Experiencing Archives and Researching Privacy: A Reflection on PRIVACY Interdisciplinary Team Research

As I mentioned in my previous post, between the 23rd and 28th of October, PRIVACY’s Dresden case team visited the Hauptstaatsarchiv Dresden and the SLUB Dresden to finally engage with the manuscripts we were longing to explore. From day one we knew this would be a unique experience. Visiting new archives can lead to feelings of both anxiety and excitement. It was my first time visiting a German archive, and my limited German vocabulary could potentially make the archival visit difficult. Besides, this was a new experience for all of us, since it was the first time we visited an archive as an interdisciplinary team – for some of us, the first experience at an archive at all.

Now after our return to Copenhagen, I can say that this collective approach to archival research was more enriching than I could ever expect. My anxiety about the German language was counter-acted by being with colleagues that spoke German. Just by listening to their interactions with the staff of the archive, I could already feel my German vocabulary expanding. Furthermore, just engaging and examining the manuscripts that were often in German increased my knowledge of early modern German. By the end of the visit, I could actually look at the manuscripts and get a good sense of what information was contained within the sources. Fellow researchers facing manuscripts for the first time could count on my experience with paleography. We could rely on each other, share findings, and go through the materials more efficiently together. The experience conjured images of us as Marvel characters, each with particular superpowers that left us strong yet vulnerable, but together we were a powerhouse.

Depictions of Moritz and August of Saxony in the “Fürstenzug” or “Procession of Princes” mural in Dresden, photo by D. Neighbors

Working together as an interdisciplinary team also helped with how we looked at the manuscripts and how we could identify privacy within the materials. Coming from different historical fields, we had different approaches to the sources. Furthermore, employing our different specialism and backgrounds allowed each of us to examine the same source and identify different aspects of a particular manuscript: our legal historian would see something differently than our cultural historian, while our architectural historian would add nuance to the religious historian’s interest. This interdisciplinary approach allowed us to pull back the layers of a particular source to extract more details, revealing new ways of identifying privacy within that manuscript. These discussions would increase the value of the manuscript, making our argument more nuanced and well-rounded in the process.

Dresden team with Dr Eckhart Leisering examining the catalogue of materials at the Sächsisches Staatsarchiv

During the course of our visit to Dresden, we did manage to explore the Residenzschloss, which was actually the residence for August and Anna of Saxony as seen in the picture below.

“Kurfürst August von Sachsen (1526-1586)” and “Kurfürstin Anna von Sachsen (1532-1585)”, Lucas Cranach, c. 1564-1565, Rüstkammer, Ina.-Nr. H94 and H95, Residenzschloss, Dresden

The entire week we had worked with letters and manuscript sources that examining architecture evident and material objects related to our case study helped illuminate a lot about the people and location that are the focus of our research. The visit was definitely illuminating as we saw objects that were part of the imagery and identity of August and Anna but were also part of the everyday living, which suggests a level of intimacy and therefore privacy. We also saw instruments that were used in the scientific and medical endeavours. These endeavours were a huge part of who August and Anna were, but it reveals who they were as private individuals.

 

“Moritzmonument”, Hans Walther II, c. 1533-1555, Residenzschloss, Dresden (Monument depicting Moritz “handing the Saxon electoral sword to his brother August…their wives positioned slightly to the rear”)

 

Cups with coat of arms of Elector August of Saxony and Electress Anna of Saxony, Nicolaus Solis/Hans Selber, c. 1580-1584, Residenzschloss, Dresden

We came away with some incredible manuscript material and images that would not have been possible if we had been working individually and only with a single disciplinary focus. Furthermore, the team dynamic was strengthened and thereby allowing us to collaborate and work together more confidently and efficiently. I would encourage scholars and institutions to consider the immense value of this approach. By engaging in archival research as an interdisciplinary team it saves time, money, and is good for an individual’s overall wellbeing, as well as strengthening research and knowledge development. In fact, the trip has already cultivated connections and a partnership, particularly with SLUB-Dresden, that has us envisioning a future exhibition featuring the work we have done collectively and individually. The potentiality of the exhibition would also highlight the value and importance of interdisciplinary research and working collaboratively.

Gaming pieces depicting Elector August and Electress Anna of Saxony, Lucas Cranach the Younger, c. 1565, Rüstkammer, SKD, Inv.-Nrn. H 49, H 50, Residenzschloss, Dresden

With our archival research experience fresh in our minds, we returned to the PRIVACY headquarters for a brilliantly engaging seminar with Prof. Heide Wunder about family secrecy and privacy. The intersection of these two events resulted in even more knowledge and details that helped us to strengthen our argument. Serendipitously, the way the research seminar was conducted provided a rare opportunity to engage in discussions surrounding privacy within manuscripts and evidence. In my next post, I will explore Prof. Heide Wunder’s seminar and the pedagogical potential of collective reading of sources in the process of teaching privacy.