Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2019-2020 (archived)

Module HIST42530: Paleography: scribes, script and history from Antiquity to the Renaissance

Department: History

HIST42530: Paleography: scribes, script and history from Antiquity to the Renaissance

Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Available in 2019/20 Module Cap


  • None


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To gain a specialist knowledge of the evolution of hand-writing, particularly book scripts, from the first to the sixteenth century AD, both in Latin and, to some extent, the vernaculars, and to gain experience in reading and transcribing them.


  • The major script types practised during this long period of European history will be examined in chronological order; the forms of writing will be studied in relation to their contexts and functions, and practice will be given in learning how to read them.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • A specialist knowledge of the history of pre-modern western script, and modern scholarship thereon.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Awareness of pre-modern writing practices, letter-forms and abbreviations; knowledge of the modern conventions for transcribing and analysing them.
  • Awareness of, and ability to deploy, modern scholarly techniques and resources for reading, transcribing, dating and placing manuscript text.
  • Subject specific skills for this module can be viewed at: http://www.dur.ac.uk/history.internal/local/PGModuleProformaMap/
Key Skills:
  • Key skills for this module can be viewed at: http://www.dur.ac.uk/history.internal/local/PGModuleProformaMap/

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Student learning is facilitated by a range of teaching methods.
  • Weekly seminars will focus on studying, expounding and reading typical examples of writing for each main period. As appropriate, skills such as decoding abbreviations will be introduced. Seminars and Group Discussion provide students with a forum in which to assess and comment critically on the findings of others, defend their conclusions in a reasoned setting, and advance their knowledge of palaeography.Structured reading requires students to focus on set materials integral to the knowledge and understanding of the module. Use of published collections of facsimiles with transcriptions, and palaeographical manuals, will enable students to practise further with the scripts most relevant to their work and to read further about the development of particular scripts and their cultural contexts, which can then be used and discussed in other areas of the teaching and learning experience.
  • Assessment is by means of a 5000 word exercise embracing transcription and analysis, to demonstrate that the student has acquired adequate skill in reading historic script, and has an understanding of how to analyse the evidence encoded in the appearance of a ‘hand’ or hands. The option of specimens in the vernacular will mean that candidates who are new or relatively new to Latin need not be disadvantaged.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 15 weekly 2 hours 30
Discussion Groups 2 two a term 2 hours 4
Preparation and Reading 266
Total 300

Summative Assessment

Component: Exercise Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 5000 words 100%

Formative Assessment:

Weekly practice in the reading and analysis of historic scripts, discussed and evaluated orally.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University