Palaeography

On this page I do not present yet another online tutorial for palaeography, probably the most used and certainly most practical historical auxiliary science. Palaeography is the discipline aiming at the study and decipherment of old scripts and transferring texts into modern writing systems. Some tutorials provide very rich materials for exercises. The websites presented here are alphabetically ordered by country and period. I indicate also their focus on manuscripts or archival records.

You will need palaeographical skills not only for reading manuscripts and archival records. Abbreviations and peculiar letter forms are also present in printed books and documents. Knowledge of palaeography also helps to determine the date and origin of documents without an indication of time and location. You will also be able to depend less on existing editions, transcriptions and translations.

Legal abbreviations are the subject on my page Abbreviationes.

Palaeography as one of the historical auxiliary sciences was founded by the Benedictine monk and scholar Jean Mabillon (1632-1707) in his work De re diplomatica libri VI (Paris 1681; online, Landesbibliothek Oldenburg). With other monks belonging to the Congregation of St. Maur – see the blog Analecta Maurina – he made extensive travels to libraries in France and abroad to investigate historical sources. Another monk of this congregation, Bernard de Montfaucon (1655-1741), coined the neologism palaeography in the title of his study Palaeographia Graeca (Paris 1708).

General sites

  • Ad fontes, Universität Zürich – a tutorial for medieval and Early Modern archival records from several countries; access after registration
  • School, Virtual Hill Museum and Manuscript Library, St. John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota – with currently tutorials for European, Syrian and Arabic manuscripts; there is also further information about scripts and languages, and a lexicon for terms concerning manuscripts
  • EPHE Palaeography Tutorial, École Pratique des Hautes Études, Paris – a tutorial with exercises, not only with texts, but also with coins from many periods and countries in a variety of languages; interface French and English
  • Palaeography, The Schøyen Collection – a tour of scripts all over the world in seven sections, with also filters for several themes such as the law
  • READ: Recognition and Enrichment of Archival Documents – a project for electronic character recognition of handwriting
  • MONK, Universiteit Groningen and Nationaal Archief, The Hague – a Dutch project for electronic decipherment of manuscripts and archival records

Middle Ages

  • Medieval handwriting: Links, Diane Tillotson – a good overview of tutorials on a site worth visiting
  • Émile Chatelain, Paléographie des classiques latins (Paris 1884-1900) – a digital version created by the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign of this work with images of Late Antique and medieval manuscripts of the main classical Latin authors
  • Earlier Latin Manuscripts, National University of Ireland, Galway – for research in manuscripts written before 800, based on E.A. Loewe’s Codices Latini Antiquiores
  • Littera Visigothica, Ainoa Castro – a blog about the Visigothic script, in English and Spanish, with as for now not yet an online tutorial, but for any other respect the starting point, a model of its kind; the accompanying site VisigothicPal is available
  • Dossiers documentaires, Theleme, École nationale de Chartes, Paris – more than one hundred medieval manuscripts and archival documents with transcription and commentary
  • Enigma, Ciham, Lyon/CNRS – Marjorie Burghart developed a tool to decipher incomplete Latin words; interface in ten languages; she also created two online exercises (1299-1300 and 1308) with medieval accounts from the Savoye region (Castellanie, Comptes des châtellenies savoyardes), a project of the Archivio di Stato di Torino and two French departemental archives
  • DigiPal: Digital Resource and Database for Palaeography, Manuscript Studies and Diplomatic, King’s College London – a project around English medieval manuscripts and archival records
  • Late Medieval English Scribes, University of York – a project around manuscript with texts by five literary authors which can serve as a palaeographical atlas
  • Paleography Resources & Tools, Paleography@Penn, University of Pennsylvania – an overview with digitized literature focusing on English and Latin sources
  • Paléographie, Ménestrel – a very extensive guide to medieval palaeography
  • Handbok i nørron filologi: Faksimilar – a commented list of Scandinavian medieval manuscripts
  • Palaeographic Atlas, Medieval Manuscripts in Dutch Collections – an extensive introduction to medieval manuscripts and scripts with many images
  • Einführung in die Paläographie I, Universität Kassel – an introduction to medieval palaeography, part II deals in particular with medieval scripts; both parts have a quiz
  • Bartholomew’s World: Paleography, Stanford University – an introduction to palaeography around the thirteenth-century author Bartholomaeus Anglicus, with a glossary of palaeographic terms

Early Modern period (1500-1800)

  • Script Tutorials, Brigham Young University – tutorials for Dutch, German, English, French, Portuguese and Spanish documents, with primarily attention to genealogical resources (parish registers, records of baptism, marriage, etc.), partially still under construction, and also texts in Latin; interface English and source languages

Apps for palaeography

  • Abbreviationes, Olaf Pluta, Ruhr-Universität Bochum – a commercial app for deciphering abbreviated words, one of the earliest online tools for palaeography
  • App fontes, Zürich – an app version of the Ad fontes tutorial
  • Medieval handwriting, Leeds University Library – freeware – both manuscripts and archival records
  • English Renaissance handwriting, Leeds University Library – freeware – manuscripts and archival records
  • Gotisk håndskrift, Arkivverket – a Norwegian app created by the national archival service – freeware

Abbreviations deserve special attention:

  • Dictionnaire des abréviations françaises, Theleme, École nationale de Chartes, Paris – abbreviations in French historical sources; note also the extensive bibliography by Marc Smith concerning the study of palaeography
  • Abréviations paléographiques, IRHT, Paris-Orleans – a concise illustrated overview of the various forms of abbreviations in medieval French – and Latin – texts
  • Diccionario de Abreviaturas Novohispanas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico – abbreviations in Early Modern Spanish and Latin archival records, with a tutorial, images of archival documents and a bibliography
  • Abbreviations, The Cotton Nero A.x. Project, University of Calgary – some abbreviations in Middle English literary texts

You can consult online several (older) manuals for deciphering medieval and later abbreviations:

  • Adriano Cappelli, Lexicon abbreviaturarum / Dizionario di abbreviature latine ed italiane – the most used guide for deciphering Roman and medieval abbreviations; there is a database version created by Ad fontes in Zurich, a web version or you use the German edition 1928 (Universitäts- und Stadtbibliothek Köln) and a shortened English version [The elements of abbreviation in medieval palaeography, David Heimann and Richard Kay (transl.) (1982)]
  • Johann Ludolf Walther, Lexicon diplomaticum : abbreviationes syllabarum et vocum in diplomatibus et codicibus (Göttingen 1752; reprint Hildesheim 1973) – online, Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Düsseldorf – a book using beautiful fonts and fine calligraphy
  • Adolphe Chassant, Dictionnaire des abréviations latines et françaises (Paris 1886) – online, Internet Archive
  • T. Martin, The record interpreter: a collection of abbreviations, Latin words and names used in English historical manuscripts and records (2nd ed., London, 1910) – online, Internet Archive
  • Reinhold Merkelbach and Helmut van Thiel, Lateinisches Leseheft zur Einführung in Paläographie und Textkritik (Göttingen 1969) – online, Digi20, Digitale Sammlungen, Bayerisches Staatsbibliothek, Munich
  • Marek Winiarczyk, Sigla latina in libris impressis occurrentia cum siglorum Graecorum appendice (2nd ed., Wroclaw 1995) – there is an OCR-scanned online version at the CAMENA digital library of the Universität Mannheim; there is a German version, Abkürzungen aus Personalschriften des XVI. bis XVIII. Jahrhunderts (3rd ed., Wiesbaden 2002)

The blog Aktenkunde offers a useful list of printed works on Early Modern abbreviations in Germany.

Classical Antiquity

There are many good introduction to epigraphy, the study of ancient inscriptions, but only a few sites deal with the scripts used:

Some subjects cover multiple periods and/or countries, and even continents:

Arabic palaeography

Asia

  • Indoskript, Harry Falk and Oliver Hellwig, Berlin – for Brahmi and Kharosthi script, classical scripts in India; the version 1.0 can still be downloaded

Byzantine palaeography

  • Byzantine paleography, Internet History Sourcebooks, Paul Halsall, Fordham University – an introduction to the palaeography of sources for Byzantine history from Antiquity to the Middle Ages

Greek palaeography

  • Pyle. A Gateway to Greek Manuscripts – an international portal with a fine selection of links, including for palaeography
  • Reinhold Merkelbach and Helmut van Thiel, Griechisches Leseheft zur Einführung in Paläographie und Textkritik (Göttingen 1965) – online, Digi20, Digitale Sammlungen, Bayerisches Staatsbibliothek, Munich

Latin America

Brazil

Haiti and Dominican Republic

Mexico

  • Amoxcalli, Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropologia Social (CIESAS) and Bibliothèque nationale de France, Fondo Mexicano – a portal with images of manuscripts with indigenous texts (codices), mainly in Nahuatl, and Early Modern manuscripts and archival records (manuscritos) with also texts in Spanish scripts (Spanish and Latin), viewable with and without transcription and/or commentary – there is an accompanying blog

You can benefit from the online version of Jesus Muñoz y Rivero’s Manual de paleografia diplomatica española de los siglos XII al XVII (Madrid 1880; second edition, 1917) and Margaret Dunaway, Palaeographical and ortographical characteristics of certain sixteenth-century Spanish-American letters (M.A. thesis, Rice University, Houston, 1989).

Here below you will find websites for and mostly from individual countries

Australia

Belgium and the Netherlands

  • Transcriberen van Middelnederlandse teksten [Transcribing Middle Dutch texts], Hans Kienhorst and Mikel Kors, Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen – this tutorial focuses on manuscripts with literary texts in Middle Dutch
  • Zelf Middeleeuws schrift lezen [Reading medieval script yourself], Frits van Oostrom – nearly twenty examples of manuscripts with medieval Dutch literary texts and transcriptions
  • Iter Dig-italicum, een digitale reis door Leuvense handschriften [Iter Dig-italicum. A digital journey through manuscripts at Leuven], Universiteitsbibliotheek, Leuven – a fine tutorial at Louvain with a wide variety of manuscript images from the medieval and Early Modern period, with Coptic and Arabic manuscriopts, and also examples of sixteenth-century letters, a bibliography and a good links section
  • Transcriptiehandleiding [Guide for transcribing], Cartago – on this platform with digitized editions of medieval charters you can benefit from this guide for transcribing Middle Low German and Latin texts; a version in German is not yet present
  • Wat Staat Daer? [What’s That?] – an online tutorial and forum created by three archives in the Dutch province Noord-Brabant, now with support from Utrecht (Het Utrechts Archief), Middelburg (Zeeuws Archief) and Haarlem (Noord-Hollands Archief), in particular for Early Modern archival records
  • Cursus Nederlandse paleografie, 16e t/m 18e eeuw, Universiteit van Amsterdam – a guide for reading literary texts in Dutch written between 1500 and 1800
  • Paleografie, Geneaknowhow.Net, Hein Vera and Herman de Wit – a downloadable tutorial, with a bibliography
  • Haagse handschriften [Manuscripts at The Hague] – an offer for courses at the municipal archives of The Hague with a sixteenth-century register of sentences in criminal cases, and lots of useful information about Dutch history and paleography and the history of The Hague
  • Hendrick Hamel’s journal and the description of Korea in the 17th century, Henny Savenije – Savenije shows transcriptions below each text line, and he provides a word-to-word translation
  • Letters en woorden in 19e-eeuws handschrift [Letter forms and words in nineteenth-century Dutch script] – a PDF for the project around the slavery registers of Suriname, originating from the crowdsourcing Vele Handen project [Many Hands], more specifically for transcribing military registers and registers of causes of death in Amsterdam

Canada

Czech Republic

  • Hana Patkova, Latin palaeography in Central Europe, Digital Editing of Medieval Manuscripts – an introduction (PDF) to manuscripts and charters in medieval Bohemia
  • Dalibor Havel and Helena Krmickova, Paleografická cítanka. Literárni texty [Paleographic exercises: Literay texts] (Brno 2014) – a manual (PDF) for Czech medieval palaeography
  • Čítanka starých textů [Exercises with old texts], Genebáze – twelve examples of Early Modern and nineteenth-century scripts on a genealogical website
  • Paleografická cítanka, Zdenka Hledikova and Jaroslav Kaspar, Charles University, Prague – exercises in Czech palaeography with manuscripts and archival records from the eleventh to the late nineteenth century; needs DjVU plugin

Denmark

France

  • La paléographie, FranceArchives – a concise guide to French palaeography, with links to courses and online tutorials created by rgeional archives, and useful more resources
  • Paléographie médiévale, Dominique Stutzmann – an online courses with medieval documents
  • Album interactif de paléographie médiévale, Université Lyon/CNRS – one of the earliest interactive tutorials online; sources in Latin, French and Italian (ninth to fifteenth century)
  • Initiation à la paléographie, Institut de Sciences de l’Homme, Lyon/CNRS – a tutorial for beginners with eight Early Modern documents
  • French Renaissance Palaeography, The Newberry Library, Chicago and University of Toronto – for archival records and manuscripts from the fourteenth to the eighteenth century
  • Cours de paléographie, Stéphane Pouyllau and Eric Camille Voirin – an online tutorial with Early Modern documents
  • Paléographie en ligne, Baptiste Etienne and Jean-François Viel – an online tutorial, partially free accessible, with an accompanying blog
  • Paléographie en ligne: Textes de paléographie transcrits et commentés, Archives Départementales de la Haute Garonne, Toulouse – three Early Modern documents with transcription, including the famous verdict on Martin Guerre (1560)
  • Module Paléographie, Archives Départementales d’Indre-et-Loire, Tours – a tutorial with a large variety of Early Modern sources, a concise bibliography and links to other online tutorials
  • Espace du paléographe, Archives Départementales de Meurthe-et-Moselle, Nancy – with documents from the eleventh to the eighteenth century
  • Ressources pour la paléographie, Archives Départementales d’Herault, Montpellier – with exercises on basic and advanced levels, a concise bibliography and transcription guidelines

Germany

  • Paläographie Online, Peter Orth (Universität Erlangen) and Georg Vogeler (LMU, Munich) – in particular medieval sources
  • Kurrentschrift – this tutorial for German cursive scripts uses famous poems in its exercises
  • Kurrentschrift Schreiblehrgang. Margarete Mucke – with documents written by famous Germans
  • Sütterlinschriftt lesen / Frakturschrift lesen – with examples from various kind of records and books; interface German, English and French
  • Digitale Schriftkunde, Generaldirektion der Staatlichen Archiven Bayern – an online tutorial with examples of archival records in Bavaria from the eighth to the twentieth century
  • Schriftbeispiele, Geheimes Staatsarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin-Dahlem – some examples of handwriting form the seventeenth to the nineteenth century, with commentaties

Iceland

  • Handritin heima – a website concerning medieval Icelandic literature, manuscripts and script with a tutorial; interface Icelandic, Swedish, Danish and German

Ireland

Italy

Norway

Poland

  • Dawne Pismo (Old handwriting), Archiwum Narodowe w Krakowie (State Archives Cracow) – with examples of archival records from the Middle Ages to modern times; interface Polish, English and German
  • Lublin w dokumencie [Lublin in documents), Archivum Panstwowe i Lublinie (State Archives Lublin) – with archival records created between 1300 and 1600; interface Polish
  • Neografia, Rotulus – attention to German script and archival records on this website about archives, archiving and historical sources; interface Polish

Portugal

Spain

Sweden

Switzerland

United Kingdom

Some project focus on resources from Scotland:

United States of America