Life of a Blogger is a weekly meme hosted by Jessi @ Novel Heartbeat. Each week Jessi chooses a topic (scheduled in advance) that’s not book related so we that we can get to know our fellow bloggers better – and to know more about them than just books. I’m thrilled to join in and I hope to participate every week from here on out. I hope you’ll join in too – check out the details here!
This week’s topic: Handwriting
I’ll admit to being a bit stumped when I sat down to write this post. What can I say about handwriting? And then I realized, duh! I’m TRAINED TO READ OLD HANDWRITING! Not at all what you were expecting right?
Let me explain. The study of handwriting is actually called Paleography. (I’m so not making this up – look it up!) Something that many people aren’t aware of, but old texts aren’t just written in different languages, but they used a very different style of handwriting too. One of the ways we’re able to date manuscripts is by the hand (style of writing) used. There’s a whole group of professionals out there who look at old manuscripts, recording the hand and materials and ink used to make them just to record when and where it was written (and by how many scribes).
As a medieval historian (that’s me!) being able to read that handwriting is an important skill. So I’ve taken classes where all we do is pull up old manuscripts and practice transcribing it. And let me tell you – CAPTCHA has nothing on these! Now I’m talking 4th – 14th centuries; after the 16th century handwriting gets MUCH easier to read. But then we’re in the Early Modern Period and way out of my specialty.
There are so many different kinds of hand – Caroline Minuscule being the easiest to read and all the Gothic varieties being the hardest. What makes it even harder is that surfaces to write on (usually vellum) were extremely expensive, which meant they weren’t going to waste space on silly things like spaces between words or punctuation. And they often leave off endings and their abbreviations are as bad as ours. You thought we were the first ones running around going “OMG you made me LOL and I’m SMH”? Nope. Monks did it centuries ago (although they abbreviated bible verses LOL). Which means, you have to know the language pretty well to figure out these texts. So – want to see some examples?
This is an example of one of the cleanest manuscripts I’ve ever seen. It originates from St. Gall, circa 880-890 and the text is Caroline Minuscule.
This is Latin and reads:
Legendum in inventione sanctae crucis
Post haec Constantinus habuit bellum Scitarum. Et victoria celebrata, cum esset inpartibus traciarum. In civitate te quae Bizantium vocabatur, indit visionem magnificam dormiens: in qua
So that was a really easy one and boy do I wish they were all this easy. Want to see a hard one?
This is from a class I took last semester. I can tell you that this is from a royal writ of Edward III (England) to the abbot and convent of Westminster in 1328. This is what we call chancery hand and is about as difficult as gothic hand.
This is in Middle French and reads:
Edward par la grace de dieu Roi Dengleterre Seignur Dirlaunde et Ducs Daquitaine ce qe nadgaires acordez feut par nous et nostre conseil a nostre drein parlement seer au temps de lour coronement et la quele est en vostre garde nostre Cite de Loundres qils resceiuent de vous la dite par endenture.
I actually really enjoy this part of my work because it feels like connecting to real people. Someone wrote that with a pen, and like us, didn’t want to write the WHOLE thing out. And, like us, some of them have better handwriting than others.
So – I know this isn’t even close to what you expected when you clicked on a post about handwriting – but hey, what better way to talk about handwriting than the study of it: paleography?! And now you know a little bit more about me and what I study 🙂
Anything interesting to share about handwriting?