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Early Modern Palaeography - HIS00106M

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Mr. Peter Foden
  • Credit value: 10 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2022-23

Module summary

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 for Archives.

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.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Spring Term 2022-23

Module aims

This module aims to:

  • Introduce students to palaeography

  • Show students how to interpret early modern manuscripts and their significance

  • Develop familiarity with early modern manuscripts and how to safely handle them

  • Facilitate students’ ability to use early modern manuscripts in their own research

Module learning outcomes

After completing this module students should be able to:

  • Be able to read handwritten sources in English from the period 1500-1720

  • Recognize abbreviations, contractions and marks from this period

  • Know how to safely handle early-modern records in an archive

  • Be able to identify different forms of handwriting across the early-modern period

Module content

Teaching Programme:

Students will attend a 2-hour seminar in weeks 2-9 of the spring term 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, 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)


Task Length % of module mark
University - project
Project portfolio
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Students will submit a project portfolio in week 10 of the spring term for summative assessment, which will test transcription skills and understanding. It will be based on records at the Borthwick. Students will produce an accurate, edited transcription of a passage taken from a Borthwick record, and a commentary (word limit 1000 words) of the record. 50% of the mark will be based on the accuracy and editing of the transcription and 50% on the commentary.

For further details about assessed work, students should refer to the Taught Masters Degrees Statement of Assessment.


Task Length % of module mark
University - project
Project portfolio
N/A 100

Module feedback

For the summative assessment task, students will receive their provisional mark and written feedback within 20 working days of the submission deadline. The tutor will then be available during student hours for follow-up guidance if required. For more information, see the Statement of Assessment.

Indicative reading

For term time reading, please refer to the module VLE site. Before the module starts, we encourage you to look at the following items of 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.

Hunnisett, R.F. Editing Records for Publication. London: British Records Association: Archives and the User no 4, 1977.

Harvey, PDA. Editing Historical Records. London: British Library, 2001.

Hunter, Michael. Editing Early Modern Texts. An introduction to Principles and Practice. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.