Public Document No. 1

NOT many family albums go back 900 years. But the Domesday Book, the great survey of England which William the Conqueror had made 20 years after the Battle of Hastings, does. England has been observing the 900th anniversary this year of Public Document No. 1, as it is still officially known. The multivolume book itself has been on display at the Public Record Office in London. The tomes are accessible to the public in one sense, but, alas, not another. They are in Latin -- abbreviated Latin at that -- written in a calligraphic script known as a Caroline minuscule.

The Domesday Book, so called because its written record would provide legal evidence that was as unopposable as the last judgment, cannot be flipped through like an old photo album. But the mounters of the Chancery Lane exhibition have opened up the book in other ways -- with twinkling computer displays to translate the raw data of the survey into colorful maps, for instance.

Despite its terrible name, the Domesday Book has been the basis for a celebration of community and continuity in England.

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