INSTG031 Reading and Interpretation of Archives from 1500

This course provides practical training in transcribing, understanding and interpreting a range of the documents employed in personal, legal, financial and administrative transactions in England and Wales from 1500 to 1930. It enables the students to read archives and to develop an understanding of their legal and administrative backgrounds. Topics covered will include development of letter forms from 1500 to 1900; specialist secretary, financial and legal scripts; palaeographical abbreviations and contractions; orthography in vernacular writing from 1500 onwards; historical chronology and dating; overview of English land law and its underlying concepts from 1500; diplomatic formulae; methods of authentication; application of diplomatic to modern electronic media.

Learning outcomes: By the end of the module, students will be able to transcribe the different scripts, including the specialist legal, financial and charter hands, accurately and with reasonable fluency. They will also understand the historical and legal contexts in which the records were produced and will know the meaning of the diplomatic formulae employed, which will enable them to provide competent archival finding aids and to assist visitors in the search room who may have trouble reading and interpreting difficult scripts and documents.

Session by session (draft):

  • Learning to Read / Language and Dates
  • Hatched, Matched and Dispatched: the registration of vital events
  • Life after death - wills, administrations and other probate records
  • How do you plead? The records of local criminal courts
  • To have and to hold - the records of freehold conveyancing
  • At the will of the lord - the records of manorial courts
  • In vestry assembled - the records of parish government
  • After my heartiest commendations: reading private and official letters
  • Revision & transferable skills

Assessment: some palaeographical transcriptions & a longer interpretive exercise (15 credits)
Compulsory for: only students registered on ARM programme prior to 2012-13
Optional for: ARM students
Taught by: Peter Foden in term 2, Friday morning 10am-1pm 

Introductory reading - Hilary Marshall, Palaeography for Family and Local Historians (Philimore 2004) 

Further information for students currently taking this module

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