When it is a question of learning to interpret ancient modes of writing, practice makes perfect.
As much as any discipline, therefore, the learning of medieval palaeography depends on an immense amount of independent learning within a guided context and needs to be both interactive and participative.
With these underlying principles in mind, experts from the University of Leicester Centre for English Local History have been working with the West Sussex Record Office and an independent IT consultant, Michael Beddow, to develop a medieval palaeography course on-line.
Dr David Postles, of the Leicester English Local History Department, explained: “Various levels of palaeographical skills exist, from the practical ability to read documents to advanced research in the identification of hands and scriptores or scriptoria.
“Our focus was and is on the basic ability to read and understand medieval documents that are used in research into medieval economic and social history.
The project began as the element of a university course, but its aims were broadened when collaboration with the West Sussex Record Office was initiated and it will be of interest to a variety of people, from genealogists, to local historians, to new postgraduates interpreting medieval documents for the first time.
One of the wider aims of the new collaborative venture was to assist life-long learners who use record offices and libraries.
Dr Postles added: “By the nature of palaeography, our site is not one that attracts thousands of hits a week. It does, nevertheless, provide an experience for hundreds of people who wish to further their ability to read medieval cursive hands for the purposes of local history research or genealogy.
“Our ambition now is to make it as widely known as possible for life-long learning, and we hope that archivists will introduce a link from their Record Office’s web pages.
“To date, we have five charters of the thirteenth century. Our ambition is to add some twelfth-century charters, additional thirteenth-century ones, and ultimately to expand into manorial records.”
More information can be found on the websites http://www.le.ac.uk/elh/pot/medfram.html and http://www.le.ac.uk/elh/pot/wsussex/wsussex.html illustrating the interactive learning of medieval palaeography as developed by a consortium of Dr David Postles at the University of Leicester and Michael Beddow, Richard Childs and his colleagues at the West Sussex Record Office.
Note to editors: Further information is available from Dr David Postles, Department of English Local History, University of Leicester, telephone 0116 252 3979, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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