Prize Papers Project launches at Oldenburg Castle

A selection of lettersImagine being the first person to open a letter written 250 years ago but which never reached its intended recipient. What might you find? What might you learn?

This is the part of the daily work of the Prize Papers Project, exploring around 160,000 undelivered letters seized in their mail-bags from ships captured by the British in the wars of the 17th to the 19th centuries. Some of these letters are still unopened.

So far, finds have included journals, sheet music, drawings, poems, and artefacts like seeds, glass beads and keys, all tucked in with communications between women, men, children, families, friends, religious communities and business partners across the globe. The letters document the experiences of ordinary people during major wars including the American and French Revolutionary wars, and the Napoleonic conflicts

Dating predominantly from 1652 to 1815, the Prize Papers form part of the High Court of Admiralty collection.

In May, an exciting 20-year project to digitise, catalogue, and describe these papers and make them freely available to search and view online will begin.

Professor Dagmar Freist of The University of Oldenburg in Germany has secured funding from Gottingen Academy of Sciences and Humanities to work with The National Archives in opening up the HCA 30 and HCA 32 series for further research and discovery.

Speaking at the project launch event at Oldenburg Castle, Jeff James, Chief Executive and Keeper at The National Archives, said: ‘This is a collection of truly global importance and the sheer wealth of research opportunities this project will provide is breath-taking.

‘The National Archives is committed to finding new ways of making our collection available to new audiences – not just in the UK but internationally – and this hugely exciting, ambitious project with the University of Oldenburg will help us achieve much more than we could alone.’

Tags: digitisation, letters, Prize Papers, research