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At The National Archives, we donât just study what the documents housed here say. Technical analysis of the materials that make them also allows us to glimpse future possibilities for research.
Analysis of the will of William Shakespeare, for example, in preparation for the By Me William Shakespeare exhibition, has focused on both the ink and the paper. This may help divine different stages of the process of drafting and issuing individual records.
From an earlier period, parchment analysis may reveal not only the species of animal from which pages were made (often sheep or goat but occasionally deer and other animals) but also the diet and condition of the animal at slaughter; telling us more about medieval chanceries and the locations from which they got their equipment.
Work of this nature will improve our knowledge about the physical and ritual processes of authenticating individual authority and wishes in pre-modern England. It may also allow us to tap into research networks and other key material history projects currently underway, such as IMPRINT, which aims to analyse finger- and palm-prints on medieval seals to discover more about sealing practices.
Quite literally, we are only starting to scratch the surface of what the materials in our collection can tell us. Continue reading »