• University of Glasgow

Early Modern Scottish Palaeography: Reading Scotland's Records

Travel back in time through Scottish history by examining early modern Scottish handwriting.

13,055 enrolled on this course

Ayr Kirk Session minute marking the end of 1689
  • Duration

    3 weeks
  • Weekly study

    3 hours

Explore Scottish history and learn more about using historical sources

Palaeography is the study of ancient handwriting and a vital skill in the historian’s toolkit. It is essential when conducting research on early modern Scotland – a period of profound political, religious and social change the effects of which can still be felt today.

On this course you’ll travel back through Scottish history by studying material from the National Records of Scotland and other archives. You’ll explore diverse topics in Scotland’s past, get an introduction to various forms of historical sources and develop your own palaeography skills.

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Skip to 0 minutes and 7 seconds SCOTT SPURLOCK: Paleography is the study of old handwriting, which is of particular interest to students of history, genealogists, family historians, and those who are working on local history. Early modern Scotland produced some of the most detailed and robust records of any European nation. While their survival is not comprehensive, it’s estimated that approximately 2 million pages of highly-detailed local records survive for the period 1560 to 1750, in the weekly Kirk Session meeting minutes alone. These records represent a wealth of detail pertaining to marriages, births, deaths, legal disputes, witch trials, famines, floods, and the list goes on.

Skip to 0 minutes and 50 seconds This level of detail and the robust nature of these records is pretty impressive when we consider that the population of Scotland during this period peaked out at about 1 million people. I’m Doctor Scott Spurlock. And in this course, my colleagues Doctor Lionel Glassey, Dr. Neil McIntyre, and myself will introduce to you the basics of paleography including letter shapes, common contractions, and the configuration and style of sources.

Skip to 1 minute and 16 seconds NEIL MCINTYRE: In addition to the practicalities of deciphering the handwriting itself, this course will also provide an overview of early modern Scottish history in order to describe the society and its structures that produced these invaluable records including church, court, and legal documents. Lionel has five decades of experience teaching paleography and has unlocked the secrets of older handwriting for undergraduate and post-graduate students and members of the general public. He is regularly called upon by scholars and archives to provide advice on particularly difficult documents. I am an early modern historian, and I have completed my doctorate on the early covenanters I’ve designed the Scottish history overview within the course.

Skip to 1 minute and 59 seconds Scott teaches Scottish church history in the theology and religious studies department here at the University of Glasgow. He has been teaching Scottish history for two decades, and like the rest of the team, with historical Scottish documents on a daily basis.

Skip to 2 minutes and 15 seconds SCOTT SPURLOCK: This course is brought to you in collaboration with the national records of Scotland. And we’re grateful for their generosity in allowing us to use materials for the teaching of this programme. We hope you’ll enjoy the course as much as we’ve enjoyed developing it.

What topics will you cover?

  • Learn to read and interpret early modern manuscripts.
  • Obtain specialist skills required to transcribe documents.
  • Develop an understanding of how historical research is conducted.
  • Knowledge of politics, religion and society in early modern Scotland.
  • Become familiar with extant records stored in Scottish archives.
  • Develop expertise in handling the kirk session records of the Church of Scotland.

When would you like to start?

Start straight away and join a global classroom of learners. If the course hasn’t started yet you’ll see the future date listed below.

  • Available now

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • The ability to read and interpret early modern manuscripts.
  • The specialist skills required to transcribe documents.
  • An understanding of how historical research is conducted.
  • Knowledge of politics, religion and society in early modern Scotland.
  • Familiarity with extant records stored in Scottish archives.
  • Expertise in handling the kirk session records of the Church of Scotland.

Who is the course for?

This course is for anyone interested in the history of Scotland, but will be of particular interest to local historians and genealogists.

Who will you learn with?

I am lecturer in Scottish Religious Cultures at the University of Glasgow. My primary area of expertise is the religious and cultural history of early modern Scotland.

I am an Affiliate in Theology and Religious Studies and former Lecturer in Scottish History at the University of Glasgow.

DrJamie Kelly recently received his PhD from University of Glasgow. He is interested in the history of education, language & governance in post-Union Scotland, particularly the Highlands.

Who developed the course?

The University of Glasgow

Founded in 1451, the University of Glasgow is the fourth oldest university in the English-speaking world. It is a member of the prestigious Russell Group of leading UK research universities.

  • Established

  • Location

    Glasgow, Scotland, UK
  • World ranking

    Top 70Source: QS World University Rankings 2020

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