Saturday, 13 September 2014


The wretched internet connection has been down for the past couple of days... so to the challenges below, I can now add technology.

This is slightly frivolous and probably too honest  – but appropriate since I’ve spent many hours now going through volumes which turned out to be completely irrelevant.

Challenges in the archives:

1/ staying inside – when the sky is blue and the sea is warm (though actually right now it's pouring with rain).

2/ the handwriting – I’ve never found reading medieval script easy, and this will always be a particular challenge for me.  Most of the notarial hands I’m reading at the moment are pretty neat and tidy though.

3/ the gaps.  There are so many things I’d love to know! – what happened to slaves once they were freed? What were conditions like once they were with their new owners? What work exactly did they do? How old were they? What were their lives like before being enslaved? Despite the richness of these archives, there is so much we can never know, or only speculate about.  Yesterday, I found an account of a young girl who was adopted - truly fascinating, but why was she adopted? what happened to her later? how did she feel about it? how did her adoptive father treat her? did she ever see her birth parents again? was she adopted because of the poverty of her parents? We will never know.

4/ the names – it’s difficult at the best of times to trace a given name through the documents, but harder still when the same person can be known by several names: eg. A slave called Obratus of Bosnia, also known as Radosclavus (Diversa Cancellarie, II, fol 102r)

5/ the quantity – there is so much fascinating material!  And I’ve just wasted six hours on completely irrelevant volumes. Ouch!

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