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What is paleography?

Paleography is the history and study of handwriting. Old scripts can be sometimes quite difficult to read. Below is a selection of websites in English, French, Spanish and German with tools for deciphering old texts.


From the University of Leeds (2013), this app provides practice in the transcription of a wide range of medieval hands, from the twelfth to the late fifteenth century. Users can examine 26 selected manuscripts, zoom in on individual words, attempt transcription and receive immediate feedback. They can optionally compare their transcription with a full transcript. The user's transcripts can be saved and reopened. The saved transcripts are accessible via File Sharing in iTunes.

From King's College, London, a resource for the study of paleography and diplomatic, mainly of Anglo-Saxon and early Norman manuscripts. Includes a large selection of digitized documents from this era.

From the National Archives, a set of interactive transcription exercises, a whole bunch of extra images of documents with transcriptions to practice in your own way, and some concise background information.

From the Institute of Historical Research, University of London, a free introductory online course which leads to more advanced courses if you want to learn more about paleography.

From Brigham Young University. A work in progress which aims to teach paleography of scripts in various languages post 1500. Provides transcribed examples and interactive exercises.

A useful tool for Latin paleographers. If you are stuck on one or two difficult letters in a word, or just can't untangle those rows of minims, you can type the word into a text box with wildcard characters and it will come up with a list of suggestions for you.


This site presents over 100 carefully selected French manuscripts written between 1300 and 1700 ordered by reading difficulty.

From the Ecole national des chartes at the Sorbonne in Paris. This site allows you to work interactively through various examples of book and document scripts, mainly drawn from facsimiles.

Simple introduction to paleography, in French, with exercises downloadable in Acrobat or Postscript format, mainly early modern rather than medieval.

A set of interactive reading and transcription exercises from the 9th to the 15th centuries, in Latin and French, graded by difficulty. There are links to digital images or catalog descriptions from institutions holding the original manuscript. This is the English language version.



An interactive learning tool for manuscripts written in Spanish from the late 15th century to the 18th. There are links to printed resources and online materials.

A very brief introduction to Spanish paleography, mainly of the Early Modern period.


An introduction to archives and the reading of documents, using examples from the archives of the Benedictine monastery of Einsiedeln in Switzerland. The transcription exercises are very sophisticated, correcting your transcript, providing hints and correcting words when you mouse over the page, and interacting with your transcript. Requires some German language (although the interface is intuitive) and a Shockwave plugin. You must register a password, but access is free. There is now an App Fontes for your mobile phone.