archival stories

Here’s noted historian, Natalie Zemon Davis, speaking with Peter Miller about the stories that can come out of something as seemingly small as a personal inventory.

Where can we take the life of the Margrieta van Varick, a seventeenth-century Dutch woman who lived her life at the edges of the Dutch empire: what is now Malaysia and what is now New York.

In Zemon Davis’ words: “It isn’t just an inventory. An inventory is an opening into a set of relationships, and a style of living.”

For Miller, meanwhile, the inventory can be understood as a “multi-layered document” that functions not only as a “kind of checklist” but also, as a “map, because since she had travelled around the world, she acquired goods in different places….” and as a genealogy that can trace both the family members that she includes in her will but also those family members who preceded her and whose lives, activities and wealth enabled her own life and travels.

Have a listen. It’s fascinating


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