Date of Award

2016

Document Type

Thesis

Department

History

First Advisor

Dr. Bethany Hicks

Second Advisor

Dr. Ray Granade

Third Advisor

Mrs. Summer Bruch

Abstract

If you take a walk around London's Bloomsbury Park, you will come upon a bronze stature of Charles James Fox. Fox was the Secretary of State in Britain three times in the later part of the 18th century. He fought for a stronger Parliament that would support the constitution and introduced the bill that became the Slave Trade Act, abolishing slavery in the British Empire. The persona of Fox memorialized in the statue is a testimony to his years of service to Britain. A curious curator from the British Museum came upon the statue one day and noticed something strange. Fox's bronze hand held a document which would have been unidentifiable if not for the seal impression dangling from it. The impression was an exact replica of one from the great seal of King John used to seal the original Magna Carta in 1215 AD. This medieval seal impression seems to be out of place except for the fact that it symbolically identifies Magna Carta, which has become a symbol of freedom and liberty. The document on the statue would be arbitrary if the replica of King John's seal impression were absent. "Magna Carta was invoked symbolically through the authentic use of the king's seal," so that observers of the statue can not only identify the important document, but also discern the longevity of the principles of Magna Carta. The sealed impression on the statue serves as an example of how seals identify and carry the authority of their author.

Seals were a symbol of authority in medieval times because of their longevity and verification purposes. In the 21st Century, seals continue to be authoritative because of their adaptation to modern technology. Wax seal impressions were used to prove authenticity and to ensure the authority of documents. They were prevalent in the ancient world and are still ustilized in modern times. Many individuals had their own personal seal. The 12th century was the earliest known time that seals were used by people other than royalty. Personal seals at that time usually depicted the owner's coat of arms. As cultures have changed, seals have adapted to maintain their authoritative status. This adaptation shows that seals have and will continue to hold significance in the modern era.

Seals have been a part of history since antiquity and it is worth studying how their use has evolved into what is today a sophisticated form of authenticating. Seals were once used widely on an individual basis, but now are commonly used by organizations through the forms of embossed seals, watermarks, and institutional seals. Individual sealing practices have also changed to be based more on logos, signatures, and copyright. Modern technology has provided a separate need for authenticating documents and products, therefore seals have been consistently important for authorizing from their advent and continue to be today.

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