International Summer School 2017

The New History of Archives. Early modern Europe and beyond

International Summer School 
2 – 14 July 2017
Herzog August Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel
Convenor: Randolph C. Head, UC Riverside


Over the past generation, interest in the history of recordkeeping in all periods has exploded, stimulated by the current revolution in digital technologies of making, keeping and using records. European medievalists and early modernists have been reassessing how records came to be created and preserved, the organization of the resulting accumulations, and the changing uses that contemporaries envisioned for stored records of various kinds through the centuries. Closer examination also raises questions about how European recordkeeping differed from that of other civilizations, and whether European conceptions and terminology about archives need to be provincialized in order to enable more fruitful comparative scholarship. Since scholars across the disciplines continue to rely on today’s archives for their research, reassessing the trajectory of archival formation, organization and survival offers the promise of enriching current research in a wide variety of fields. 

Over two weeks, the course will focus on three important themes that currently play a major role in research on the history of archives. The first week will consider practices of creating and organizing archival records, with close attention to the material substrates (paper, parchment), and medial forms and productive practices (calligraphy, registration) that gave rise to large accumulations of material in many European repositories. We will also consider the techniques of organization (spatial, material, textual) by which secretaries, registrators, and other users sought to master the challenge of using records in the exercise of power. 

In the second week, we will turn to the ways that archival accumulations became, and still are, sites of activity on the part not only of archival staff, but also of historians and other scholars. We will also consider the variety of archival types that have survived from the Middle Ages to the present, and the challenges of ongoing preservation and transmission in the digital age. Finally, we will turn to the particularities of European archiving in contact with and in comparison to practices in other parts of the early modern world, considering both imperial archives outside Europe and the archivalities of the Islamic tradition. Drawing on the rich collections of handbooks and material at the Herzog August Bibliothek as well as in the Niedersächsisches Landesarchiv Wolfenbüttel, the course will give students a richer understanding of the formation of archives, of the meanings that archives had for their contemporaries, and of how they were transformed during their transmission to the modern world. 

Mornings will be devoted to presentations and workshops led by senior scholars in the field. Key readings will be circulated in advance. Students will also be invited to present on aspects of their own research as part of the daily seminars. In the afternoons, participants will be able to use the holdings of the Herzog August Bibliothek for their own work and will have opportunities to hold individual or group discussions with those teaching the course. We are also planning a field trip to local archives to gain a richer understanding of the material, organizational and theoretical challenges of reconsidering archival material. There will also be two additional evening lectures by our partners from Marbach and Weimar.


Course tutors:
Dr. Megan Williams (History, Rijksuniversiteit Groningen)
Dr.Diego Navarro Bonilla (Biblioteconomía y Documentación, Universidad Carlos III, Madrid)
Dr. Markus Friedrich (History, University of Hamburg)
Michael Riordan (Archivist of St. John’s College and The Queen’s College, Oxford)
Dr. Maria de Lurdes Rosa, (History, Universidade Nova, Lisbon)
Dr. Natalie Rothman (History, University of Toronto-Scarborough)

The 2017 International Summer School is part of the programme of the MWW Research Association, founded in 2013 ( and funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).