Copies and Scribbles on the Back: Practices of Preservation in Königsfelden Abbey, 13001600

Saturday, January 5, 2019: 3:50 PM
Water Tower Parlor (Palmer House Hilton)
Tobias Hodel, Universität Zürich
Copies and scribbles on the back: Practices of preservation in Königsfelden Abbey (1300-1600)

Tobias Hodel, Universität Zürich

The transmission of documents, especially very old ones, is generally explained by the existence of archives or other long-lived institutions. Medieval and early modern conditions, however, made the situation far more complex, especially since it was very often a desire or need to re-use documents (sometimes repeatedly) that justified their preservation. Taking the example of a single institution, Königsfelden Abbey in present-day Switzerland, this paper shows how external and internal influences affected not only the production of documents, but also and especially practices of preservation. Analysis of copying processes and marks on documents demonstrates that their systematic preservation was preceded by stages of clustering, which were initiated for very different purposes at different times (e.g. as shows of force in disputes or other legal contexts). Simultaneously, this paper will raise the question of how such insights can be made visually accessible, since individual documents have to be understood in very different media formats. Discussion of digital ways to communicate results will therefore be central to the paper.

Königsfelden Abbey is an excellent case study in this respect because the monastery was founded and managed with princely support by the house of Habsburg, while monastic traditions about the treatment of scripture had to be observed there at the same time, meaning that its two resident orders (the Franciscans and the Poor Clares) only had access to certain documents. Towards the end of its existence, from the fifteenth century onwards, the management and ultimately the possessions of the monastery were taken over by the expanding municipality of Berne. Each of these three influences – the Habsburgs, the monastic orders and the municipality – can be traced in the ways the documents were treated.