What is palaeography?

Palaeography is the term used to describe the science that studies writing as a creative, human activity, and its relation to cultural history.

Palaeography originated as a support discipline to Diplomatics, the science that studies the documents of kings, popes, and other important people in the Middle Ages. This is why palaeography has long been considered a tool for reading medieval documents.

The application of Palaeography's as a discipline of study to documents dated after the invention of the printing press was, at one point, thought to be minimal. However, the notion that the press is merely an instrument for the mechanical reproduction of writing, that writing is a heritage of man's entry into historical time, and that people have continued to write manually after its invention highlight its continued relevance.[*] Thus, Palaeography can also be seen as a science that studies writing as a technology for communication.

The succesful conquest of the American continent involved not only the occupation of physically delineated territories, but also, it included the vanquishing of the indigeneous cultural strategies such as modes of communication and representation. These were supplanted by others of European origin.

After the burning and destruction of the codices the history of the Amerindian peoples was re-inscribed by people who had very little knowledge of the ancient systems of recording the past. In addition, since it was also assumed that writing systems based on the alphabet were superior to image-based systems of representation, it was easy for them to conclude that the history of the American continent began in 1492.[*]

In this context, the colonization of memory and of the native systems of representation included the utilization of literacy (and of alphabetically-based systems of writing) as strategic weapons of domination.

Some interesting sites about Paleography:

Interpreting Ancient Manuscripts , BROWN UNIVERSITY, by Timothy W. Seid, Ph.D.

Archive of Papers and Watermarks in Greek Manuscripts, BATES COLLEGE, by Associate Professor Robert Allison and Research Fellow Ektaktikos.

Manuscripts, Paleography, Codicology , GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY.

Digital Scriptorium, by Jesse D. Hurlbut, BRIGHAM YOUNG UNIVERSITY.

Click here to read an essay on Palaeography by Julian Brown.