Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Dispatches From The Summer Assistant #4: Palaeography

I must admit that despite having taken palaeography classes, yesterday I struggled to read some documents which a reader had asked for copies of. The documents dated around 1700 and were viewed on microfilm. Even knowing some of the different conventions in old handwriting it has always been the case that some people have neater handwriting than others. Be glad that this blog is typed!

Enough excuses… my experience yesterday reminded me how difficult it can be to read forms of handwriting with which you are not familiar. There are various ways that you can learn palaeography (the conventions and form of old handwriting, with all of its flourishes and abbreviations). It is also good to practice, with yesterday’s experience coming as a timely reminder of this.

Many courses in history or archives offer classes in palaeography but if you want to do something less formal there are some really interesting sources for help. In our archive searchroom we have reference books on Scottish palaeography, which you can look at if you are finding documents difficult to read. Alternatively, online tuition can be found at This website offers a great introduction and tasks to help you practice.

I am currently using a few documents from our archives for a dissertation, on my archives course. It seemed appropriate to post an image of the one with the most fancy flourishes, although it is not particularly difficult to read.

This example of a protest shows some interesting features relating to diplomatics. Diplomatics is an area of study often associated with palaeography. Diplomatics is concerned with features such as stamps, seals and signatures which are often related to authenticity.

If you ever have difficulties reading an old document in the archives, just ask for help. Our palaeographic skills may not be perfect but we will try our best. For details of our attempts to get to grips with old writing, click here.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Are you delighted by what you have just read? Are you revulsed and appalled? Do let us know, we'd love to hear from you.