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Early Russian Deeds of the 13th to the 19th Centuries

The Manuscript Department possesses more than 20,000 deeds and other documentary material dating from the thirteenth to the nineteenth centuries. They are contained in manuscript books, in personal archives, and form over 40 separate collections. The Library continues to purchase papers from private owners of archival material. Acquired documents represent, mainly, papers from incomplete parts of family archives, but the Department occasionally receives perfect personal archives collected over the period of three or four centuries. These materials are invaluable for research into everyday life in Russia, for study of the history of families and social groups. Thus, they provide a wealth of evidence for anyone interested in the history of nobility state service in the army, navy and public offices.

The Manuscript Department holds the rich collection of material, including central and local government records, from archives, maintained by national institutions or local authorities from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries. Social, political, economic and religious aspects of the development of the country can be followed through in these documents. Papers, created in connection with the administration of local areas, provide a wonderful resource for local history research into towns and neighbourhood in Russia.

The legal documents mirror the changing cultural processes, the development of the means of production in the era they were produced, and the evolution of paperwork. A medieval document is a small piece of parchment, buckled with ages, with a heavy leaden seal, attached by a linen cord. The text on it is written in an unreadable upright script. The seventeenth century documents are generally in rolls composed of several strips of paper, pasted together end-to-end. Such rolls are written in a departamental cursive script with special flourishes. The other side of the document contains an authenticating official's signature: the absolutely unintelligible writing runs across each juncture of the sheets. The most remarkable of deeds are royal charters and letters patent under the governmental seal. The red or black wax seal is attached by a silver or gold twisted cord, and, sometimes, put into a special bronze box. These documents are richly decorated with bright colours and gold ornaments, and written in fine semi-cursive script. Indeed, the appearence of each document provides significant information regarding its creators and owners, or the place and date of its origins, and reason for production of the document.

Purchase of private archival collections is a major way of developing the holdings. This is done irrespective of time period, place of origin, and language. As a result the Library recieved papers of exceptional range and historical importance. The Manuscript Department is fortunate to own the Trade Treaty of 1269 between Novgorod, that was an important trading center in the Middle Ages, and Riga and Lubeck, regulating terms of trade; diplomatic agreements between different countries devoted to international politics; feudal deeds giving an official proof of ownership of land and serfs; numerous documents relating to national policy in Tsardom of Moscow and Russian Empire etc.

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