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French Renaissance Paleography


The handwriting of earlier times is often very beautiful, but sometimes difficult to read. This paleography website presents French manuscripts written between 1300 and 1700, with tools for deciphering them and learning about their social, cultural, and institutional settings. The site provides integrated access to an archive of historically significant, visually captivating manuscripts held by the Newberry Library and other North American repositories. It is intended for many types of users: scholars preparing to undertake research in French-language archives; students studying French history and culture; curators and archivists who work with manuscripts; calligraphers and graphic designers interested in historical scripts and decorative practices; and anyone who would like to experiment with transcribing early French documents.


Via interactive maps, faceted browsing, and keyword searches, users can explore more than 100 manuscript documents written between 1300 and 1700, page through a dozen historical calligraphy books, and view a half-dozen historical maps. Reference materials include dictionaries, glossaries, abbreviation guides, information about French scripts and hands, an introduction to manuscript preservation, and other resources.

Users can practice transcribing the manuscript documents using a customized version of the T-PEN transcription tool. Transcription keys are provided for some sections of the manuscripts leaving other sections available for individual practice and collaborative work. With the group work function, students can share practice transcriptions with each other, and teachers can assign manuscripts to individual students or groups of students.


This project was supported by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.


The Newberry Library
University of Toronto Libraries
The Center for Digital Humanities at Saint Louis University


The Newberry Library
Columbia University Rare Book and Manuscript Library
DePaul University Special Collections and Archives
Folger Shakespeare Library
Houghton Library, Harvard University
The Huntington Library
The J. Paul Getty Museum
The Morgan Library and Museum
Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library
Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto

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