WARD 16 is a series of manuscripts held at The National Archives, Kew. Spread out over nine boxes, WARD 16 comprises 436 unsorted and largely unopened scrolls and packets dating from the mid sixteenth to the early seventeenth century. The manuscripts are addressed to two different courts of law: the Court of Wards and Liveries and the Court of Requests. After the abolition of these courts in the 1640s, the records of these courts were allowed to fall into disarray. Why the WARD 16 documents were stored, but never opened remains somewhat of a mystery, however. Opening the packets may solve this mystery, but would mean violating the materiality of the locked documents. At Queen Mary University of London we have expertise in X-Ray Micro-tomography of manuscripts, using the iron content of the ink to provide contrast and allow imaging of the writing. This offers a way to digitise the manuscripts without disruption. Several groups of computer scientists and mathematicians around the world are investigating the problem of producing a flat, readable image from the volumetric data produced by the scanning process. As more manuscripts (in various shapes, forms and sizes) are scanned, this feeds back into the (virtual opening) software development pipeline, thus it is useful to scan items that may not be immediately accessible.
This talk will be published in a themed volume Frm the British Academy, titled “Materialities of the Archive in a Digital Age” due to be published in 2021.