, it did shape encounters between doctors and patients and assist physicians in identifying the diseases that afflicted their clients. Key elements in early modern ‘healing dynamics’, the many casebooks that survive were not just retrospective summaries of clinical outcomes. Circulating in both manuscript and print, they also served to advertise expertise, disseminate sound methods, register symptoms and record remedies and improve understanding of the mysterious human body. In short, early modern medicine and astrology were predictive arts that depended upon the use of paper and pen.102 They attest to the cross-fertilization of the cultures of record-keeping that emerged in a variety of spheres of contemporary activity, and to ‘a complex ecosystem of imitation and exchange’ that encompassed many different fields of enquiry.103
SCHOLARSHIP, PAPER TECHNOLOGIES, AND LIFE WRITING
One of the most important of these cultures of record-keeping was the world of humanist scholarship, the distinctive techniques of which have been the subject of several significant studies. None has been more influential than Ann Blair’s Too Much to Know, an exploration of the strategies early modern scholars devised to cope with the all too familiar experience of ‘information overload’. Her book shows how the technological developments linked with the advent of print provoked the Latinate elite to develop new ways of selecting, storing and sorting the volume of data that threatened to overwhelm them, which (ironically) helped to feed the same phenomenon. The tools and finding aids that emerged from these experiments included practices of note-taking, excerpting and cross-referencing that are still critical to academic practice today.104 Among the humanist scholars who have left substantial traces of their working methods are Guillaume Budé, Joseph Scaliger, Conrad Gesner and the German professor of medicine and natural philosophy Joachim Jungius. Jungius's collection ran to some 150,000 pages, some 45,000 of which are still extant.105
Although it had precedents and roots in the medieval practice of compiling florilegia, the most pervasive and important of these humanist techniques was the habit of commonplacing. Both a response to and a manifestation of the Renaissance preoccupation with copia (abundance), it was the primary intellectual device by which the intelligentsia arranged their reading, knowledge and thought.106 As an educational device and a handy aide-memoire, the commonplace book diffused itself widely within European society and must be regarded as one of the contemporary arts of remembrance. As John Locke wrote in his 1706 guide to making them, ‘Memory is the treasurey or Storehouse’, but it needed to be properly organized. ‘It would be just for all the World as serviceable as a great deal of Household-Stuff, when if we wanted any particular Thing we could not tell where to find it’.107 Envisaged as an artificial repository to aid the feeble human mind, the commonplace book was a personal and portable archive of learning. Its utility as a tool of naturalists has already been noted, but this was not the only source of inspiration for early modern scientists, as Valentina Pugliano’s research on northern Italian apothecaries has shown. Her investigation of specimen lists suggests these had precedents in the practices rooted in the drug and spice trades that long pre-dated the rise of the humanist techniques described by Ann Blair.108
Note-taking and commonplacing were technologies compatible with the mobility of the travelling merchant and grand tourist. The seventeenth-century Englishman Robert Williams appears to have carried an archive of ‘remembrance’ books around with him in a trunk, together with registers and ledgers recording cash, acquittances, inventories and accounts.109 Travel journals recording exotic places, interesting sights, and associated anecdotes were often kept for the edification of later generations of the aristocracy and gentry.110 Nor were they confined to the educated elite: ‘middling sort’ artisans and craftsmen and women also used them. Filled with poems, proverbs, moral exempla and assorted historical information, the quarto notebook of Ann Bowyer, the daughter of a Coventry draper, has close affinities with printed dictionaries of quotations. Preserved only because her papers were absorbed into the archive of her heir, Elias Ashmole, after she died of the plague in Lichfield in 1646, it casts light on the hidden world of female literacy and record-keeping.111 So too do the books in which women recorded medical recipes and practical knowledge about physic and diet necessary to preserve the health of their households. Derived from vernacular publications as well as oral tradition, such texts reveal how informal science operated in parallel with the academy. Their survival in large numbers also reflects the fact that they were collaborative creations frequently transmitted along matrilineal lines as heirlooms and augmented by later family members. A copy of the recipe book compiled by Lady Frances Catchmay includes a note on the first folio indicating that she bequeathed it to her son William, ‘earnestly desiring and charging him to let every one of his brothers and sisters’ have a full or partial transcription of it. Her gift carried the responsibility of passing on domestic lore to subsequent generations. Often incorporating other miscellaneous information including births, marriages and deaths, these manuscripts simultaneously functioned as memorials of dead relatives and lost loved ones.112
These types of manuscript illustrate the need to situate record-keeping on a continuum with life-writing. A number of developments converged with the growth of literacy to encourage men and women to compose texts that may, with a mild degree of anachronism, be described as forms of autobiography. Although inflated claims about the critical role of the Renaissance in the rise of individualism have been cut down to size, it did serve to cultivate the art of self-fashioning.113 Another stimulus was the turn inwards to scrutinize the soul fostered by both the Protestant and Catholic Reformations. In Counter-Reformation France, the religious writings of the seventeenth century, especially by women, bear witness to impulses towards interiority that were full of contradictions.114 In the war-torn Low Countries, anxieties about salvation were the backdrop against which the Utrecht lawyer Arnoldus Buchelius gathered a voluminous archive of personal papers. Reflecting his bewildered reaction to the turbulent events of the time, they also chart his many spiritual shifts and conversions from Catholicism to indifference, and from libertinism to Contra-Remonstrant Calvinism.115 In pursuit of evidence that they numbered among the elect, fervent puritans in England and Scotland assiduously catalogued their sins, shortcomings and afflictions alongside the benevolent providential interventions of God in their everyday lives. As Tom Webster has acutely observed, the diaries and notebooks kept by men and women such as the London woodturner Nehemiah Wallington were not exercises in individual identity formation so much as a kind of ‘writing to redundancy’.116
Intended to be read by kin, friends and descendants, these were texts that operated in the context of a piety that was as communal in character as it was introspective.117 Like the forms of ‘artisan autobiography’ studied by James Amelang, they blur into a range of other genres, including chronicles, memoirs, travel accounts, ledgers and letters and are frequently characterized by a ‘rhetoric of self-denigration’.118 Much of this material was the product of the sixteenth and especially seventeenth centuries, but in Italy the long tradition of ricordanze or family books, in which the socially mobile mercantile elite such as the dynasties of the Medici, Castellani, Gianni, Pelli and Pitti recorded details of their genealogy to prove their economic and patrimonial rights began much earlier. Flourishing especially in Tuscany between 1300 and 1500, by 1600 it had begun to decline, or at least to evolve into a different form of memorialization.119
The literary scholar Adam Smyth has drawn attention to ‘a culture of life-writing whose very inclusivity and taxonomical strangeness’ requires the revisiting of some settled assumptions. Focusing on almanacs, parish registers, commonplace books and financial accounts and redefining autobiography as ‘a retrospective, mediated, intertextual process’, Smyth’s monograph is helping to break down conventional boundaries between utilitarian documents and creative writing and inspiring new approaches to ostensibly dry, unpromising and formulaic bureaucratic records.120 He and others are finding subjectivity in unexpected places, including in texts that seemingly testify less to the spread of literacy than of numeracy. Often seen as a symptom of the birth of modern capitalism, double-entry book-keeping is being revealed as one of the spheres in which contemporaries crafted the complex, ephemeral and disputed entity that was the self and even gave expression to private emotion.121
Several essays in this volume engage directly with these themes in different ways. In his analysis of the account book of the Exchequer official Richard Stonley, Jason Scott-Warren takes issue with Smyth’s heuristic use of the term ‘autobiography’ and warns that we should not allow the search for selfhood to distort sources that have ‘a distinctly narrow interest in the individual’. He suggests that Stonley’s manuscript is perhaps better seen as a type of ‘storage space’ or ‘textual receptacle’. The financial records studied by Ann Hughes yield unexpected insights into how the calamity of the Civil War was experienced in local communities and by individuals whom we rarely have the opportunity to hear. Products of the ‘pervasive culture of appraisal’ fostered by the mid seventeenth-century fiscal-military state, they provided an outlet for ordinary people to recall and make sense of trauma, intrusion and loss. Other contributors are interested in how administrative writing could function as a type of ‘status performance’: in a case study of fifteenth-century Flanders, Frederik Buylaert and Jelle Haemers investigate how record-keeping functioned as a form of self-representation and served to illustrate the place of the nobility within an elite community of honour. John Paul Ghobrial suggestively tests the distinction between scholarship and autobiography. Drawing attention to the colophon as a mechanism by which Eastern Christians recorded their private experience, his work chimes well with François Joseph-Ruggiu’s recent collection calling for a comparative global history of personal writing that integrates European and Occidental perspectives.122
RECORD-KEEPING AND REMEMBERING
A final historiographical framework for the present collection is the current surge of interest in history and memory. As we have seen, contemporaries used the word archive as a metaphor for the act and locus of recollecting the past; they were also beginning to apply it to repositories that performed the function of preserving its written traces rather than simply safeguarding documentation of legal and business transactions that might be required as proof — to buildings that housed historical sources as well as living records. Archives themselves were therefore in the process of becoming what Pierre Nora called lieux de mémoire.123 The ‘genealogical gaze’ of the age helped to stimulate an interest in family heraldry and history that engendered the distinctive forms of record-keeping in Italy, England and the Netherlands discussed above.124 This occurred in a context in which growing numbers of educated gentlemen as well as professional scholars were becoming engaged in the pursuit of ‘antiquities’. It coincided with the popularization, if not democratization of the desire to preserve tangible and textual vestiges of distant societies.125 Avid interest in the local and national past also led men such as Sir Simonds D’Ewes to spend their spare time sifting through the ‘sweete records’ in the Tower of London and derive delight from acquiring prowess in palaeography.126 It fostered efforts to preserve on paper and in print orally transmitted stories and legends. Foreshadowing the activities of later folklorists, these often entailed a tussle between the instinct to write down traditions that were in danger of disappearing and a desire to suppress them as silly ‘superstitions’.127
These impulses often converged with a concern about preserving traces of their own world for posterity. The sixteenth-century Cologne city-councillor Hermann Weinsberg, for example, compiled a huge three volume Gedenkbuch, or ‘Memory Book’, filled with mundane and candid details of daily life in the town. Such was his fear that his archive might suffer oblivion that he ordered his heirs and executors to protect it from heat, humidity, moths and bookworms and to duplicate it by making multiple copies. Ironically, it owes its survival to an inheritance dispute that resulted in its confiscation and deposit among the civic records, which (in a further twist of fate that fulfilled Weinsberg’s own premonitions) were buried under rubble when the building collapsed in 2009.128 The impulse to create a permanent record of the present for future use steadily spread downwards socially, as Judith Pollmann shows in her wide-ranging study of the practice of chronicling. Mainly the work of literate males, these texts are best approached, she suggests, less as a relic of a distinctively medieval mode of historiography than as an idiosyncratic archive of local knowledge and information that could be deployed at some later date.
Such material illuminates the workings of ‘memory before modernity’ and the pools of shared remembrance which record-keeping both cemented and created afresh.129 Recent work has underscored the dangers of accepting the hegemony of the written word as the authoritative archive of social memory and turned to the challenging task of recovering non-elite perceptions and constructions of the past from other sources.130 Andy Wood has used thousands of depositions recorded in contemporary law courts, to rescue how ordinary men and women remembered immediate and remote events and periods of time and used ‘custom’ as a protean cultural resource in the sphere of social relations. His work sheds light on the politics of deliberate recollection and strategic amnesia alike.131 Other historians have moved beyond written documents to the topographical features and man-made artefacts around which memory crystallized and emphasized the need to analyze ‘tendrils’, ‘footprints’, and ‘shadows’ of the past that were fixed in neither script nor print.132 Here Mary Laven brings the archival turn into conversation with the material turn, by examining how vernacular ex-voto paintings recorded and authenticated miracles in Renaissance Italy. Drawing attention to the ‘certificatory role’ of these objects in buttressing local cults, her essay is a study of the social history of a visual archive of divine mercies.
Early modern historical culture was reconfigured by other developments that bear on the essays in this Supplement. Experiences of revolution and destruction stimulated a new sensibility regarding the relationship between the present, past and future that shaped ideas about chronology and time and differentiated experienced from learned and inherited memory.133 As in the case of earlier moments of upheaval and caesura, the period also saw energetic efforts by monarchs, churches, cities and communities to harness the past to legitimate political rule and competing forms of Christian truth and to shield them against the damning charge of innovation in an age which revered antiquity as the prime guarantee of authenticity. Alongside the writing of ecclesiastical histories such as those by Matthias Flacius Illyricus and the Magdeburg Centurians, one manifestation of the resurgence of sacred history was the creation of archives, both virtual and physical.134 Martyrologies such as John Foxe’s Actes and Monuments straddled the boundary between a body of interpretation and a compilation of original documents designed to prove the veracity of his account. The subtle strategies of omission, selection and massage of evidence Foxe employed have shaped understanding of the English Reformation in both overt and insidious ways. Instead of debating how far they compromise his work as a repository of facts, historians now openly acknowledge their role in refracting our image of the past.135
Catholic history and hagiography must be read in similar ways. Ambitious projects such as the Bollandist enterprise to compile the Acta Sanctorum were also underpinned by a commitment to empiricism that obscures their status as a form of polemic and seduces us into using them uncritically. In the case of the spurious chronicles confected by the Toledo Jesuit, Jeronimo Roman de la Higuera, it is necessary to set aside modern value judgements and approach forgery and fabrication as modes of historical commentary and writing, as well as an outgrowth of antiquarian enthusiasm. As Katrina Olds has demonstrated, a ‘hermeneutic of pious affection’ has ensured that the influence of the invented histories of Counter-Reformation Spain has been enduring.136 In this volume, Virginia Reinburg shows how French Catholic authors wrote histories of miraculous shrines that at once invoked and created archives of historical facts: like other historiographers their work demonstrated faith in the truth of their sources, but it also preserved testimonies of witnesses to supernatural interventions that helped to repair the ruination and rupture caused by the religious wars.
Liesbeth Corens extends these insights in a different direction in her essay on how the English Catholic diaspora mediated memory of the trials and sufferings of their predecessors in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries by creating counter archives that challenged the omissions and distortions of the dominant Protestant narratives. Their choice of format — the documentary compilation — was a crucial part of their claim to represent unvarnished historical truth. Shedding light on how the members of this reluctant religious minority selectively edited and manipulated the material they collected and transcribed, her work reinforces Jesse Spohnholz’s research on Germany and the Netherlands. As he shows, strategies of archival organization, categorization and naming served to reinforce confessional and nationalist accounts of the triumph of Calvinism in this region by ‘inventing’ a formal conference critical to the progress of its Reformation. The long afterlife of the 1568 ‘synod’ or ‘convent’ of Wesel is a measure of the capacity of the decisions made by contemporary and subsequent archivists to distort modern perceptions of the past. Eventually absorbed into anthologies that are monuments to nineteenth-century historical positivism, documents attesting to this non-event have deceived many generations of scholars.137 They reflect the continuing influence of epistemological assumptions that have their roots in the era of Leopold von Ranke and the way in which archival decisions about arrangement and nomenclature dictate how their contents are subsequently interpreted.138
READING ALONG THE ARCHIVAL GRAIN
Some of the richest and most imaginative medieval and early modern history published in recent decades is the result of reading texts and archives against the grain. Carlo Ginzburg brilliantly excavated the mental world of the Friulian miller Menocchio from the papers of the Inquisition and Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie evocatively recreated the lives of Cathar heretics in the Pyrennean village of Montaillou from the records compiled by its enemies.139 Others have investigated how the people who appeared before civil and ecclesiastical courts deployed the arts of resistance in their encounters with authority and skilfully manipulated the law for their own objectives.140 Natalie Zemon Davis’s study of the stories French men and women told to try to save themselves from the gallows, Fiction in the Archive, is a classic of the genre; Lyndal Roper’s sensitive and thought-provoking study of the psychic struggles and ‘collusive dynamic’ between German witches and their torturers is another.141 Students of women, slaves and subordinate races have become particularly adept at reading the gaps and silences in sources engendered by moral and criminal repression to recover traces of female and subaltern subjectivity and agency.142 They have shown how administrative records can be prized open to reveal the voices and actions of the lost peoples of Europe and the indigenous inhabitants of its empires in this period.
The Social History of the Archive responds to an emergent methodological shift best summed up in the anthropologist Ann Stoler’s call for scholars to read ‘along the archival grain’. Turning traditional approaches on their head, her work has sought to unravel the internal logic of Dutch colonial records and to identify the ‘grids of intelligibility’ embedded in them. Her efforts to write an ‘ethnography’ of this archive, to find its ‘watermark’, and to take its ‘pulse’ have wide resonance and are one source of inspiration for this volume.143 Others derive from the work of archival scientists: Eric Ketelaar’s insistence that we must decipher the ‘tacit narratives of power and knowledge’ and Tom Nesmith’s invocation to see with rather than through the archive.144 Historians too have offered important models, especially those who have turned from mining bureaucratic sources towards a deeper scrutiny of their underlying narrative structures and administrative conventions. Notable here are John Arnold’s study of the inquisitorial records of thirteenth-century France as sites of competing discourses that construct a variety of subjectivities and David Sabean’s discerning analysis of the ‘objectified narration’ typical of bureaucratic documents and village protocols in eighteenth-century Wurttemberg.145 Laura Gowing wisely observes that we must pay full attention to the circumstances of the production of ecclesiastical court depositions if we are to make sense of them, while Ann Hughes approaches the Presbyterian Thomas Edwards’ enormous heresiography, Gangreana, not as an inherently flawed and unreliable source but as ‘an ingredient in the happening’.146
The essays collected here place the media, methods and sites of knowledge-making about the past and present at the centre of their investigations. They explore a range of early modern cultures of documentation — feudal, notarial, civic, familial, academic, antiquarian, academic, religious and artistic — and assess record-keeping in various different contexts — urban and rural, institutional and personal, official and informal. Focusing on the societies of Western Europe, they often but not exclusively take the form of case studies, using particular examples as starting points from which to develop arguments with wider ramifications. They consider why records were created, preserved, amended and falsified, as well as how and by whom they were referred to, read, arranged and used. They pay attention to the materiality of the objects and spaces they study (to parchment and paper, ink and paint, boxes and buildings) and to the symbolic and non-literate uses of writing.147 Emphasizing process over product, they show that records and archives have histories, itineraries, biographies and social lives of their own.148
It remains, finally and briefly, to indicate the shape of this Supplement and to outline some of its overarching themes. The volume is divided into four sections, though the boundaries between them are porous and fluid. Each of these has its own implications for our understanding of the records that have been passed down to posterity. The first set focus on the creation and curation of archives and the personnel involved in their custody and making. They illuminate the individuals involved in record-writing and -keeping and the commercial, professional and seigneurial settings in which it took place, as well as the circumstances in which archival impulses and consciousness emerged. Partisan and proprietorial, these processes had an internal motor and momentum of their own. The spread of professional notaries and archivists was not merely a response to social need; it was also a consequence of their own self-serving efforts to make themselves indispensable to prospective clients, as Marcus Friedrich and Laurie Nussdorfer show. In turn the records they preserved and generated attest to their entrepreneurship and to the economy of corruption they had a vested interest in perpetuating. They illustrate how the archive itself can become a source for writing the history of its keepers, a theme that also emerges from both John Paul Ghobrial and Jennifer Bishop’s essays. Far from neutral and impersonal texts, administrative records were a forum within which officials engaged in a form of ‘creative writing’, amending and fabricating the history of the institutions for which they worked.
The essays in the second section turn on the interrelated issues of credibility, testimony, trust and authenticity. They further unsettle the assumptions about the distinction between bureaucratic and narrative sources we have inherited from nineteenth-century historians and archival theorists. Frederik Buylaert and Jelle Haemers investigate the role of records in the construction and display of social identity, while Jason Scott-Warren interrogates the complex question of how far they functioned as forms of self-writing. The other pair assess the particular challenges associated with writing about and representing acts of divine intervention pictorially, demonstrating how texts and images functioned as forms of notarized evidence and fostered trust by mimicking legal formulae. Virginia Reinburg and Mary Laven share with Liesbeth Corens a concern with articulating the ways in which religious record-keeping was not isolated from, but implicated in an historical culture marked by a heightened preoccupation with evidence, proof, and witness.
The third group of essays focuses on practices of collection and compilation and illustrates their role in controlling and organizing knowledge. These explore how the techniques of chronicling, commonplacing, and transcription shaped perception and practice and determined the content and form of the documentary deposits left to later generations. In different ways they expand and challenge conventional definitions of the archive. Hannah Murphy illustrates the symbiotic link between printed and manuscript books in early modern orders of medical information, while Andy Wood excavates the traces of ‘the intangible archive’ of oral tradition that survive in civic histories that gave expression to prevailing hegemonic relations. The marginalization and silencing of competing narratives is also a theme of Corens’ piece on the anthologies of documents assembled by the English Catholic diaspora: these were active attempts to resist the consigning of a rival history of the Reformation to oblivion. But record-keeping was not merely or mainly a mechanism for writing about the past; it also helped people to explain perplexing developments and to organize and preserve data that could help to predict the future, as Judith Pollmann’s essay shows. In a context in which the presses were pouring forth books, pamphlets and periodicals on an unprecedented scale, we may see these archival impulses as methods of managing the problem that there was too much to know.
Picking up a thread that runs throughout this volume, the essays in the last section of this collection confront the question of record-keeping as a mode of remembering and forgetting more explicitly. They examine records as vehicles through which individuals gave expression to emotion and feeling about traumatic events and consider archives as agents in the formation of cultural memory. Ann Hughes compels us to look afresh at a class of documents in the public archive that complicates a top-down story of state formation and allows us access to how humble people made sense of scarring experiences. Tom Hamilton makes us see a private one through new eyes, taking its creator out of the footnotes to histories of the French religious wars and making the ways in which he mediated them the focus of investigation. In his contribution, Jesse Spohnholz offers a final salutary reminder that we need to subject to rigorous scrutiny not just individual records and texts but also the implicit narrative structures enshrined in the repositories in which we find them. It echoes this volume as a whole in issuing a call for deeper critical awareness of the ways in which archives quite literally construct the history that we write. It is to be hoped that this Supplement will serve to provoke further discussion and debate about the conceptual and methodological problems that hinder our attempts to reconstruct past societies.