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Capturing the Materiality of the Prize Papers: a set of 19th-century textile samples from Canton and Batavia as a case study

Funder: UK Research and InnovationProject code: AH/W011573/1
Funded under: AHRC Funder Contribution: 28,890 GBP

Capturing the Materiality of the Prize Papers: a set of 19th-century textile samples from Canton and Batavia as a case study

Description

The Prize Papers are a vast, unique and serendipitous collection held by The National Archives (TNA): time-capsules of daily life in the Early Modern period referencing people from diverse social and cultural backgrounds across the globe. The collection is the result of prize-taking (or the legal capturing of enemy ships) by English privateers and warships during the various European wars between 1652 and 1815. To claim a legal capture and distinguish themselves from mere pirates, seafarers had to confiscate every scrap of paper aboard and take it to the High Court of Admiralty in London, which over the centuries accumulated a huge archive of undelivered letters, trade and maritime documents, colonial administration papers, notebooks and travel journals. Furthermore, the collection holds a range of artefacts, including small objects enclosed in letters (jewellery, buttons, ribbons, embroidered fabrics) which offer a unique opportunity for materiality research and public engagement. We propose a project that uses TNA's CapCo-funded equipment to develop innovative ways of analysing the material make-up of objects in the Prize Papers collection, to better understand their production and use and to support their conservation and preservation. Critically, we propose approaching this task through engagement with communities with a connection to the cultural origins of the objects under investigation. The project will focus on a captivating object as a case study: the wallet of Jan Bekker Teerlink, the supercargo on the Prussian ship Henriette returning from China to Europe with a cargo of tea, which was captured en route off the Dutch coast on 31 May 1803. The contents of his wallet include notes in Dutch and Chinese, a lock of dark hair, seeds from South Africa and a set of vividly dyed samples of Chinese silk and Indian chintz. Researchers in Heritage Science and Conservation will develop, test and apply non/micro-invasive methods to analyse the textile samples using the analytical and imaging suite that include CapCo-funded instruments (TNA's multispectral imaging system and Raman microscope, Victoria and Albert Museum's (VAM) Hirox 3D digital microscope). With the support and expertise of our partner network, we hope to gain insight into the production context of the textiles, the condition of the substrate and dyes, and their vulnerability to light and other environmental factors. Comparative studies of the patterns and materials of Chinese and Indian garments from the same period held in other collections (such as the VAM) will follow, in an attempt to contextualise the fabric samples found in the Prize Papers. The project will also consolidate beneficial collaborations between TNA and researchers developing new methods for the micro or non-invasive analysis of textile dyes at Nottingham Trent University and the University of Milan, who are keen to apply their developments beyond mock-up samples in laboratory conditions, optimising them for historic samples. An integral part of every stage of the research will be an ongoing comprehensive public engagement programme: from community-sourcing translators for the documents in the wallet, learning from Chinese and Indian communities in the UK about their understanding of their histories and including their knowledge of the tradition of textile making in Asia, to hands-on textile dyeing and printing workshops for families in those communities and a Maker in Residence programme.

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