Reading the Past: Introduction to Writing, Making and Keeping Medieval Records


This weekend will enable those keen to undertake research using original historical documents to begin reading the scripts used prior to 1500. This will help participants to unlock a huge wealth of material which can be used in local, family and social history. We will look in detail at the main scripts in use across this period.

The principal focus will be on documents written in Latin, although some in English will also be studied. The weekend will also cover the historical development of palaeography (study of handwriting) and diplomatic (study of documents and recordkeeping). The course will provide the opportunity to cover both theoretical and practical aspects of reading medieval handwriting.

The tutor is an experienced archivist and she will use documents from collections she has worked with as examples. Teaching methods will range from short lecture-style talks on theory and historical context, as well as in-depth practical sessions focusing on reading documents, either individually, in pairs or as a class.

We will cover a wide range of document typessuch as property records (such as deeds/charters and manorial documents), correspondence (such as the Paston Letters) and accounts. We will also look at strategies and tips as well as key reference resources.

No prior knowledge is assumed, and those who already have some experience of medieval palaeography will also find this course a useful refresher and an opportunity to develop their reading skills further. No prior knowledge of Latin is required, although this will be useful.

Places will be strictly limited to 18 participants, so early booking is advised.

Programme details

Saturday 15 January 2022

9.45am  Registration

10.00am  Introduction to medieval palaeography

11.00am  Coffee/tea

11.30am  Letter shapes; Transcription

1.00pm  Lunch

2.00pm  Practical 1: English correspondence

3.30pm  Coffee/tea

4.00pm  Abbreviations and dating documents

5.30pm  Course ends for the day

7.00pm  Dinner

Sunday 16 January 2022

8.00am  Breakfast (residents only)

10.00am  Introduction to making and keeping medieval records; The Ideal Diploma

11.00am  Tea/coffee

11.30am  Practical 2: deeds and charters

1.00pm  Lunch

2.00pm  Practical 3: accounts

3.30pm  Tea/coffee

4.00pm  Practical 4:  manorial records; Further resources

5.00pm  Course Disperses


Description Costs
Tuition (includes coffee/tea) £145.00
Baguette Saturday £5.50
Baguette Sunday £5.50
Dinner Saturday evening £22.00
Full Hot Lunch Saturday (3 courses) £16.00
Full Hot Lunch Sunday (3 courses) £16.00
Single B&B Saturday Night £88.00
Twin/Double Room (2 sharing) B&B Saturday night £126.00


If you are in receipt of a UK state benefit you may be eligible for a reduction of 50% of tuition fees.

If you do not qualify for the concessionary fee but are experiencing financial hardship, you may still be eligible for financial assistance.

Concessionary fees for short courses


Dr Charlotte Berry

Course Tutor

Charlotte qualified as an archivist in 2001 and is a Fellow of the Archives and Records Association. She was previously Archivist at Magdalen College Oxford and is now Archives Manager at the University of Warwick.

Course aims

To gain a practical and theoretical understanding of reading medieval handwriting prior to 1500.

Course objectives:

To enable students to recognise medieval scripts and transcribe them accurately; To enable students to practise and develop their palaeographical skills; To enable students to acquire understanding of the historical context of a range of document types.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course, students will be able to:

1. recognise and read letter shapes;

2. understand dating and abbreviation methods;

3. be confident in starting to read and understand original documents prior to 1500;

4. utilise strategies in reading and analysing unfamiliar original texts

Level and demands

No prior knowledge is assumed for this course, so it is suitable for absolute beginners. We will make rapid progress throughout the weekend, so this course is also suitable for those with some existing knowledge who would like the opportunity to practise and develop their medieval skills further with a wide range of original document types.

No prior knowledge of Latin is required, although this may be useful.


Accommodation for this weekend is at Rewley House for Saturday night only.

Depending on availability it may also be possible to extend your stay, please enquire at the time of booking for availability and prices.

All bedrooms are modern, comfortably furnished and each room has tea and coffee making facilities, Freeview television, and Free WiFi and private bath or shower rooms.