Paleography is the study of the history, forms, and interpretation of old handwriting to contextualize it within its culture and era. Written in multiple languages, paleography covers a wide range of writing styles that may make the text difficult to read for the modern reader.
While we have transcribed the manuscripts here, this brief guide has been made as a resource to assist you in the study of paleography if you would like to attempt to read the original documents that we have provided–or if you would like to transcribe documents of your own!
Paleography can often be difficult on account of the various forms of handwriting. While transcribing our documents, we discerned a few strategies that we found helpful.
Try writing down the letters in a word that you do know.
- You may not know the entire word yet, but it can help you to see the word in your own handwriting.
- Try out different letters and variations. Paleography can often feel like a puzzle as you test out letters that may fit with the word. Rewrite your variations with new letters.
Say the words out loud.
- Repeat the word out loud to yourself. A word like “alwaies” may not look right when you read it, but when you say it aloud, it sounds like “always.”
- The writer might have spelled the word differently than we do in the modern variant of the language. Often, there are extra letters like “e” and “l” within or at the end of words.
Prepare to encounter inconsistencies.
- Every person has their own handwriting. You may notice letters that are written in multiple ways by one person depending on the word.
- Handwriting has the potential to degenerate over time when hurried. Be aware that one letter may not always appear the same, even when written by the same author.
- Some characters may be interchangeable, such as “i” and “j” or “u” and “v”.
- Watch out for letters that may be squished together. You may not see an “i” there, but look for the dot above the word.
- Some letters can be abbreviated, which may make it difficult to understand what all the letters are. Check an abbreviation guide like those in our Additional Research and Resources Page to find some of the ones you will likely encounter.
We have chosen to transcribe in the semi-diplomatic form, which maintains some of the qualities of the original manuscript while still producing a readable text. For example, you should notice in our transcriptions capitalization that would normally not make sense, or specific indents, all of which were copied from the original manuscript. We also remained faithful to the original spelling, but we did adjust the formatting in some spots to make it easier to read.
Using this form of transcription is a great way to display pieces of the actual text without compromising readability. Since we chose semi-diplomatic specifically, we also have a few additional tips:
Be careful about corrections.
- Remember to only transcribe what you see. You may want to spell the word correctly when you know what it is, but you should account for each letter in the manuscript.
- If you’re transcribing in Microsoft Word, be vigilant about autocorrect correcting words that are misspelled.