Why do People Keep Things (including Manuscripts)?

Why do People Keep Things (including Manuscripts)?

Paper by Daniel Lord Smail

Given as part of the Mellon Sawyer seminar series on April 14, 2017

Abstract: For much of the last century, scholars in the human sciences have been preoccupied with the movement of objects in human societies. But people also invest great energy and imagination in the act of removing things from networks of exchange. A deep historical perspective on storing, keeping, collecting, and hoarding suggests that the habits and the materialities of storage are both enabled and disabled by a changing array of human institutions and material forms.

In addition, different kinds of things are stored or cached in different ways, depending on their characteristics. Written documents, including books and manuscripts, are especially prominent among the ranks of storable things. In this paper, I will describe the broad outlines of a deep history of storage, with special reference to habits for storing and using manuscripts and legal acts among the laity of later medieval Europe.

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