Early Modern Post

Early modern handwriting

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Early modern handwriting

Snippets and links from a conference by Oxford’s Centre for Early Modern Studies (CEMS), on 25 April 2013. What follows is a collection of thoughts and tweets from the conference, to gather them together and preserve them as an interesting summary of the day, and as a resource.

  1. Panel 1 – Problems

  2. Jonathan Gibson on early modern handwriting, theory and practice. He spoke about writing manuals by Palatino and the revolutionary Cresci, and how you can sometimes detect their influence on the page. Could such identification assist in dating a piece?
  3. Interesting start by Jonathan Gibson on influence of writing manuals. Angular v rounded italic styles #emwriting
  4. Gibson – use handwriting manuals as a sort of ‘control’ for hand analysis #emwriting
  5. Carlo M Bajetta on Elizabeth I’s scribes, suggesting that when we’re thinking about handwriting analysis, we look at more than just individual characters – could digital projects take in ‘mise en page’ too? Could such wider factors be automated?
  6. Carlo bajetta – look at the mis en page, grids and image analysis rather than comparing vast quantities of text. #emwriting #dh
  7. Bajetta – we should move from ocr to more textured analysis in digital attempts at hand id #emwriting
  8. One question that cropped up was whether hand-writing manuals created or reflected practice. Gibson suggested it was fair to say that they – and the jobbing writing masters that went with them – helped to create practice in England at least. Maybe it was different for Italy, though.

    One ‘problem’ question that came up was: what was the significance of writing in different hands? ‘Problem’ because it was uncertain whether there was any significance in it at all, that it must surely remain conjecture and therefore perhaps unhelpful, and because no-one was able to answer it!
    Guillaume Coatalen did, however, suggest that there were typical changes depending on the language one was writing in – and that Italian was often similar to Latin, and English often not dissimilar to French. Perhaps this could be connected to writing manuals again…
  9. Panel 2 – Solutions

  10. You can see the inimitable Tom Davis’ paper on forensic hand-writing analysis (and a trove of other fascinating stuff) at the link below. His paper was great for questioning the typical humanities response of not explaining how one learns to identify hands – it’s the secretive skill of the expert – by discussing his background in forensic handwriting analysis. If you have to defend your identification to a jury, you need to be sure ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ and show your workings.
  11. Steve May offered a paper that would be a ‘test case’ of Davis’ type of handwriting identification, with some tips about making it difficult for ourselves rather than falling for the too-quick identification that may be erroneous: search for contrary examples, go for the unusual not the generic similarities. And remember: professional scribes and your average writer didn’t always write in the same hand – a different style doesn’t mean it’s not them.
  12. Steve May – hand analysis is a craft not a science. Be impartial. #emwriting
  13. Lots of great resources and #dh techie ideas from Julia Craig-McFeely – will blog soon… #emwriting
  14. And following on from that tweet, here are some of the resources mentioned:
  15. One for music:
  16. And one for art:
  17. Round Table

  18. Discussion chaired by Gabriel Heaton of Sotheby’s, with Peter Beal, William Poole, Heather Wolfe and Henry Woudhuysen. Some thoughts that occurred during the discussion:
  19. Key q – how far do scribes (un)consciously copy traits in the original? #emwriting
  20. Big common theme today – advantage of collaboration and open data #emwriting
  21. Interesting point by Will Poole on looking to our precursors – what did C16/17th historians and record keepers ask? #emwriting
  22. Gabriel Heaton taking us through mss – not sure this works well as practical exercise – conc is handwriting alone is not enough! #emwriting
  23. What is our motivation for looking at handwriting? Authorial id, or whole new cultural history of scribal practice and writing? Both pls!
  24. Open Project Planning Meeting

  25. Giles Bergel took us through some of his ideas of where to go next, and asked for more… This remains an open question – if you have a thought to add, please comment!
  26. Open question at the end of the day – where do ppl want to go next in dh palaeography projects? What should we focus on? #emwriting
  27. Some of the suggestions offered:

    – A shared Zotero bibliography on early modern handwriting.
    – A wiki to pool knowledge and settle on some shared definitions for this topic.
    – create a monitored and self-correcting collection of identified hands – a wiki dictionary of identified writers or scribes…

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