July 2019

Can You Read This?

Handwriting Artifact

Penmanship and handwriting can play an interesting role in understanding many documents in our archival collections. Many important primary documents were handwritten in different scripts that can be challenging to read.  From the mid to late 19th century, attempts were made to standardize penmanship.  One such system was the Palmer Method which created italic, cursive writing. Austin Palmer developed this method for a quicker, more efficient way of writing for the business world. His system was adopted for use in both business and primary schools across America from approximately the early 1900s to the 1950s.

These two small books explained the proper way to write and included lessons on correct posture, writing movement, strokes, and drills. They also provided examples of different sentences a person could mimic in order to practice the Palmer method.

The 1960s through the 1980s saw a new method of teaching penmanship which eased the transition from printing to cursive writing. Today, cursive writing is not always included in school curriculum, with many children concentrating on keyboard skills instead of penmanship lessons. The inability to read cursive, especially by those involved in museums or archives, or those needing to read primary documents, prevents individuals from being able to fully appreciate historical resources in their original format.

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