Much of the study of digital paleography comes down to guesswork – just one of the many fascinating narratives shared by Dr Stewart Brookes, a Lyell Fellow in Latin Palaeography at the Bodleian Library and the Dilts Fellow in Palaeography at Lincoln College, Oxford, who enthralled Sixth Formers with his candid insight into the fantastic world of palaeography – the study of ancient writing systems and the deciphering and dating of historical manuscripts.
The aim of our Sixth Form lectures is to stretch and challenge our students and to shine a light on a range of topics that go beyond the curriculum to encourage students to think differently. We were delighted therefore to welcome Dr Brookes to St Helen’s to speak about his deep connection with this area of research and how he was motivated to study English Literature at university where he found he could study myths and literature works such as Ovid in their original language, which had inspired him as a child.
He gave an impassioned lecture on the medieval history of the book and reading to dispel the myth that communities living in the Dark Ages were illiterate. He showed examples of manuscripts that were written and produced as early as the 7th century, many of which highlighted every day life from common practices in health to cure an ailment to rent collecting, all recorded on parchment which was a rare commodity.
With only 5% of manuscripts having survived, Dr Brookes spent 5 years building a digital platform to make these incredible works more readily accessible. And by making this digital resource widely available more people can now explore the wonderful world of ancient writing and study diagnostics that enable us to learn more about how writing has changed over time.