On file

Posted on 27th November 2012 by simonbeattie

One thinks of filing as a necessary evil of modern life, but the need to maintain order among one’s papers is, of course, much older.  The term itself (from the Latin filum, ‘thread’) derives from the practice of keeping documents literally ‘on file’, i.e. together on a string or wire, much like a treasury tag today.  The appropriation of the term in the computer age to include digital preservation has assured the ubiquity of the file in modern life.

This is a Renaissance file kept by the town clerks of Middelburg in the Netherlands in the year 1573: a series of hastily-written slips, made at the time a financial transaction took place, have been pierced and mounted on a linen cord, the ‘file’ itself.  A fair copy would then have been made from this data, probably in the form of a book.

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