Early Modern Palaeography

Tutor: Chris Webb

Module type: MA Skills

Module code: HIS00106M

Credits: 10

Reading, understanding and interpreting the records of the past is a core skill for anyone working in History. This module provides the technical foundation for developing fluent reading of handwritten records at all periods, and the knowledge and practice required to work with Early Modern handwriting. We will learn letter shapes, combination patterns, abbreviations and numbers, using original records in the Borthwick Institute.

We will learn the basics of representing texts through editing in order to understand our own practice and the ways in which editors of texts choose to present written materials in printed form. We will use court records, probate records, title deeds, petitions and accounts, concentrating our attention on the period 1500-1720. Class sessions are collaborative and iterative; we will learn from each other in relaxed sessions, with access to the original records in the study space. Our records will be in English, and each session will use an original record and an edited version of at least part of the record.

Students will attend an hour long briefing in week 1 of the spring term and weekly 2-hour seminars in weeks 2-9 at the Borthwick Institute for Archives. The provisional programme is as follows:

Week 1: Briefing: Learning to read and handle archival records (1450s)
Week 2: Learning to read (1500)
Week 3: Learning to read, introduction to editing (1530s)
Week 4: Learning to read, editing practice, introduction to numbers and accounts (1540s)
Week 5: Learning to read: secretary hand (1590s)
Week 6: Learning to read carefully, and editing in practice (1590s)
Week 7: Reading with understanding (1620s)
Week 8: Reading with understanding, editing (1690s)
Week 9: Reading with fluency and accuracy, for meaning (1720s) 

Preliminary Reading 

  • Hoskin, PM and SL Slinn & CC Webb. Reading the Past: Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century English Handwriting. York: University of York, Borthwick Publications 2001.
         Includes full colour facsimiles, transcripts and reading notes. 
  • Hunnisett, R.F. Editing Records for Publication. London: British Records Association: Archives and the User no 4, 1977.
         The premier text for editing archival records. 
  • Harvey, PDA. Editing Historical Records. London: British Library, 2001.
         Builds on Hunnisett, drawing on Harvey’s extensive experience as an editor. 
  • Hunter, Michael. Editing Early Modern Texts. An introduction to Principles and Practice. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.
         Focuses on literary manuscripts rather than records, and introduces different techniques and presentations.

For more information, please refer to the module catalogue.