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HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

HISTORY OF ITALIAN HANDWRITING


Italian documents from the period 1500 to 1800 can be divided into categories based on the handwriting style used:

  • Gothic or its less legible derivative, Secretary or Court hand style, which had developed throughout Europe in the thirteenth century, is rarely seen in Italian manuscripts after 1500.
  • Humanistic style replaced the Gothic style in the early fifteenth century. This new hand was consciously developed by Italian Humanists from Carolingian, the eighth century script of Charlemagne's empire. From Italy, use of this lovely Humanistic script spread, both in book hand and cursive, to other countries in Europe where it was often known as Italic or Humanistic in recognition of its Italian origins.
  • Documents written in earlier Latin handwriting styles such as Carolingian, Uncial or Half Uncial often appear in parish records, depending on the preference and writing experience of the priest or scribe.

View samples of these different styles

YES, you can!

In reading an old document written in any language the first attitude to develop is one of confidence. This site will emphasize that, with practice, anyone can learn to read any documents written in Italian. Likewise reading parish records from the 1500s or 1600s can be learned and, with patience and practice, longer narrative documents such as wills, can be mastered.

Looking at the sample of Itálica writing in Figure 1 should reassure the reader that reading Italian documents in the Itálica handwriting style, especially those that are of a short format which regularly repeats, such as parish sacramental records, can be mastered by anyone with practice. For those with a little fluency in Italian, the ability to extract data from longer documents in Itálica with a short repetitive format, can be mastered with patience and study.

This study only deals with documents written in Italian. Although many different dialects and languages are spoken in Italy, such as Sicilian and Sardinian, most records are written in Italian with influences of the regional dialects. Furthermore, documents may appear in Latin in different areas of Italy until at least 1950. Learning to read documents in those languages is beyond the scope of this site. For more information regarding the challenge that language diversity may present, please read the Challenges section of this site.

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