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January 4, 2007 12:59 PM   Subscribe

Paleography: Reading Old Handwriting, 1500-1800. And don't forget to use your new skills to save the accused woman from the Ducking Stool.
posted by Miko (23 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
And here's a similar guide for 18th century writing, with more of an American colonies focus. This is part of Do History, a great program on documentary history for the middle grades.
posted by Miko at 1:01 PM on January 4, 2007

Oh wow, this is so cool! What a rich post. Thanks Miko.

Old writing has confused me and the little I learned has been from genealogy sites. I love the Ducking Stool game. Am sending your links to my younger sister, who's an archeologist, formerly Dr. Dig on the kid's archeology site (with some awesome links she compiled).

Your Do History link is amazing. I'd never heard of the awesome Martha Ballard diary. It's readable online.
posted by nickyskye at 1:23 PM on January 4, 2007

Thanks, NickySkye! I work with archeaologists and feel like knowing someone who knows Dr. Dig is a brush with fame.

The Ballard diary was an amazing work -- Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's analysis of it in _A Midwife's Tale_ has been rather groundbreaking in the study of history, showing what incredibly rich context can be drawn from the simplest of documents (and, incidentally, that what was formerly thought of as the routine, housebound nature of women's history is quite a bit more complex upon close examination). The American Experience TV presentation of a Midwife's Tale is pretty good, too.
posted by Miko at 1:37 PM on January 4, 2007

Looking at the examples for "mum", "minimum", and "minim", I can only wonder why it took so long for blackletter script to disappear. It's pretty in a classic sense, but I certainly can't give it marks for legibility.
posted by rolypolyman at 1:54 PM on January 4, 2007

Brilliant post, but I feel bad about the Ducking Stool lady. She didn't stand a chance.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 2:04 PM on January 4, 2007

Hooray for paleography! I feel a lot better now about The End of Cursive.
posted by hydrophonic at 2:46 PM on January 4, 2007

Fa[n]tastick poste! Tha[n]ks!
posted by trip and a half at 2:56 PM on January 4, 2007

Damn! That game is hard.

Especially when you haven't read the first part of the post yet.
posted by dozo at 3:07 PM on January 4, 2007

The Ducking Stool game is fun, but the Palaeography tutorial is not up to the standard I would expect from the National Archives. There are some much better sites out there -- the ones I normally recommend to students are:

English Handwriting 1500-1700: An Online Course (a much better range of examples, including the autograph manuscript of Milton's Lycidas)

Dave Postles' Introduction to Palaeography (covers medieval and early modern handwriting; particularly good for anyone studying English local history)

Scottish Handwriting (including an interactive tutorial and a weekly problem page)

Compared with these sites, the National Archives site looks (and is) pretty amateurish, and I'm amazed to see that it's actually been shortlisted for an award for 'most imaginative use of distance learning'.

I'll never forget my own introduction to palaeography. Our teacher came into the room and proceeded to pass round feathers and pen-knives -- 'I thought I'd start you off by showing you how to cut your own quill pens ..' From that moment I was hooked. Websites are great, but there's no substitute for getting your hands dirty with pen and ink and (not all at the same time of course) original documents.
posted by verstegan at 3:11 PM on January 4, 2007 [3 favorites]

Great post—thanks, Miko!

Incidentally, for those who (like me, until fairly recently) did not know: midwifery is pronounced mid-WIFF-(e)ree; the i is shortened just like in Christmas and Michaelmas.
posted by languagehat at 3:21 PM on January 4, 2007

Thank you for this, and the subsequents links in comments.
posted by ltracey at 4:35 PM on January 4, 2007

very cool! thanks!
posted by amberglow at 4:43 PM on January 4, 2007

This is useful and nifty. BTW, I think the medial/long s is a Unicode entity (there ┼┐hould be one here), so you might not have needed to substitute fs in the title.
posted by RogerB at 5:00 PM on January 4, 2007

Fa[n]tastick poste! Tha[n]ks!

God I am so glad that text messaging is taking us back to a time before the anal retentive assholes took over academia and destroyed written language by paying more attention to shitty rules like spelling standardization. You know who you are, and I AM talking about you.
posted by Pollomacho at 5:14 PM on January 4, 2007

it's true, Pollomacho. I've always been in the free-spelling camp, and I think this just changed my mind forever. These samples are beautiful beyond reason, and also illegible beyond reason.
posted by es_de_bah at 5:28 PM on January 4, 2007

Thank you Miko, and thank you verstegen for letting me see that holograph of Lycidas, which I spent many hours poring over for a paper which I would finally not be able to bring to term.
posted by jamjam at 5:37 PM on January 4, 2007

Black letter isn't hard to read if that is all you have been taught to read. In the early seventeenth century, pamphlets or fliers intended for popular audiences were usually in black letter, because that was, at the time, the easiest for them to read. Similarly government pronouncements were published in black letter because that is what would the most people would be able to read.
posted by jb at 5:42 PM on January 4, 2007

This is awesome.
posted by killdevil at 8:29 PM on January 4, 2007

Outstanding post.
posted by holdkris99 at 8:54 PM on January 4, 2007

Wholeheartedly recommend the link to English Handwriting 1500-1700, it is one of the best online tutorials in this field I have seen.
posted by greycap at 11:31 PM on January 4, 2007

Marvelous - once of the hardest, yet most enjoyable, seminars I've ever taken was Paleography (focus on medieval). I'm sending this to my professor right now!
posted by korej at 7:42 AM on January 5, 2007

Thanks for the additional links!
posted by Miko at 8:14 AM on January 5, 2007

How did I miss this first time around? A thousand thanks.

(Nice to know too that I knew something Languagehat did not know until recently, so there's a plus.)
posted by IndigoJones at 5:53 PM on January 7, 2007

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