This paper investigates the relationship between diplomatics and genre theory and suggests that the concepts, methods, and philosophical underpinnings involved in both disciplines be combined for the purpose of achieving a fuller understanding of contemporary communicative actions (of which documents constitute a subset) and their broader context. The situated approach and dynamism characterizing the North American school of rhetorical genre studies, including its emphasis on the socially constructed nature of cultural artifacts, provide insights that appear particularly useful to enhance diplomatics’ exploratory and explanatory power. Through a critical examination of the “building blocks” of diplomatics, the paper aims at demonstrating that, in order to continue to be relevant as a method of inquiry, diplomatics needs to move beyond the abstract identification of the enduring components of the documentary universe as a closed system and embrace a more nuanced and inclusive understanding of the social context that shapes, and is shaped by, our communicative actions. As the dialogue between the two disciplines under consideration is supposed to be mutually beneficial, potential contributions of the “science of the diploma” to genre theory are also explored.
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