© A. J.

Chapman 2012

Historical Archives Part 2: The Historian’s Perspective Archival Documents – What to ask
The basic questions are the same as for any other original or primary document from whichever period. These can be characterised as the ‘Who? What? and Why?’ questions. There are others, but this is the gist. The first thing to remember is that all sources are what, at GCSE level, is called ‘biased’. That is to say that they have a point of view, reflecting that of the author and the intended audience or purpose. Connections between documents can, in the same way as surveying buildings, provide a picture of change and development through time. However, does what a document says actually describe what happened?

What is the document? What was its purpose? Is it intended to tell a story (and if so why?), or to put a point of debate, be it public, legal or for propaganda purposes? If a legal document, what does it ‘do’? Medieval charters, for example, are records of grants of lands, rights and responsibilities, while letters – of any provenance – can be addressed to individuals or groups of people. Why might this be? If a letter, for example, was addressed to an individual it does not necessarily mean that it was a private document. Instruction manuals – in the correct codes of behaviour, in fighting, in the workings of, for example, the twelfth century exchequer (this is one of those peculiar documents which are much easier to read in direct translation than in the commentary written on it). Newsletters were common in the middle ages and, in the form of ‘House magazines’, Parish Magazines and similar are common now. Are these ‘straight’ reports? Can you detect ‘spin’? Film and Photography – for archaeological purposes, these can be especially important. What differences can be seen between pictures of the same location at different dates? Can these be traced to other documents or dateable events? Why were pictures taken when and where they were? Were these professional or amateur? If undated or uncaptioned, how can they be interpreted?


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© A. J. Chapman 2012 Do you know what language the original was in? The majority of administrative documents and official communications in before c. 1450 were in Latin, which obviously, was a language only really accessible to those in authority. Remember that Latin was not really a spoken language, the elite in both France and England spoke and wrote in French among themselves, though English became more common among elites by the early years of the fifteenth century. Thereafter documents might be expected to be in English. Note that use of a particular language might infer a particular audience.

What is the date of the document? Do we know? Is it contemporary with the events or actions it describes or was it written later? If written at a later date, how much later? If contemporary, was it involved in the events it described, for example, a court roll or minutes of a meeting? If writing a long time after the events described, why was the author writing about this event at all? Has work already been done on these archival sources? If so, what can this do to assist our purposes?

What do we know about the author? Is this relevant? What kind of person was doing the writing? Were they writing for themselves or for others? What was their intention in writing? If they tell us – as Froissart does at the beginning of his Chronicles in the fourteenth century – is that actually what they were doing?

Where was the source written? Obviously, it matters – in the context of the Hundred Years War – whether the writer was English or French, or Scottish or Gascon, or Breton, or Welsh. Whose ‘side’ were they on? In more modern contexts Many monastic chroniclers were concerned with their local areas. Knighton, a monk writing in Leicester, for example, was especially interested in events in the Midlands. Adam Usk, a canon lawyer from south east Wales, travelled all over the continent, to France, to Rome and to London, and naturally, was influenced by where he found himself at a particular time and the circumstances of his being there. Was the author present at the events described? Is he reporting gossip or relying on eyewitnesses? Is he, not to put too fine a point on it, making it up?

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© A. J. Chapman 2012

Who was meant to read (or hear) the content of these documents? Where would they have done this? There is a big difference between something intended to be read out in Church – to a public audience – to something read out in parliament. Chronicles come in many types, private (i.e. the work of individuals), ‘official’ that is, composed for royal dynasties like the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle or institutions such as monasteries, towns or cities, or literary. The latter are interesting in their own right. Are they written in poetry or prose? Do they make use of classical or Biblical allusions? This probably means that the author is showing off, but to whom?

Is there more than one account of the same event or building or landscape? How are they similar; how are they different? What do these similarities and differences suggest? Are they all from the same ‘side’? Can you see how this might affect their perspective?

Part 2: How are archival sources made available?
Starting from the scratch • • • • • Identifying your archive – Which archives and what material are you intending to use? Following that reference: What does TNA E 101/18/1 actually mean? How can this help? How to make the most cost effective use of time/money in accessing archives What skills/training might you need?

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In England, Wales and Scotland, a good first port of call – especially for otherwise under-recognised and hard to find corporate archives, is The National Register of Archives: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/nra/default.asp Also useful, especially for urban areas which have either been in existence for a long time or which have expanded into hitherto rural areas is the Manorial Documents Register: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/mdr/ Personal visits to archives or libraries Through publications – many local record (county as well as city) societies have published a quantity of their records with introductions giving some context to the purpose of the records in question. Southampton, Bristol and Bath (via the Bath Preservation Trust) are local examples.

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© A. J. Chapman 2012 Southampton: http://www.southampton.ac.uk/history/research/records_series/ Bristol: http://www.bris.ac.uk/Depts/History/bristolrecordsociety/publications. htm Bath: http://www.bath-preservation-trust.org.uk/ NB, the Hampshire Record Society is currently defunct, but details of publications are available: http://www.royalhistoricalsociety.org/hampshirerecordsociety.pdf • Many older accounts and transcribed historic documents, as well as other publications can be found online. The best search tool for these (since it hosts many in its own right as well as linking to Google Books and other resources) is http://archive.org/index.php Any number of historical photographic collections are available via Flickr and other photo hosting sites. One example of this (recording change over time in Bristol – among a lot of buses) can be found here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/fray_bentos/sets/7215759415551 2322/ Local museums are especially good for photographic collections, but often fail to advertise their existence.

Preparing for your visit • • • What to ask What to bring How to cope(!)

Note taking, Recording and Transcription • • • • • Understanding the records – knowing what you are looking at. Time management – archive efficiency What to think about in keeping records: Transcription strategies and editing What challenges might archived documents present? Writing up, referencing, rights and permissions.

Updated 25 October 2012