chapter  2
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Exploring the formal characteristics of archival material might not initially

appear as a particularly thrilling endeavour. However, there are good reasons to

let the actual subject matter of documents rest for a while. For one, the analysis

and description of both outward appearance and internal formulary structure of

documents is an important step towards their correct understanding – and thus a

precondition for any subsequent interpretation of contents. This ancillary aspect

of diplomatic studies does not only facilitate the basic task of reading a

document in hand – or prior to “reading,” browsing through material found in an

unspecified file or collection – it might also help to ascertain defective dates or

to verify whether one is dealing with an original, a contemporary copy, or a

much later effected transcript. In many instances, an awareness of formularies

might be the only way to find out about what one is actually looking at. Thus, to

give an example, what appears at first glance to be a waqf deed, might in fact

turn out to be only the legal acknowledgement of a previously or separately

established foundation. Equally, what starts out as a contract of sale might

deviate from the standard and include additional stipulations, often constituting

a mixture of sale, rental agreements, and the reciprocal settlement of divergent