Interest in things is booming. Along with the things, the written sources that captured objects become central. Paradigmatic in this context are inventories as texts created to list objects. In contrast to research on objects, the exploration of inventories as texts and historical sources is still in its infancy. On the one hand, this stems from the long practice of quarrying them as sources for investigating single exceptional artefacts of art-historical significance without treating them as a type of source in themselves. On the other hand, inventories are difficult to capture with traditional methods of historical critical source study and textual analysis: Their sometimes enormous volume and the listing structure contain a wealth of detailed information that make them true precursors of modern databases and unique historical sources. By bringing together scholars from a range of academic disciplines and national backgrounds, and by covering different time periods, we have established a collaborative network dedicated to the investigation of inventories as source types across centuries and geographical areas.
While the roots of inventories can be traced back to the Ancient Orient and all through the Middle Ages, only from the 14th century onwards were considerable numbers of inventories passed down, increasingly after the second half of the 15th and with another peak in the early 16th century. Even today, however, it remains unclear if this transmission situation really reflects the actual production of inventories during the Middle Ages or if it rather documents the beginning of systematic archiving of the inventories from the 14th century onwards. We still know very little about the genesis of inventories and their development during the Middle Ages. Nor is there a valid study on the specific characteristics of inventories as a type of source. While inventories reached their peak from the 14th to the 19th centuries, they were in use before and after these time periods.
The complex character of inventories requires interdisciplinary research to process the wealth of information and to forge linkages. It is, moreover, necessary to combine research on inventories from the Middle Ages up to the present to fully understand the development of the source and its multiplicity of uses over time and across different geographical spaces and contexts. Such an approach can only be realized via a network of scholars.
As a first step, an international workshop on inventories as texts and artefacts was held at the University of Salzburg from 5 to 6 September 2019. 24 scholars from Austria, Germany, Italy, the UK, Portugal and Belgium discussed interdisciplinary approaches to inventories from the 12th to the 21st centuries as sources.