Prize Papers: Snapshots of the past

The Prize Papers at the National Archives in London offer unique insights into the history of the early modern period from the perspective of individuals whose letters and personal notes would not normally have survived the centuries. The collection comprises hundreds of thousands of documents and artefacts from the period between 1652 and about 1815, which were stored in boxes at the Archives and all but forgotten for many years. In a long-term project led by historians at the University of Oldenburg, this treasure trove of records from the past is being opened up and made available to researchers and the general public.

Learning to write below deck

What the Bremen sailor Johann Pohl put down on paper normally would not have been preserved in an archive. His is one of the many yet unheard voices that the digitization of the "Prize Papers" makes heard and thus adds to the knowledge about past centuries.

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Changing perspective

The „Prize Papers” depict the great upheavals of European expansion, such as colonialism or poverty migration, from an – often unknown – everyday perspective. An opportunity for a different view on history, says Dagmar Freist, head of the project.

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When letters act for their author

"Being able to zoom in and zoom out again is simply fascinating," says historian Lucas Haasis about microhistory. In such a micro-historical study, he himself has just spent about ten years investigating a sort of time capsule.

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Notorious enemy at sea: France

The question whether Maria Theresa was the rightful heir to the throne ignited a war in 1740 that was also fought at sea - virtually worldwide. In a case study, the Prize Papers project focuses on ships captured from the colonial power France during that conflict.

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Lost & Found

The „Prize Papers” at The National Archives in London offer many fascinating and – time and again – surprising finds. For those to whom they belonged or for whom they were intended, they meant a loss two to three centuries ago. A selection of intriguing items.

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A matter of kinks

Vows of love, business secrets, news from a distant homeland: how could confidential lines be sent centuries ago - before the emergence of sealable envelopes? It is a question of folding and the appropriate sealing mechanisms. 

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(Changed: 2022-06-08)