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.

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  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. 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?
  4. 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...
  5. Panel 2 - Solutions

  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. And following on from that tweet, here are some of the resources mentioned:
  9. One for music:
  10. And one for art:
  11. Round Table

  12. 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:
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