History’s in the past, so we must know everything that has happened, right? There is nothing new to find? Well, maybe not… One of the things, I love about history is that there is still so much to discover. On the one hand, this can mean looking at events and sources from a new perspective but it can also mean finding new sources – whether that is archaeological find, books or manuscripts.
People, and then governments, have been recording buildings, collecting books and preserving manuscripts so it seems crazy that there are still finds to be made but the truth is that the sheer volume of material means that things get forgotten or pass unnoticed. The National Archives in England have boxes of medieval documents that have never been fully catalogued and a recent find in a National Trust property shows that the same is true of private libraries.
Professor James Carley identified that a book in the Lanhydrock House library came from the royal collection and was originally in Henry VIII’s library. It summarises the theories of William Ockham and appears to have been collected as part of the evidence in support of annulling the marriage between Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon – it even has notes scribbled in the margins by secretaries. The angle in the news is the books role in helping change ‘the course of English history’. For me that is the less exciting aspect – this was just one piece of evidence collected and, although it no doubt helped, it wasn’t decisive. I am excited by the potential it represents – what else could be out there, tucked on a shelf or in a box, waiting for us to find?