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Making Archives in Early Modern Europe
Proof, Information, and Political Record-Keeping, 1400–1700


  • Date Published: August 2020
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781108462525

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About the Authors
  • 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.

    • The first fully comparative study of European political archives between the Middle Ages and modernity
    • Systematically investigates what records nascent European states kept, how they were kept, and how they became accessible (or not)
    • Draws extensively on the latest archival theory, incorporating an interdisciplinary perspective
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    Reviews & endorsements

    '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

    'This in-depth, scholarly history is ideal for librarians, archivists, graduate students, and scholars of history, particularly the history of books.' A. H. Widder, Choice

    '… the main merit of the book lies in its finely calibrated balance between a general discourse on the role played by archives in the formation of European statehood and the presentation of specific documents, archives, and inventories.' Marco Cavarzere, German Historical Institute London Bulletin

    'The book is a tremendous contribution to the history of archives and of early modern Europe.' Francis X. Blouin Jr., American Historical Review

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    Product details

    • Date Published: August 2020
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781108462525
    • length: 366 pages
    • dimensions: 230 x 153 x 20 mm
    • weight: 0.45kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Foreword: writing the history of archives
    1. Introduction: records, tools and archives in Europe to 1700
    2. Archival history: literature and outlook
    Part I. The Work of Records (1200– ):
    3. Probative objects and Scholastic tools in the High Middle Ages
    4. A late medieval chancellery and its books: Lisbon, 1460–1560
    5. Keeping and organizing information from the Middle Ages to the sixteenth century
    6. Information management in early modern Innsbruck, 1490–1530
    Part II. The Challenges of Accumulation (1400– ):
    7. The accumulation of records and the evolution of inventories
    8. Early modern inventories: Habsburg Austria and Würzburg
    9. Classification: the architecture of knowledge and the placement of records
    10. The formal logic of classification: topography and taxonomy in Swiss urban records, 1500–1700
    Part III. Comprehensive Visions and Differentiating Practices (1550– ):
    11. Evolving expectations about archives, 1540–1650
    12. Registries: tracking the business of governance
    Part IV. Rethinking Records and State Archives (1550– ):
    13. Understanding records: new perspectives and new readings after 1550
    14. New disciplines of authenticity and authority: Mabillon's diplomatics and the ius archive
    15. Conclusion: the era of chancellery books and beyond.

  • Author

    Randolph C. Head, University of California, Riverside
    Randolph C. Head is Professor of History at the University of California, Riverside. He has published extensively on democracy, religious conflict, and knowledge systems in early modern Europe, particularly Switzerland. His publications, which were recognized by the Max Geilinger Prize in 2017, include Early Modern Democracy in the Grisons (Cambridge, 1995), Jenatsch's Axe (2008), and A Concise History of Switzerland (with Clive Church, Cambridge, 2013).

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