Buildings, Rooms and Furniture
Material and Spatial Dimensions of Early Modern European Archives
In 1794, the archive of the Westphalian noble family of Plettenberg-Wittem had to be moved. In order to estimate the right number of ox carts and purchase the appropriate amount of wrapping material (including boxes to store documents), the officials responsible for moving the archive had to calculate the overall weight of papers and parchment. The entire archive, they estimated, weighed 7.108 pounds (~3 tons). This example emphasizes two things: firstly, the material aspects of archives, and secondly, the volume that many seigneurial archives had gained by the end of the 18th century. An altered understanding of administration and an increase in paper-based communication led to a growing archival culture in early modern Europe and an increasing significance of knowledge management. Eventually, organising and storing information-on-paper in archives led to the growing need of arranging objects in space.
Within the frame of research field E Archiving Artefacts, this project focuses on archival furniture, rooms and buildings in early modern central Europe. It investigates how the material features of archival records translated into spatial structures for storage and, in turn, how spatial storage structures influenced the user’s understanding and handling of information. In particular, the project focuses on noble and princely archives in the northern and central parts of the Holy Roman Empire. Noble and princely archives, which are continuous rather than two different types of archives, form a significant subset within early modern archival culture, and one that is usually thought to be a driving force of archival change. Preliminary work on Westphalian noble archives indicates that a highly relevant body of information, objects, and (to a lesser extent) spaces are available for study. The project will proceed through a combined analysis of written sources, images (plans, drawings etc.) and an autopsy of remaining archival furniture and spaces (on site). It thus paves the way for future research, such as archiving practices in private homes and economic/mercantile contexts. In sum, the project’s close look at the materialities of archiving helps to understand in more detail how written artefacts could survive, were transmitted to future generations, and could be used. Archival furniture, this project argues, are a key example to implement the cluster’s overall insistence on the importance of material features for a more in-depth understanding of written artefacts and their cultural impact.