Online Paleography and Typography Sites in French and Spanish

Theleme: Techniques pour l'Historien en Ligne : Études, Manuels, Exercices--The Sorbonne's online course offers an introduction to French hand-press print typography, and medieval and early modern paleography (handwriting) instruction, in French, with lessons and a wonderful set of interactive exemplary texts.  To use the exemplary texts to train your eyes to read a manuscript hand, choose examples from the "Dossiers documentaires" menu at the top of the page.  Because scribal hands tend to resemble each other no matter what the content of the document, select documents by the dates to the left of the document description to match your target document's probable era of creation.  If no documents are exactly within your document's era, "bracket" it with an earlier and later document.  Keep in mind that documents created by non-scribal "amateurs" might use highly individualized abbreviation systems that differed from standard scribal practices, sometimes even intentionally obscuring their hands as a form of personal cipher to resist outsiders' prying eyes in these early days of mass literacy. The late-medieval scribal hands known as "gothic" influenced the most decoratively flourished and abbreviated hands, which persisted in the work of early modern scribes producing ceremonial documents (indentures, wills, etc.).  The open, easily legible Carolignian hands re-emerged in the early modern period in "humanist" hands and type fonts, reproducing the earlier script for modern readers.

Cours de paléographie--Archive du cours d'Arisitum--Jean-Claude Toureille, Stéphane Pouyllau, and Eric Camille Voirin's 1996-7 French language course in early modern and modern French paleography proceeds through thirteen example texts in increasing orders of difficulty.  Most examples are transcribed completely with notes on particularly difficult letter forms or abbreviations.  Unfortunately, when this "orphan" site was set loose on the Internet, it tells users who want to read answers to tests "voir page de téléchargement."  The server rent must be paid, of course.  Even given this limitation, the text examples and free commentary offer a useful addition to the Sorbonne course.

Historia da Escritura en Galicia--The Universidade de Santiago de Compostela's online course offers a basic introduction to Spanish medieval (ca. 1150) to early modern (1606) paleography (handwriting) in Spanish.  The commentary is limited to relating each stage of the scribes' handwriting systems to the ones before them, but the examples are striking even without the "mouse-over transcription" feature of the Sorbonne's examples.  Try just skimming the examples from the oldest to the most recent, and notice how the Carolignian scribal hand, which began with strikingly open characters to guarantee accessibility, gradually was transformed into a sequence of increasingly complex hands with frequent use of the "macron" or curved line above the text to indicate abbreviation.  To read early modern hands, one must become familiar with typical abbreviations, much like modern "texting" orthography ("lol" and "cul8r").

Spanish Script Tutorial: Challenges, Handwriting Resources, Types of Records--Sponsored by the Center for Family History and Geneology at Brigham Young University, this site includes extremely helpful section on Spanish dialects that influenced how scribes spelled, typical handwriting practices and Spanish-specific abbreviation patterns, as well as descriptions of the way Latin scribal practices influenced the way scribes wrote Spanishscribal representations of numbers, and a set of alphabet charts with scanned examples of ways scribes made specific letters of the alphabet.  The "Types of Records" section has complete illustrations of Civil Registers (post-1800) and Parish Records, but unfortunately the "Census" section and others are still "under construction."  Knowing what kind of document you are looking at is an immense aid in decoding the script.

The "links" page from Dr. Dianne Tillotson's site aggregates connections to the Sorbonne and Santiago de Campostela sites above to teach the paleography of other regions and eras --

Dr. Dianne Tillotson's Medieval Writing Site:  Tillotson is an independent scholar working on her own to develop a site that teaches "paleography," the reading of old manuscript hands from the Medieval period.  In addition to her lucid explanations of manuscript production practices, she has accumulated a nice set of Medieval manuscript images whose scribal hands have been categorized chronologically with practice examples so that you can test and develop your ability to read them.  (The are available directly at this page: Paleography exercises using Flash.)  Letter forms change more slowly than during the Renaissance, but even Medieval scribes, over centuries, evolved new scripts.  Changes often occurred when attitudes toward the accessibility of the text changed.  Remember that there is nothing "natural" or "obvious" about the letter forms in which we code language.  To one familiar with the script, a (to us) gnarly Gothic Textura hand would be far more legible than this web page's Times Roman, a descendant of the C16 Continental Humanist manuscript hand that was turned into type fonts by printers like Aldus Manutius.  The illustrations of the scripts' alphabets and sample transcriptions of scribal hands into modern type fonts especially will help students working with the Manuscript Laboratory, Part 2.