Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Sarah Covington

Committee Members

Margaret L. King

Clare Carroll

Francesca Bregioli

Subject Categories

European History | Renaissance Studies


history of archives, early modern archives, early modern record keeping


England in the fifteenth through seventeenth centuries witnessed a proliferation of documents arising from a growth in literacy and an expansion of state administrative offices. Scholarship on the archival history of this period has grown recently but it has focused mainly on institutional and state archives. Very little has been written about family or personal archives and the uses made of them. Based on modern archival theory and extensive archival research, this dissertation seeks to fill this gap by addressing the creation of family records and archives as a whole, exploring early modern English families as a “community of records.” Records, and by extension archives, cannot be understood without knowledge of the social factors that influenced the contexts in which those records were created, managed, preserved, used, and reused. The family was one of those contexts and this study examines a number of English families, specifically gentry and aristocratic families, which were driven and even shaped by record keeping and the preservation of archives. As such, these families were guided by an emerging “archival impulse” that derived from other political, economic, and legal contexts, all of which were embedded in the historical conditions of the early modern period.

This archival impulse was vital to families and their need to shape family memory, prove and maintain authority and status, and manage wealth, reputation, family information, and social and familial networks. Focusing on a number of specific family archives as case studies, this study will examine different formats and genres of records, including letters and notebooks, and ask the following questions: What were the contexts in which these records were created? How did families use their records? How did they manage, preserve, store, describe, and maintain their records? Who were the records’ creators in the family and what role did women play in this process? And how did these record keeping practices inform how these records were used to shape family memory? This dissertation will also discuss what archival technologies families engaged in and how family record keeping practices were utilized across generations. Understanding the contexts of family record keeping and archives allows for a fuller knowledge of how the records held in modern repositories that form the basis of modern historical scholarship came to be there.

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