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Temptation in the archives

By George Wigmore, on 18 January 2013

‘Constantijn Huygens and his Clerk’,
painted by Thomas de Keyser in 1627.

I knew before even I turned up at the wood-panelled Gustav Tuck lecture theatre that it was going to be packed. People were anxiously waiting outside the doors to see if there was any available space, with those queuing up the steps politely told that they could watch the lecture live downstairs in the Garden Room.

The truth is that Professor Lisa Jardine is a big draw, whether through her work as a historian, on BBC Radio 4’s A Point of View, or the countless other things that she either chairs or directs, and it’s clear that not only is she incredibly well known, but also highly respected.

Professor Jardine’s lecture itself concerned a story about a paper chase that eventually yielded a 17th century letter. It was also a cautionary tale about the trust that historians place on evidence, illustrating the essential uncertainly that comes with archival research in the humanities.