Organizing and Binding Records in 15th-Century Sicily: A Case Study in the Material History of Archives

Late medieval authorities imposed a systematic control over finances and their use by promoting the development of innovative recordkeeping and bookkeeping systems. One such case presented itself in the Kingdom of Sicily under the Aragonese. After regaining the control over the island in 1412, King Ferdinand I of Trastàmara established there the new financial office of the Conservatoria regii patrimonii. Its officers developed a series of books, the Libri mercedes et quictaciones (‘Books of grants and salaries’), through which they could control both the distribution of financial resources among Sicilian subjects and the payment of officers’ salaries as well as inspect their careers and actions. This was made possible by the development of a new recordkeeping system that facilitated the management of a large amount of information and that was fully part of the recordmaking process itself. The analysis of the textual, palaeographical and material components of the records allowed us to examine them in their complexity. On one hand, we were able to isolate the changes they went through over their lifespans, as material evidence mirrored by the addition of leaves including documents produced in the course of the year. From individual items, they grew to units held together through quire tackets and finally to bound volumes. On the other hand, material evidence indicates that recordkeeping and bookbinding practices evolved over time, as is proven examining fossil elements from previous structures. Through this exemplary case study, we wish to demonstrate how materiality and textuality come together in researching late mediaeval and early modern recordkeeping practices, and how the virtual ‘deconstruction’ of a record can and should invest every component.

Alessandro Silvestri obtained his PhD in ‘Medieval History’ at the Università degli Studi di Milano (Italy) in 2012 and he is currently working at Birkbeck, University of London as a Post-Doctoral Research Assistant on the research project ‘AR.C.H.I.ves – A comparative history of archives in late medieval and early modern Italy’. His research mainly focuses on Chancery, archives and recordmaking/recordkeeping systems in Late Medieval Sicily.

After completing a Masters degree in Classics at the Università degli Studi di Milano (Italy), Anna Gialdini is currently a PhD student at the Ligatus Research Centre, University of the Arts London. Her main research interests are the history of bookbinding and the cultural history of the book, with a focus on Renaissance Venice.