New Digital Humanities Techniques Open Locked Letters

Early modern writers sometimes employed letterlocking in order to close letters securely using complex practices of folding, cutting, inserting tabs, and sewing.

The New York Times reports: “In an era before sealed envelopes, this technique, now called letterlocking, was as important for deterring snoops as encryption is to your email inbox today. Although this art form faded in the 1830s with the advent of mass-produced envelopes, it has recently attracted renewed attention from scholars. But they have faced a problem: How do you look at the contents of such locked letters without permanently damaging priceless bits of history?”

New Digital Humanities techniques are now allowing researchers to access locked letters without disturbing the complex folding systems.

“On Tuesday, a team of 11 scientists and scholars at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and other institutions disclosed their development of a virtual-reality technique that lets them perform this delicate task without tearing up the contents of historical archives,” according to The New York Times. The MIT team is particularly focused on the Brienne Collection of locked letters, conserved in The Hague (Netherlands).

There are a number of Digital Humanities research groups active in Renaissance studies and early modern history at this point, building diverse research tools. I can especially recommend the 1641 Depositions project, based at Trinity University Dublin (Ireland) and the Medici Archive Project‘s MIA database, based in Florence (Italy).

The New York Times reports on the Brienne Collection Digital Humanities project. The MIT team has published an article about their research in Nature Communications.

This entry was posted in Archival Research, Cultural History, Digital Humanities, Early Modern Europe, Early Modern World, European History, History in the Media, Information Management, Manuscript Studies, Material Culture, Museums and Historical Memory, Political Culture. Bookmark the permalink.

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