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A study in ink

Our regular readers may remember that last year we raised £27,724 on Kickstarter to digitise 28,000 documents telling the story of a million war time women. The work began in September and since then we have uncovered interesting, unusual and sometimes very short stories which are regularly posted on Twitter and Facebook. As well as these stories we have also discovered a number of different ink colours, styles of handwriting and spills. This sometimes makes the documents difficult to read but there are skills that can be used to help us interpret and identify them.

Palaeography is the study of ancient and historical handwriting, how it was formed and changed overtime rather than the contents or the meanings of the words themselves. It is also useful alongside the study of diplomatica for dating documents; luckily most of the Narrative Reports are stamped or dated. There are several different types of handwriting studied on Archive courses but modern historians and our team would find the study of secretary and italic more useful than anglicana or gothic. However it could be argued this does not really apply at the time covered in the digitised reports especially those produced on a typewriter. Furthermore standardised handwriting appears to be disappearing at this point (1938-1942); there are many different variations within the collection which you can see in the images throughout this blog. Although in some writing you can still see the use some identifiers of italic. The Centre Organisers were usually middle aged women who were probably taught italic in school. We use these skills to try to read and transcribe documets like the one below or Emma Yellowley's Diary.

                                                                                           

Can you decipher this text? I will provide an answer at the end of next weeks blog. Though perhaps you are more interested in the different colours used in the Narrative Reports.              

We’ve probably all seen the beautifully illuminated documents of the medieval era and may not associate this with modern records; however another thought-provoking study of these documents is the different ways centre organisers or their secretaries chose to write or illustrate these documents. This includes small drawings, poetry or the use of different coloured inks. So far our archives assistant has encountered black and blue as you would expect but also purple and green. This doesn’t only apply to the handwritten documents but those typed on a typewriter. This wouldn’t help us to date or read the documents as coloured inks and dyes have been around for 1000s of years even though they were more expensive and less readily available before the twentieth century. On the other hand the typewriter’s (first invented in 1557) design was standardised by 1910. Though a typed document is easier to read and doesn’t require palaeography skills it can still be used to tell us where a document originated as every typewriter is individual. In our collection of reports there are some centres which continually use a typewriter that punches holes when the o or e key is used. A keen eye may also be required to read slightly blurred type or those which are fading which is why our Kickstarter project is extremely important.

I hope that I have given you some food for thought this week while also providing a challenge. The History of a million wartime women hasn’t only brought a new insight into the role of women on the Homefront but some different perspectives on the look and feel of the documents themselves. It also highlights how significant handwriting and the ability to read it is for archivists offering access to their collections and unlocking them for future generations. Finally, for those of you who know me yes I have been reading Sherlock Holmes novels again and that’s where the inspiration for the title came from.  

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 03 April 2017.

Labels: Ink, , Palaeography, , Narrative Report, , Kickstarter, , WVS, , war