CFP: Family Archives and their Afterlives, 1400-present

Date / time: 30 December, 12:00 am

Call for Papers, deadline – 30 December 2022

From the muniments rooms of country estates to scrapbooks, photo albums, and boxes of papers and ephemera stored under the bed: our homes are sites of intergenerational collection and curation. We act as archivists, deciding which materials to keep, both for ourselves and for future generations who will, in time, face the same question. In the early modern period, anxieties over the loss of precious family paperwork were widespread. The sixteenth-century yeoman Robert Furse implored his son to ‘keep sure your wrytynges’, and the resolution of many an eighteenth-century novel – including Charlotte Smith’s The Old Manor House (1793) and a whole host of gothic fiction – turned on the adequate preservation (or otherwise) of family papers and the secrets contained therein.

Documents were kept in special vessels (initialled chests, boxes tied up with a loved one’s hair), they were bequeathed in wills, and, as public repositories became more widespread, some collectors attempted to imitate the practices of institutional archives in their own homes – or fought to get their materials included in (or excluded from) these collections. Today, we have the capacity to store an almost infinite quantity of material online – but many of us continue to prize the physical artefact, and books and readymade albums that purport to help us create and store our family archives are widely available.

Though in recent years the ‘archival turn’ has led to a renewed interest in the collections compiled by states and institutions, we know rather less about the materials accumulated by families and households. In the absence of the apparent hallmarks of modern archival practice – catalogues, indexes, and, perhaps most pertinently, professional authentication of their historical value – family papers are rarely approached as ‘archives’ – but, when they are transferred into local and national record offices, these same collections go on to form a significant part of our archival heritage. This conference seeks to bring together academics, archivists, and family historians to explore the family archive, in all its forms, from the medieval to the modern period.

Topics may include, but are by no means limited to:

  • Approaches to the family archive: definitions, challenges, opportunities
  • The contents and curation of specific family collection
  • Access, circulation, and the ‘social life’ of archives
  • Muniments and legal papers
  • Exclusion and absence in the archive
  • Archives and emotions
  • The matriarchive and women as archivists
  • Arrangement and organisation: cataloguing, inventories, storage, furniture
  • Objects in/and the archive
  • Visual and literary representations of family collections
  • The relationship between family and institutional archives, including bequests, loans, and donations to local and national collections
  • Destruction and dispersal

Please send a title, short bio, and abstract (c. 200-300 words) to:

The deadline for submissions is 30 December 2022. We would be grateful if you could also let us know if you have any access requirements (e.g. online/hybrid attendance). This event will run F2F & online.

All papers will be considered for inclusion in an edited collection, estimated date of submission for chapters December 2023. Please make it clear on your submission if you do not wish your paper to be considered.

This conference is part of the ‘Family Archives in Early Modern England’ project, supported by the Leverhulme Trust. Visit us at