On April 13, the MIT Libraries will host a conversation with the international experts of the Signed, Sealed and Undelivered Project, an interdisciplinary team of researchers analyzing recently rediscovered 17th-century letters. This is the first time the team will speak publicly as a group about their work.
In 1926, a trunk of letters was bequeathed to the Museum voor Communicatie in The Hague, the center of government, politics, and trade in the Netherlands. It belonged to two of the most active postmasters of the turn of the 18th century, Simon de Brienne and Marie Germain, a couple at the heart of European communication networks. The trunk is filled with an extraordinary archive: 2,600 letters that were never delivered, including some 600 that have never been opened.
“We could tear open and flatten these letters, but those creases and folds mean something,” says Jana Dambrogio, the Thomas F. Peterson (1957) Conservator at the MIT Libraries, an expert in a technique called "letterlocking," folding and securing a writing surface to function as its own envelope. “We are choosing to leave them intact and push the boundaries of imaging instead. This can have a huge impact on how we approach the conservation of artifacts.”
“Signed, Sealed and Undelivered: A 17th-Century Postal Treasure Trove Rediscovered” will include a series of short presentations that give an overview of the project and explore the world of the early modern postmasters who collected the letters, historic document security techniques, and the applications of this work across the humanities. The team will describe their work preserving, imaging, and transcribing letters and identifying letterlocking formats in an effort to reveal the chest’s secrets for the first time.
Speakers include Dambrogio; Rebekah Ahrendt, assistant professor of Music at Yale University; Nadine Akkerman, lecturer in English at Leiden University; David van der Linden, the NWO Veni Fellow and lecturer in history at the University of Groningen; David Mills, physicist at the Queen Mary University of London; and Daniel Starza Smith, British Academy postdoc at Oxford University's Lincoln College.
“Signed, Sealed and Undelivered: A 17th-Century Postal Treasure Trove Rediscovered” is presented in conjunction with Preservation Week at the MIT Libraries, held April 24-30, to highlight the importance of preserving cultural heritage materials.