Sunday, 19 October 2008

The National Archives are cool!!

You know, I knew the National Archives were a wonderful source. Not long ago I bought a copy of my several times great-grandfather's army service record dating from not long after the Sharpe era. But I didn't realise that there was original medieval stuff on the web that you can download for free! For example here is Constance's Petition of 1406 asking, in essence, 'Please can I have my lands back, sir?'

Don't expect to be able to read a single word of it unless your screen is a damn sight bigger and better than mine, but at least you can see what a medieval petition looked like, and there is a summary to tell you what it's all about. Isn't it amazing that you can get something like this on your computer, on a Sunday, within minutes, free, gratis and for nothing? And for a modest fee they'd send you a printed copy through the post.


Susan Higginbotham said...

They are indeed cool! I ordered a PDF scan of the petition in which Hugh le Despenser the even younger asked to be let out of prison--great to look at a copy. I also ordered a copy of the first Duchess of Buckingham's will, but couldn't read most of it, so I finally conceded defeat and had someone transcribe it for me. But at least it's there!

Brian said...

Maybe it's with growing up in another time, when research meant travelling to various locations and hoping they'd deign to give access to a humble amateur, but I find the present National Archives set up almost too amazing to believe!

Alianore said...

I can (and frequently do) spend hours happily browsing through the National Archives. I've found loads of great, really helpful stuff! Probably my favourite thing is a 1317 petition from Tupholme Abbey to Edward II, saying that the costs of finding monks to pray for Piers Gaveston's soul are a 'heavy burden'.

Lady D. said...

I love browsing the archives too - and I'm so grateful that so much is available online.

Mind you, visiting the maproom (where the Medieval docs are) in person is, as far as I'm concerned, a much scarier process - and a pretty useless exercise unless you know how to read Medieval Latin in very tiny, illegible script!!! So thank godness for all the wonderful people who have done the transcriptions for us!

John Foelster said...

Some deranged 21st century billionaire philanthropist really ought to give a few dozen million (pounds/dollars/euros take your pick) to Google for the purpose of digitizing and transcribing some of the salient document archives and making them freely available to internet researchers.

Optical character recognition of anything non-printed and even printed stuff much before 1850 is naturally impossible of contemporary technology, and I shudder to think what would happen if you gave a computer Elizabethan Secretary hand to read, still less Middle English, but it will only get easier as time goes on.

(Obviously a Strong AI would quickly digest all the scholarship on various handwriting through the ages and transcribe medieval documents with footnotes as quickly as they could be digitally photographed, but then a Strong AI might quickly get bored and irritated with such a task. A bored and angry Strong AI is second only to a paranoid Strong AI in control of a nuclear arsenal on the list of "really bad things" in science fiction.)