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. You can find here information about books and tools dealing with abbreviations. Knowledge of palaeography also helps to determine the date and origin of documents without an indication of time and location. You will be able to depend less on existing editions, transcriptions and translations. It will bring you closer to written sources, their content and the history of writing.

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 – which was led from the abbey of St. German-des-Prés 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).

A growing number of institutions invoke the help of the public to transcribe or index digitized archival resources held at archives or libraries. At portal sites such as Zooniverse, Citizen Archivist (NARA), By the people (Library of Congress), Smithsonian Digital VolunteersEuropeana Transcribe, DigiVol and From The Page you will find a wide variation of projects. For the Netherlands the portal Vele Handen (Many Hands) is home to many projects concering archival records. Zooniverse, too, has a number of Dutch projects at Wikiscripta Neerlandica II.

General sites

  • Ad fontes, Universität Zürich – a tutorial for medieval and Early Modern archival records from several countries, with also transcription rules; you can register as a user; interface German, English and French
  • 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
  • L’aventure des écritures, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris – an educational website about book history, the history of scripts and writing supports, with a bibliography
  • 5300 Jahre Schrift, Materiale Textkulturen, Heidelberg – the web version of a book on the history of scripts with fifty chapters
  • 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
  • Alte Schriften, N. Bartz – a huge collection of historical scripts
  • Schriftgeschichte, Typolexikon – a nutshell history of writing on the website of Wolfgang Beinert on typography; he has also a page on the history of palaeography
  • READ: Recognition and Enrichment of Archival Documents – now better known as Transkribus, an international platform for electronic character recognition of handwriting in which many archival institutions participate, with a learning module Transkribus Learn with many hundred examples of handwriting; access after free registration – the website Famous Hands showing the handwriting of famous European people is free accessible
  • 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 five short online exercisess 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 English 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 – a German 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
  • Inscribe: Palaeography learning materials, Institute of Historical Research, School of Advanced Study, University of London – only a part of these materials has been archived,  the overview and the module on medieval scripts, both free accessible
  • Marc Smith and Laura Light, Script (Les Enluminures / Text Manuscripts, 2016; PDF) – a concise introduction created around twelve different medieval manuscripts; there are more volumes in the Primers series, for instance by Susan L’Engle and Ariane Bergeron-Foote on Law (2013, PDF), also around twelve manuscripts

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
  • Transkribus LEARN – a new tutorial for learning to read Early Modern archival records, with documents from several European countries

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, with also tools for chronology (Grotefend) and location names (Graesse, Orbis latinus)
  • 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 – freeware – a Norwegian app created by the national archival service

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, Bayerische 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:

Papyri – see also Museums and legal history

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, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich
  • Guillaume Bady, Petit album de paléographie grecque, Sources Chrétiennes – a concise PDF
  • Greek letter combinations, Fordham University – taken from B.A. van Groningen, Short Manual of Greek Palaeography (Leiden 1940)

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
  • Taller Elementos básicos de paleografia novohispana y mexicana, Documentos antiguos de Iztapalapan, Juan Gerardo López – a concise tutorial
  • Codex Mendoza, Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia, Ciudad de Mexico and Bodleian Libraries, Oxford – a digitized version of a sixteenth-century manuscript [ms. Arch. Selden 1] about the Aztec kingdom, with transcriptions, bibliography and much more; interface Spanish and English

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).

At the Biblioteca Digital del Pensamiento Novohispano is a page with Criterios de la transcripción paleográfica de los textos, also in a shortened English version.

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

Australia

Austria

  • Erste Schritte im Kurrent-Lesen, Geschichte Online, Wissenschaftliches arbeiten, Universität Wien – a concise tutorial on reading the Kurrentschrift in archival sources from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and also exercises with archival records from the fifteenth to the twentieth century

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, Universiteit Utrecht – 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, a good links section and an overview of transcription rules
  • 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; Vele Handen offers also a PDF of W. Bogtman, Het Nederlandse schrift in 1600 (Haarlem 1973)
  • 17th Century Dutch, Julie van den Hout – at last a blog in English about this phase of the Dutch language and a section on palaeography with some exercises and a PDF of W. Bogtman, Het Nederlandse schrift in 1600 (Haarlem 1973)
  • T. Mooyer, Inleiding cursus paleografie (Alkmaar: Regionaal Archief Alkmaar, 2008) – a concise introduction to palaeography and the history of scripts (PDF)

For editing historical sources Dutch historians have created guidelines in the Richtlijnen voor het uitgeven van historische bescheiden (6th ed., The Hague 1988; online, Huygens Institute). For Belgian historians the Koninklijke Commisie voor Geschiedenis / Commission royale d’Histoire offers the Normes d’édtion / Uitgaveregels (version 2016; Dutch and French). A concise explanation of transcription rules is present at the website of the project Gekaapte brieven (Looted letters).

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
  • Interaktivní paleografická čítanka, Petra Vorla, Univerzity Pardubice – online exercises with several types of Early Modern archival records

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); interface French and English
  • 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, with a very full list of French abbreviations
  • 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 by the Parlement de Toulouse 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
  • Paléographie, Archives Départementales de Côte-d’Or, Dijon – materials on three levels, with also the manual by Gérard Moyse and Pierre Bernardin, Lire les archives des XVIe et XVIIe siècles (Vésoul 1991)

Ad fontes has created a PDF with guidelines for transcriptions, Critères d’édition.

Germany

The Archivschule Marburg has a web page with transcription rules, Transkriptionrsichtlinie. You might also read online Johannes Schultze, ‘Richtlinien für die äußere Textgestaltung bei Herausgabe von Quellen zur neueren deutschen Geschichte’Blätter für deutsche Landesgeschichte 98 (1962) 1-11, or the recent manual by Burkhard Beyer, Praktische Tipps für die Edition landesgeschichtlicher Quellen (Münster 2018) (PDF). At the blog Aktenkunde you can find information about palaeography and the history of German administration, with a useful bibliography.

Iceland

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

Ad fontes (Zürich) offers special transcription rules for Nordistik (PDF).

Indonesia

  • Karel Holle, Tabel van oud en nieuw-Indische alphabetten (Buitenzorg 1877) – a classic introduction; online, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek; English version: ‘Table of Old and New Indic Alphabets: Contribution to the Paleography of the Dutch Indies’, Written Language and Literacy 2/2 (1999) 167-245.

Ireland

Italy

You can download an Italian manual for transcribing and editing medieval texts at the Archivio di Stato di Lucca: Giampaolo Tognetti (ed.), Criteri per la trascrizione di testi medievali latini e italiani (Rome 1982; PDF, 5 MB). The introduction to Latin palaeography by G. Costamagna, Perchè scriviamo così. Invito alla paleografia latina (Rome 1987) is available online (PDF’s).

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, you can also play games or workout puzzles; 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

  • Gerold Ritter, Lector. Transkription von mittelalterlichen Quellentexten computergestützt üben [Lector. Computer-aided training for transcribing medieval source texts] (MA thesis, Universität Zurich, 1992) – not only medieval but also Early Modern texts in this concise tutorial for Swiss palaeography
  • Abriss der Schriftgeschichte aus Schweizer Sicht, Martin Steinmann, Historisches Lexikon der Schweiz – a concise overview of the history of writing in Switzerland, with some references; also available in French and Italian, and downloadable (PDF)
  • Transkriptionen, Villmergerkriege 1656 und 1712 – a number of transcriptions concerning two wars, but also some medieval and much later archiva;l records with transcriptions

United Kingdom

Some project focus on resources from Scotland:

United States of America