PROBATE INVENTORIES -SOURCE CRITIQUE AND RESEARCH PROBLEMS
The authoress notes that over the last twenty-five years there has been a significant increase of interest in property inventories as a mass-scale and comparable historical source. There are also new questions that have been addressed on the basis of data contained in inventories and new methods of their analysis. She presents selected aspects of that vast topic, pointing to probate inventories as particularly valuable for researchers. In a large part of Europe (England, Austria, France, Sweden, southern Germany) it was obligatory to draw up a probate inventory after every death; in some other countries it was recommended to prepare one when the property of minor orphans was placed in custody. In modern times the scheme of the inventory was not unified. Most commonly, objects were registered in functional groups according to material (metal, clay, wooden etc.) or following the order of rooms in which they were found. The latter type, which provides data on the use of rooms and helps in researching the culture of living, was scarcer in the 18th c. The value of inventories in material culture research cannot be overestimated. The registered artefacts can be classified chronologically, geographically and socially. The relative homogeneity of the material facilitates its statistical analysis. Information on the value, price, age and origin of an object, on its location in a particular room and the material of which it was made helps to investigate the context of its functioning. The possibilities of interpreting inventories are often limited by the lack of the owner's personal details and data on his material status. Furthermore, inventories did not commonly register all the object found in a given house. For various reasons some were omitted (e.g. some garments, children's and women's belongings). There are sometimes gaps in the record of furniture (which was regarded as an integral part of the real estate), food stocks, pets and livestock. Objects in bad condition or of small value were often registered without any details under the heading of 'varia' or 'junk'. Despite such drawbacks inventories, together with material relicts, iconography and other written sources (such as income and expense accounts), form an intriguing field of research. They are used by specialists in many historical disciplines, as well as by ethnologists. The article closes with a survey of the most significant findings of researchers from Europe (Germany, Holland, France, Britain, Poland, Estonia) and the USA.
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