Since my two previous posts were about a fairly heavy topic, I thought I’d highlight something a bit lighter today. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve gone into some detail about how primary sources can help us feel the humanity inherent in history. That’s true for many reasons – just as these sources can let us glimpse individual stories from larger historical events and time periods, they can also give us physical signs that show us how human their creators really were – how very similar they were to us.
Take, for example, the 15th century Croatian manuscript that was found to have inky paw prints, presumably from a feline companion. The internet loves cats! Archivists love cats! Seeing this type of thing in archives and special collections can make us chuckle – but even more importantly, it can make us realize that even in the 15th century, even while physically writing books that are seen as sacred pieces of history today, people were just people. Their cats walked all over their work just like our cats walk all over ours. If you’re a cat owner, how many times has your little furry friend decided that your keyboard or homework or reading material would be the perfect place to plop down? It happened to people in the 1400s, too (maybe not with keyboards, but you get the point).
It’s always interesting to find the physical remnants of a totally normal life on documents – lipstick kisses on envelopes, dirty fingerprints, accidental tears, burn marks from cigarettes. These little reminders of humanity can make us feel even closer to history and the many interesting people who lived long ago.
This isn’t from the very distant past, but it was still fun to find in the ACLS collection. In October of 1943, someone undoubtedly got upset when they realized their coffee (or tea?) mug had stained this piece of correspondence:
Enjoy, and remember: one day, your coffee stains might show up in an archival repository somewhere, giving a moment of amusement to a busy researcher.