The Japanese imperial court of Nara (702 to 784) collected outdated administrative documents in order to re-use the backside of the paper. By 784, 11,000 un-recycled autograph manuscripts filled the imperial storehouse and it was closed. Thereafter it was re-opened only in 1833 by Edo scholars. My paper will draw an outline of the Shosoin Manuscripts and present examples of charters, property reports, provincial accounting registers, household registers, temple inventories, as well as records of public constructions, public services, tax deliveries, and the management of the court personnel including allowances of housing, food and clothes.
The contemporary written outputs of William I’s survey of his English kingdom in 1086 are conventionally (and rightly) regarded as books, and the subsidiary texts which survive only in later copies as ‘satellites’. Great Domesday Book takes its place alongside Little Domesday Book, Exon Domesday Book, the Inquisitio Comitatus Cantabrigiensis, and a dozen other shorter texts. New research on Exon Domesday, not yet published, has thrown much clearer light on the stages and processes of the Domesday survey. It suggests with far greater certainty than previously the existence and subsequent loss of three sorts of documentation beyond the surviving texts and copies: (1) pre-existing records which formed the indispensable bedrock of the survey, (2) several recensions of material produced during the survey, and (3) other intended outputs besides Great Domesday. Further, all three of the Domesday ‘books’ are clearly collections of texts. All this testifies to a highly literate culture of administration and a mass of records. Reconfiguring the entirety of the written record associated with Domesday as the working archive of the survey allows the whole process to be reconstructed in novel ways, and to ask new questions about the circumstances in which only a small part of the mass of documentation was, in the end, archived.
Considering the role of charters within narrative histories raises generative questions of what constituted historical research in the Middle Ages, focusing largely on England and France during the 11th through 13th centuries, with an eye to broader implications for the period at large. Charters, cartularies, and chronicles each enact distinct (and sometimes, at odds) forms of chronology. At the intersection of these threads of inquiry, diplomatic materials appear to be a form of archival research which contributes to these historical works both as literature and as ‘fact’, as they reinsert charters into a meaningful relationship with time.