Göttingen Academy of Sciences and Humanities

Materiality

Approach

The Prize Papers Project places particular emphasis on preserving and documenting the original materiality of the collection during digitization. Materiality means the physicality of objects, the physical state, the material, the shape, condition, form, size, colour, layout, and structure of artefacts and textual records. These features lay the foundation to be able to extrapolate and deduce via research how paper and artefacts were handled, the practices and techniques that were used regarding different materials, what kind of material competence people possessed, their literacy skills, postal conditions, production methods, and we can even consider the different material meanings of objects and texts in different times.   

In current historical research, studies in materiality and material culture are enjoying a real renaissance. At the same time, archival and digitization practices have changed and contributed to this material turn. Whereas the flattening of records has long been common practice in digitization, in recent years, conservation has begun to re-evaluate the material status of records and found new ways of preserving the material authenticity of a collection.

At the Prize Papers Project, we contribute to and actively stimulate both of these developments. It is not only our intention, but also our responsibility to preserve the unique materiality of this collection in order to protect the immense material evidential value of the collection. At the same time, we are digitizing the collection with the aim of making the materiality of the records in the Prize Papers Portal accessible through searchable metadata referring to different physical attributes of the records and through new and innovative ways of digitization regarding the material state of the historical records as well as their digital representations.

We are aiming for full transparency and will adhere to a critical evaluation process with regard to the transformation and alteration taking place during the digitization process, both with regard to preservation measures and to the challenges of transforming archival materiality into digital representations of the analogue records as well as with regard to the materiality of the digital records themselves. As a joint effort, combining the expertise of the different departments in the project, in London, Oldenburg, and Göttingen, the Prize Papers Project aims to find suitable and sustainable solutions in order to pay tribute to both our main responsibilities as a digitization project with regard to the material status of the HCA collection, preserving the materiality of the collection for prosperity, while at the same time taking advantage of the opportunities provided by the digital age.

Learn more about our joint efforts and the concrete contributions of the different departments in TNA, Oldenburg, and Göttingen to the Prize Papers materiality approach

Learn more about our different imaging formats and working procedures

Learn more about the data categories and the search options regarding materiality in the Prize Papers Data Portal

Preparation

The conservators of the Collection Care Department of the National Archives perform and survey the condition-oriented preservation and preparation of the Prize Papers records before digitization with the greatest care. Their expertise and conservation practices ensure that the necessary conservational measures are applied to the documents while at the same time making sure to find adequate ways and means of preserving the unique material features and characteristics of the collection.

Just to offer one example: TNA conservators have found different ways to unlock and open still sealed letters without damaging the seals while at the same time adhering special liquids to the material that secures the historical locking techniques. Another one of their main tasks is to preserve what we call the paper memory that has survived in many of the records, meaning that paper often shows physical features that make it possible to deduce past handling techniques. One of the most impressive examples of this paper memory are still folded letters or court records whose paper tends to automatically fold back after having being opened.

On this webpage, we present examples of selected preservation measures applied to the Prize Papers records and we show examples of typical paper memory inscribed in historical letters and other materials. With regard to the documentation of the material alterations of documents, the Prize Papers Project follows the approach of collating materiality reports from Conservation Care and the other departments involved, which are not only stored but also used for metadata on materiality. Furthermore, we have developed the imaging procedure of Before and After Treatment Shots, whose images will also be presented in the Prize Papers Portal linked to the 2D images. These Before and After Treatment Shots are captured by the imaging operators of the Prize Papers Project after consultation and under the supervision of the Collection Care Department. 

Read the documentation and watch materiality videos of the collaborative procedure of opening sealed letter packages conducted by Camilla Camus-Doughan, TNA Conservator, and Randolph Cock, TNA Archivist of the Prize Papers Project. Videos by Maria Cardamone

Imaging

The imaging operators of the Prize Papers Project in TNA are actively involved in the process of developing and implementing the materiality approach of the project. With their expertise, creativity, and practical experience, they contribute and help to develop suitable formats and settings for the imaging of various material features, physical and material properties of Prize Papers records as well of original physical arrangements of records, from letters packages to bundled court records. 

On this page, we present their work and contribution to the materiality approach of the Prize Papers Project, besides the regular 2D imaging, their collaboration with other departments, and we present the imaging procedures, set-ups, and imaging formats we have developed together to react appropriately to the unique materiality of the collection and in order to document it for posterity.

There are three imaging strategies we pursue in addition to the standard 2D digitization of historical records, supplementing the Before and After Treatment Materiality Shots mentioned under Conservation. First, we produce and present standardized Materiality shots of unique material features or unique conditions of Prize Papers records. Second, we have developed a standardized imaging format of Panorama Shots for letter packages. Third, we have developed video formats for capturing the moment when sealed letters are opened for the very first time, performed by conservators and accompanied by archivists, or documenting other material events. Last but not least, we have video formats for documenting selected letter folding or letter locking techniques or for documenting conservation measures. We present selected examples of these videos, the Materiality Shots as well as of the Panorama Shots on this homepage and provide commentaries regarding the explanatory value of these images and videos and of the practices they present. All these imaging formats have been developed in close cooperation of the conservators, archivists, historians, IT-specialists, and the imaging operators of the Prize Papers Project together with external experts.

Imaging

Formats and procedures

Selected Materiality Shots of court bundles found in TNA, HCA 32/1430 and TNA, HCA 30/647

In order to document and illustrate the original material condition and arrangements of Prize Papers records and particularly of the striking material features of court records, court bundles, letters, books, or artefacts, the Prize Papers Project has developed the imaging format of Materiality Shots. These standardized 3D images provide researchers and viewers with an important surplus of information regarding material features and material evidence that the Prize Papers documents deliver. Accompanied by a detailed commentary, these images will later be shown on the Prize Papers Portal as a supplement to the standard 2D images of the documents.   The materiality shots also serve the purpose of capturing the precise condition in which the records were found by TNA archivists during sorting as an important snapshot before the records underwent preparation and digitization. Thus, on top of the apparent material aura and aesthetics of the records in their original material arrangement captured in these images, the shots also serve as important documentary evidence for future researchers examining aspects of materiality, material practices or competence on the basis of the Prize Papers. For these shots the imaging operators work together closely with TNA archivists and TNA conservators as well as with the team in Oldenburg. 

To prepare them for digitization, court records, pieces of evidence or other documents previously bundled or stitched together with strings, belts or other materials sometimes need to be separated by Collection Care. In order to document the original material structure of these records before these measures, the Prize Papers imaging operators take Materiality Shots. After the shots new or longer strings are added and used by Collection Care to preserve the bundles. 

Precious artefacts, like wallpapers, seeds, or jewellery found in the collection need to be transferred to the TNA safe rooms. These items are stored together with their corresponding papers and materials. The trade beads in the pictures are stored in the safe rooms today together with the letters of which they were once a part. Before being transferred to the safe rooms, however, Prize Papers imaging operator Maria Cardamone, assisted by TNA conservator Camilla Camus-Doughan and head archivist Dr. Amanda Bevan, provides the necessary documentary evidence regarding these artefacts and their original material condition and arrangements in materiality shots. 

Selected Materiality Shots of court bundles found in TNA, HCA 32/1430 and TNA, HCA 30/647

Imaging

Panorama shots

Thousands of letters in the Prize Papers collection have survived as letter packages, as packs or bundels of letters enclosed within each other or in letter wrappers. During digitization, this typical form of postal despatch during the early modern period is preserved and documented, in Sorting, Preservation as well as during Imaging. In order to document these material arrangements apart from using a hierarchical reference system in Sorting, the Prize Papers Imaging Operators take Panorama Shots, using a special landscape lense in order to image the entire tree of letter's and artefacts enclosed. During this process the imaging operators closely cooperate with TNA Sorting and the Oldenburg team. These panorama shots are later added to the 2D images of the letters. 

See panorama shots of letter packages found in TNA, HCA 32/249/11 and HCA, 32/996.  

For further context regarding these artefacts see Artefacts and Practices

Imaging

Documentary videos

In order to better understand, visualize and document particular material features of Prize Papers and in order to document certain opening or preservation procedures, the Prize Papers Project has developed video formats. These videos mainly serve two purposes. Firstly, they document material features of documents whose characteristics are hardly or generally not adequately displayable through 2D or 3D images, like peculiar letter folding or locking techniques or other forms of paper in motion and paper memory. Secondly, the videos follow documentation purposes in all these instances in which materiality is going to be altered to a great extent or even irreversible during preservation and digitization. That is, we for instance take selective videos of the opening procedures of still sealed letters. A third purpose of the videas regards documentary videos of peculiar materiality findings during Sorting.

Watch two exemplary materiality videos of letterfolding techniques found in TNA, HCA 32/249/11, Videos by Maria Cardamone