Introduction to Early Modern English Palaeography (HISM402)

Lecturer(s)Dr Jonathan Barry , Prof. Mark Overton, Dr Henry French, Dr Alex Walsham, Dr Jane Whittle
Credit Value15
ECTS Value
Pre-requisitesThose of entry to the MA programme
Duration of ModuleHalf of one semester (6 weeks)
Total Student Study Time150 hours in total, including 12 hours of seminars

Module aims

This module aims to introduce students to the principles of early modern English palaeography: the rules for transcription, the main hands and their development, and systems of abbreviation and contraction. Students will be familiarised with different hands they can expect to encounter in the archives in a various types of documents dating from this period (administrative, political, ecclesiastical, manorial, personal). Practical exercises will equip them to undertake their own independent research using such records and to transcribe documents accurately.

Intended learning outcomes

Module-specific skills

At the end of the module students should be able to recognise the letter-forms of the main hands employed in the early modern period, to know how to decode abbreviations (including standard Latin formulae), to understand the rules of transcription, and to begin to transcribe from reproductions and originals with some accuracy.

Discipline-specific skills

Students should demonstrate the ability to read and transcribe a variety of hands using appropriate bibliographical aids.

Personal and key skills

Capacity for independent critical study and thought. The ability to apply key bibliographical skills (including the use of on-line finding aids). The ability to construct and defend a sustained
argument, both in written form and orally, using primary and secondary materials. Students should have the capacity to work as an individual and to work with a tutor and peers in an independent, constructive and responsive way (e.g. lead a group discussion or task).

Learning and teaching methods

Six weekly two-hour seminars focused around particular hands and types of document. A visit to the Devon Record Office to examine original documents will also be included.


Transcriptions as prescribed by the module tutor each week.


A portfolio of transcriptions amounting to 4000 words in total (100%).

Syllabus plan

1. Introduction to palaeography: scribal culture in early modern England
2. Secretary hands: political and administrative records (e.g. manorial records; court depositions; constables' accounts; indentures)
3. Secretary hands: probate records (e.g. wills, inventories)
4. Secretary hands: ecclesiastical records (e.g. churchwardens' accounts, parish registers, vestry books; visitation records)
5. Secretary hands: personal records and literary documents (e.g. letters, memorabilia, literary manuscripts)
6. Italic hands

Indicative basic reading list

L.C. Hector, The Handwriting of English Documents (Edward Arnold, 2nd edn, 1966)
Hilda E. P. Grieve, Examples of English Handwriting 1150-1750 (Essex Record Office, 1954)
G. E. Dawson and L. Kennedy Skipton, Elizabethan Handwriting 1500-1650 (Phillimore, 1966)
Jean F. Preston and Laetitia Yeandle, English Handwriting 1400-1650 (Pegasus Paperbooks, 1999)
S. A. Tannenbaum, The Handwriting of the Renaissance (Columbia UP, 1967 edn)
A. S. Osley, Scribes and Sources: Handbook of the Chancery Hand in the Sixteenth Century(Faber, 1980)
C. T. Martin, The Record Interpreter (G.Olms, 1910 and later editions)
H. R. Woudhuysen, Sir Philip Sidney and the circulation of manuscripts, 1558-1640 (Oxford UP, 1996)