List of online resources for early modern English paleography

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These resources were compiled to assist early modern scholars begin to learn to decipher, read, and interpret manuscript materials written in early handwriting.

English paleography tutorials

University of Cambridge, English handwriting, 1500-1700: an online course

  • 28 transcription exercises, sortable by difficulty level and date. Students can make their own transcriptions and compare them to the model transcription, as well as take interactive tests.

The National Archives, Palaeography: reading old handwriting 1500-1800, a practical online tutorial

  • Interactive transcription exercises for 10 documents arranged in order of difficulty, in addition to a further practice section which contains many additional non-interactive transcription exercises.

Scottish Archive Network, Online tuition in the palaeography of Scottish documents, 1500-1750

  • Provides a series of tutorials with examples and transcriptions, as well as a weekly poser.

David Postles, Medieval and early modern paleography online seminar series

  • Includes 9 examples of legal and manorial documents with full transcriptions and explanations.

Centre for Editing Lives and Letters, Letters of William Herle Project

  • Includes 13 interactive transcription exercises.


Digital images of manuscripts

Free

Anglo-American Legal Tradition: Documents from Medieval and Early Modern England from the National Archives in London

  • Includes thousands of images of documents from King’s Bench, Court of Common Pleas, Exchequer, Chancery, Court of Requests, Duchy of Lancaster, and the courts of the Palatinate of Chester, with links to the relevant records in the National Archives catalogue.

Beinecke Library, English Paleography and Osborn Collection

Bess of Hardwick’s Letters: The Complete Correspondence c.1550-1608

Cause Papers in the Diocesan Courts of the Archbishopric of York, 1300-1858

Created by the University of York and published by the Humanities Research Institute Online, a searchable catalogue of more than 14,000 cause papers relating to cases heard between 1300 and 1858 in the Church Courts of the diocese of York. The original records are held in the Borthwick Institute for Archives at the University of York, and are the most extensive records of their type in the United Kingdom.

University of Cambridge, Scriptorium: Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts Online

  • Images and detailed descriptions of twenty miscellanies and commonplace books.

Folger Shakespeare Library Digital Image Collection

  • New images added frequently. Best searched or browsed by call number. Early modern mss call numbers include X.c., X.d., V.a., V.b., and Z.

Henslowe-Alleyn Digitisation Project

  • Hundreds of images from Dulwich College, providing access to the most important archive on professional theatre in early modern England as well as extensive supporting material.

University of Pennsylvania, Manuscripts to 1800

  • Images of a handful of early modern English manuscripts, which can be reached by narrowing the search to English, facsimile, and 16th and 17th century.

Wellcome Library, Recipe Manuscripts Online

  • Images of 75 manuscript receipt books which, when viewed alongside the ca. 80 receipt books included in the microfilm series, [www.adam-matthew-publications.co.uk/collections_az/Receipt-Books/contents-of-reels.aspx Receipt Books from the Folger Shakespeare Library, ca. 1572-1800], allows for intensive research on this female-dominated manuscript genre.
Subscription

British Literary Manuscripts Online, Medieval and Renaissance, c. 1660-1900

  • Digital microfilm images of literary manuscripts from the British Library, Folger, Huntington, and elsewhere.

The Cecil Papers

  • Ca. 30,000 newly-digitized documents dated 1520-1668 assembled mainly by William Cecil, Lord Burghley, and his son Robert Cecil, earl of Salisbury, from the archives at Hatfield House.

Literary Manuscripts: 17th and 18th century poetry from the Brotherton Library, University of Leeds

  • Digital microfilm images and original color images of 190 manuscripts, with essays and biographies. Searchable by author, title, first line, verse form, manuscript genre, and call number.

[www.amdigital.co.uk/m-products/product/medieval-family-life/ Medieval Family Life]

  • Digital images and searchable transcriptions of the only five major family letter collections to survive from the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries: the Paston, Cely, Plumpton, Stonor, and Armburgh papers.

Perdita Manuscripts: Women Writers, 1500-1700

  • Digital microfilm images of over 230 manuscripts compiled by early modern British women, along with detailed indexing, biographical and bibliographical information, and contextual essays.

State Papers Online

  • Digital microfilm and original color images of state papers from the National Archives and the British Library, as well as calendars and transcriptions of the Cecil Papers at Hatfield House. The manuscripts are fully searchable through their calendar entries and index points, and are supplemented with essays.

The Virginia Company Archives

  • Digital microfilm images, some transcriptions, and contextual material relating to the Ferrar Papers (1590-1790), from Magdalene College, Cambridge.

Useful catalogs and databases

Discovery (catalogue of the National Archives and other UK archives

  • Discovery holds more than 32 million descriptions of records held by The National Archives and more than 2,500 archives across the country.

ArchiveGrid

  • Provides links to finding aids and collection descriptions for North American and British manuscripts and archives of all periods.

Archives Hub

  • Searches descriptions of archives across over 250 institutions in the UK.

Bodleian Library manuscript finding aids and catalogs

  • Consult the digitized copies of the Quarto catalogues and the Summary catalogues of Western manuscripts, as well as the relevant links under “Western Manuscripts Collections.”

British Library Manuscripts Catalogue

  • The British Library recently migrated their (incomplete) catalog to this new database.

British History Online Founded by the IHR and History of Parliament Trust in 2003, contains a searchable digital library of over 1,260 volumes of key printed primary and secondary sources for the history of Britain and Ireland, primarily between 1300 and 1800.

Connected Histories: British History Sources, 1500-1900 Brings together a range of resources with a single federated search, as well as the ability to save, connect, and share resources.

Folger Library catalog and finding aids

  • In Hamnet, to limit search to manuscripts, search “material type” = “manuscript” under advanced search, or set date and material type limits under “set limits.”

Union First Line Index of Poetry

  • Online database of the first lines of manuscript verse from a range of repositories (in addition to verse from books printed in England from 1475-1700), searchable by first line, last line (in some cases), author, title, gender, repository, and shelfmark (that is, call number). It is also possible to create a list of all of the poetry in a single volume by searching by call number and then sorting the results by folio or page number.

University of Nottingham Library, Department of Manuscripts and Special Collections

  • Manuscript catalog and index to ca. 4500 poems in the Portland (Welbeck) Literary Manuscripts collection. First lines, along with much else, can be searched from the Search the main catalogue > Catalogue Records option (fill in the FirstLine/LastLine field to search a first line).

James Woolley, First-Line Indexes of English Verse, 1650-1800: A Checklist

Peter Beal, Catalogue of English Literary Manuscripts, 1450-1700

  • A greatly enlarged and updated version of the printed Index of English Literary Manuscripts, currently only partially launched. It is arranged by writer and includes valuable introductions and descriptions of all known manuscripts associated with each writer.

Using and interpreting literary and historical manuscripts

The National Archives: Research Guides, A-Z

  • Indispensable for understanding the purposes of different kinds of official documents and figuring out where to find them.

The National Archives. Latin 1086–1733: a practical online tutorial for beginners

  • See the advanced tutorial as well.

Gabriel Heaton, Literary Manuscript Analysis

  • Detailed terminology for describing letter forms and methodology for comparing hands; some links no longer active.

University of Nottingham Manuscripts and Special Collections, Introduction to Skills Resources

  • Content-rich site for understanding deeds and other archival material, as well as dates, weights, and measures.

Olney, RJ. Using Manuscript Sources for British History

  • Required reading before delving into historical sources.

Institute of Historical Research and the History of Parliament Trust. British History Online

  • Searches by place, subject, source, people, or full-text, across a wide array of primary and secondary texts for medieval and modern English history, with frequent additions of new source material, including the Victoria county histories.

Oxford English Dictionary

  • Subscription only. Assists in deciphering and defining obsolete words.

Ian’s English Calendar

  • Quick reference guide for calculating dates in early modern England.