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Making Archives in Early Modern Europe
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Book description

European states were overwhelmed with information around 1500. Their agents sought to organize their overflowing archives to provide trustworthy evidence and comprehensive knowledge that was useful in the everyday exercise of power. This detailed comparative study explores cases from Lisbon to Vienna to Berlin in order to understand how changing information technologies and ambitious programs of state-building challenged record-keepers to find new ways to organize and access the information in their archives. From the intriguing details of how clerks invented new ways to index and catalog the expanding world to the evolution of new perspectives on knowledge and power among philologists and historians, this book provides illuminating vignettes and revealing comparisons about a core technology of governance in early modern Europe. Enhanced by perspectives from the history of knowledge and from archival science, this wide-ranging study explores the potential and the limitations of knowledge management as media technologies evolved.


'Head’s reach is remarkable as he tracks the concepts and practices, the people and motives behind the explosive growth of administrative archives between 1200 and 1700 across a wide swath of European polities. He combines deep dives into little-known sources with judicious reflection on the impact of archives on both early modern governance and current historical practice.'

Ann Blair - Carol H. Pforzherimer Professor, Harvard University, Massachusetts

'This book provides a new understanding of different modes of organizing records and archives as shaped by medial and governance processes in Europe, between 1400 and 1700. Archives are presented as cultural and political sites being shaped by cultural and political actors. Randolph Head shows how the comparative approach - spanning places, times, languages, and cultures - is a powerful analytical tool and an invaluable method of historical investigation.'

Eric Ketelaar - Universiteit van Amsterdam

'A remarkably learned exploration of finding tools, record-keeping methods and pre-modern archival theories across many European countries. Randolph Head brings order to the expanding field of the history of archives by tracing the sometimes desperate efforts of late medieval and early modern archivists who tried to order their own growing masses of documents. Highly recommended.'

Filippo de Vivo - Birkbeck, University of London

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