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Formal records of agreements, authorities or prerogatives – i.e. charters, to use the archivists’ term – are of crucial importance to the study of medieval history. Their time of writing can generally be pinpointed to an exact date, and they offer objective information, backed by authorised organisations, about administrative matters and legal proceedings – the transfer of goods or rights, for instance. As such, charters form a solid source of information about a wide range of subjects, from the government of the realm to strictly local affairs. They are also useful sources for genealogical research. In addition, there are a great many charters to consult: according to one estimate, the various Dutch archives store over 200,000 charters dating from before 1500.

Nevertheless, researchers currently make limited use of these sources. This is due to the fact that only the oldest charters, written in the period until around 1300, have been published in modern editions. In partnership with various archival institutions and commercial partners like De Ree Archive Systems, Huygens ING is setting up a project that will ultimately allow researchers to access all medieval charters in Dutch archives via a single portal. The data (concerning the contents of the charters as well as pictures) are based on the existing digital archival inventories. The portal will be a valuable resource for both professional medievalists and local researchers in their exploration of national, regional, local or family histories.

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Jan Burgers