Week 6/7

*I took a short vacation to spend time with my wife last week. This post is a summary of both last week and this week.*

Progress on the medieval documents at the Rare Book Room slowed somewhat this week and last and an incident at the archives made for an interesting change of pace. On Wednesday, several co-workers and I went to the off-site storage for the archives to look at one of the collections in order to assess its square footage. Upon arrival, we discovered a significant leak in the ceiling and were obliged to spend the rest of the afternoon moving hollinger and bankers boxes off the shelf underneath the leak and replacing many of the ones that were water-soaked. The Western Michigan University Archives are currently located in an incredibly run-down facility which was built on the historic main campus in the 1910s as the main building for the campus. The actual bulk of the archives are stored below ground in what was originally a pool. Many of the county and university records are stored at the off-site facility where the leak occurred.

As far as cataloging goes, the most recent documents I’ve encountered at the RBR have been particularly challenging. MSS 130-140 are almost all English Indenture Documents of the 16th-century.  One might assume that since they were written in English, they would be relatively easy to deal with. However, the handwriting is extremely difficult to decipher. The past two weeks have been a crash course in Late English Secretary Hand. There are also certain conventions of legal documents from the period that I am not as familiar with.  My primary goal is to identify as many names and locations mentioned in the documents as possible and to include those in the description. I’m also trying to create as thorough a physical description of each document as possible. In many ways, this will be my biggest contribution to the collection, as very little of the previous documentation on these items includes detailed physical descriptions. One of the other difficulties in cataloging these late medieval/early modern legal documents is that so few printed catalogs of similar materials exist and there is no real cataloging tradition to lean on (to my knowledge) like there is with medieval codex manuscripts.  But the work goes on, and I’m very close to completing at least all of the basic descriptions.

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