Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Righting and Rewriting History: Recovering and Analyzing Manuscript Archives Destroyed During World War II

Archives were a common target during the Second World War, and hundreds suffered damages. Among these archival losses, the losses to medieval manuscript collections stand out.

2019 - 2023
Krista Milne
NWO Veni
The library of Holland House after a 1940 air raid on London; public domain.

Decades after their destruction manuscript archives—and the works they once contained—have lived on in popular memory and in historical investigations through accounts of them that survive. These ‘immaterial’ archives intersect with some of the most pressing questions in archival studies and its interrelated disciplines, which have been increasingly interested in the role of the archive in society and in the construction of history.

This project aims to create and analyse a fully ‘immaterial’ archive: a collection of  manuscripts destroyed during WWII. This project will focus on the destroyed collections of four nations, which were selected based on the extent of their wartime losses: The Netherlands, Belgium, France and the UK. In so doing, the project seeks to advance a broader reconceptualization of the archive and its function.

The collection of manuscripts analysed for this project will serve as a case study for exploring manuscript loss in the twentieth century and beyond. By effectively breathing life back into lost collections, this project will recover an important aspect of history while contributing to archival studies and cultural heritage work.

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