What goes with a charter? Handling para-diplomatic material in the digitisation of archival charter collections

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Holzapfl Julian (Generaldirektion der Staatlichen Archive Bayerns)
Take the charters out of any box in an historical archive, especially one covering the centuries of “mass-produced” charters (14.-16.), and much parchment and paper that is not charters proper will come out with them: rough drafts, copies, contemporary summaries on extra sheets, or sometimes pinned to the charters with pins, old envelopes with more contemporary summaries, notes and cross-references, archival references and signs on extra sheets, copies supplied by earlier generations of archivists to “complete” a collection. The usual practice when digitizing seems to be to leave these out, and put just “the charters” on the scanner, after all it costs good money to preserve and present good quality images over the long term. This seems straightforward enough, but whenever we decide not to transfer a piece of parchment/paper that we are showing researchers in the reading room to the digital format we want those researchers to use subsequently, we should also have some clearly reasoned policy for doing so. A preliminary investigation among some archives currently working on digitisation projects has shown surprisingly divergents results to deceptively simple questions, such as “is the copy of a charter a charter?”

The presentation will not presume to answer such questions, but will argue that digitising charter collections, structuring digital images with metadata, and presenting them online to researchers poses anew old questions of “Quellenkunde” that seem settled, but that diplomatics and archival science have in truth never quite seen eye to eye on:

  • What about the status of copies, as well as of draft versions of Charters?
  • Where, in practice, is the separating line between charters and files in the management of archival collections (given that archivist usually do everything they can to keep them separate).
  • and, maybe most fundamentally: What is an archival collection of charters made of – individual historical artefacts with their own history of use, transmission, and custody, or legal documents of history that are valid as sources only insofar as they can be described in the terms of the practitioner of diplomatic science?

The presentation will work primarily with examples drawn from the rich collections of monastic, princely and municipal charters of the State Archives of Bavaria, but also take sideways looks at other archives. It will also specifically draw from the experience gained in an ongoing DFG-funded project to determine best practices in the digitisation of large numbers of charters, practices that should – if the premise of this presentation is valid – include the debate of what should, or should not go with a charter.

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