1. How to use the course
The English Handwriting 1500-1700 course has been designed for flexibility in an attempt to serve the needs of beginners and more experienced researchers alike. There are a number of ways in which you might approach the materials presented here, depending on whether you require information from the ground up or merely a convenient reference/practice resource.
The 'historical introduction' with Billingsley's Pens Excellencie are resources that might be consulted at any time, but will, in different ways, provide an introductory overview to the subject of early modern English handwriting.
The pedagogical materials presented in 'transcription conventions' and in 'dating and describing hands' are stiff to digest at a go, but will become handy references to the beginner after a little practice. As models of good practice, they--like the alphabets of letter forms and brevigraphs--will continue to be useful to more experienced, if rusty, manuscript readers. The bibliography and list of links, which will remain current, have been designed to lead students and scholars to other comparable printed and electronic resources, as well as to further topics for more specialized study.
Absolute beginners would do well to start by browsing the transcription conventions and tips on dating and describing hands, attempting to internalize the essential principles of consistency and attention to detail that underlie them. The first exercises in transcription should then follow, probably via the chronologically-ordered 'index of manuscript images'; choose practice manuscripts from a wide array of periods, no matter what your own specialty may be, as you will need to have a command of the development of characteristics and habits across periods in order to achieve facility with transcription and any kind of consistency in dating. Make frequent use of the alphabets during this practice and concentrate on consistency and detail; good habits formed at the start will save immense headaches later!
Those with some experience, and beginners after some practice, might like to steer through the 'course lessons'. Absolute beginners should start with the first lesson and work through in sequence, as the lessons have been designed to build up experience and confidence with some of the trickier issues. Those with some experience might prefer to commence with the difficulty level most suited to their ability. A typical lesson will begin with a transcription, making full use of the alphabets and the image-zoom, and as much help on the thornier problems (using the model transcription) and the dating/describing as necesssary. The lesson test will provide a good indication of the success of preparation and execution, and concludes with suggestions for follow-up, linking to further practice on similar hands from the archive of images.
...and for more experienced hands
Those who are consulting the site to refresh their acquaintance with various hands or periods might prefer to work unfettered through the 'index of images'. As noted above, the pedagogical materials presented in 'transcription conventions' and 'dating and describing hands', along with the alphabets, will remain handy reference tools, while the updated bibliography and list of links should provide a convenient first-stop for those seeking further review material or information on specialist subjects. A quick review of earlier work, or a refresher for those on a tight time schedule, can be had from the 'sample transcriptions', which summarizes the model transcriptions presented in the series of course lessons.
2. How to configure your computer optimally for the course
The careful transcriber will always need plenty of elbow room and a variety of tricks for representing different hands, styles, and details of formatting. Translating these demands to an electronic environment has led us to operate on a high monitor resolution and to enlist the services of some slightly tricky html. Neither of these restrictions is highly desirable, but we have decided, after long consultation with our consciences, that there is no other solution.
Of principal importance:
* The site will not function properly unless your screen resolution is set to 1024 by 768 and most windows are maximized within that space.
If you encounter any difficulties with the course that seem to stem from a configuration problem, please let us know. If you develop any solutions for said problems, we'd like to hear that, too.