Palaeography, palæography (British), or paleography (American) (from the Greek παλαιός palaiós, "old" and γράφειν graphein, "to write") is the study of ancient handwriting, and the practice of deciphering and reading historical manuscripts.
Palaeography can be an essential skill for historians and philologists, as it tackles two main difficulties. First, since the style of a single alphabet has evolved constantly it is necessary to know how to decipher its individual characters. Second, scribes often used many abbreviations, usually so that they could write more quickly, and sometimes to save space, so the palaeographer must know how to interpret them. Knowledge about individual letter-forms, ligatures, punctuation and abbreviations enables the palaeographer to read the text as its producer intended it to be read. The palaeographer must know the language of the text and the historical usage of various styles of handwriting. Knowledge of writing materials is also essential to the ancient study of handwriting and the identification of the periods in which they are written. An important goal may be to assign the text a date and a place of origin: this is why the palaeographer must take into account the style and formation of the manuscript.
The first time the term "palaeography" was used was perhaps in 1703 by Bernard de Montfaucon, a Benedictine monk. During the 19th century palaeography fully separated from the science of diplomatics. Wilhelm Wattenbach and Leopold Delisle greatly contributed to this separation with their studies of the relationship between the human hand and writing. Their efforts were mainly directed at reconstituting "the ductus" — the movement of the pen in forming the letter — and to establish a genealogy of writing based on the historical developments of its forms.
In the twelfth century Carolingian minuscule underwent a change in its appearance to bold and broken Gothic letter-forms. This style remained predominant with some regional variants until the fifteenth century when the humanistic scripts revived a version of Carolingian minuscule and it spread from the Italian Renaissance all over Europe.
'Manual of Latin Paleography' (A comprehensive PDF file containing 77 pages profusely illustrated, August 2008).
Albert Derolez: The Palaeography of Gothic Manuscript Books: From the Twelfth to the Early Sixteenth Century.(Shorter Notices--General Studies)(Brief article)(Book review)
Sep 22, 2007; Albert Derolez, The palaeography of Gothic Manuscript Books: From the Twelfth to the Early Sixteenth Century, Cambridge...
Albert Derolez, The Palaeography of Gothic Manuscript Books, from the Twelfth to the Early Sixteenth Century.(Book Review)
Mar 22, 2005; Albert Derolez, The palaeography of Gothic Manuscript Books, from the Twelfth to the Early Sixteenth Century (Cambridge:...