Leiden University Centre for Digital Humanities
X-ray tomography; network analysis
Manuscript collection WARD 16, held at The National Archives (Kew, UK), comprises 436 unopened letters and packages from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Based on the addresses on these letter bundles, in as far as these are still legible, it seems each letter contains legal pleadings (the textual by-product of legal proceedings, such as bills of complaint, answers, interrogatories, and depositions) sent to the Court of Wards and Liveries and the Court of Requests in London. It remains a mystery why these documents have never been opened. Opening up these manuscripts might solve this mystery, but has the disadvantage of being something that is irreversible: once opened, it is impossible to return the letter to its unopened state unharmed. Since the letter as artifact is worthy of attention and analysis in and of itself, opening these closed manuscripts is to be avoided. This current project hopes to get access to the contents of these documents without opening them, making use of x-ray tomography, a technique developed at the Dentistry Department at Queen Mary University of London. As such, these manuscripts can be studied as artifacts, while at the same time making it possible to reveal their hidden secrets.
Lotte Fikkers is Lecturer in English Literature at Leiden University. In 2017, she was awarded her PhD in English Literature at Queen Mary University of London for her thesis titled 'Women's Testimony: Legal Records as Forms of Life-Writing, 1558-1649'. Her current research focuses on the narratives of the marginalized and elusive litigants of the early modern London-based Court of Wards and Liveries: wards, widows and the mentally disabled. For this research project, she hopes to make use of x-ray tomography in order to get access to unopened pleadings addressed to the Court of Wards and Liveries.