Legible - History - Western Handwriting

Western Handwriting

For more details on this topic, see Palaeography.

The Romans in Southern Italy eventually adopted the Greek alphabet as modified by the Etruscans to develop Latin writing. Like the Greeks, the Romans employed stone, metal, clay, and papyrus as writing surfaces. Handwriting styles which were used to produce manuscripts included square capitals, rustic capitals, uncials, and half-uncials. Square capitals were employed for more formal texts based on stone inscriptional letters while rustic capitals freer, compressed, and efficient. Uncials were rounded capitals (majuscules) that originally were developed by the Greeks in the third century BC, but became popular in Latin manuscripts by the fourth century AD. Roman cursive or informal handwriting started out as a derivative of the capital letters, though the tendency to write quickly and efficiently made the letters less precise. Half-uncials (minuscules) were lower case letters, which eventually became the national hand of Ireland. Other combinations of half-uncial and cursive handwriting developed throughout Europe, including Visigothic, and Merovingian.

At the end of the eighth century, Charlemagne decreed that all writings in his empire were to be written in a standard handwriting, which came to be known as Carolingian minuscule. Alcuin of York was commissioned by Charlemagne to create this new handwriting, which he did in collaboration with other scribes and based on the tradition of other Roman handwriting. Carolingian minuscule was used to produce many of the manuscripts from monasteries until the eleventh century and most lower-case letters of today's European scripts derive from it.

Gothic or black-letter script, evolved from Carolingian, became the dominant handwriting from the twelfth century until the Italian Renaissance (1400 AD – 1600 AD). This script was not as clear as the Carolingian, but instead was narrower, darker, and denser. Because of this, the dot above the i was added in order to differentiate it from the similar pen strokes of the n, m, and u. Also, the letter u was created as separate from the v, which had previously been used for both sounds. Part of the reason for such compact handwriting was to save space, since parchment was expensive. Gothic script, being the writing style of scribes in Germany when Gutenberg invented movable type, became the model for the first type face. Another variation of Carolingian minuscule was created by the Italian humanists in the fifteenth century, called by them littera antiqua and now called humanist minuscule. This was a combination of Roman capitals and the rounded version of Carolingian minuscule. A cursive form eventually developed and it became increasingly slanted due to the quickness with which it could be written. This manuscript handwriting, called cursive humanistic, became known as the typeface Italic used throughout Europe.

Copperplate engraving influenced handwriting as it allowed penmanship copybooks to be more widely printed. Copybooks first appeared in Italy around the sixteenth century; the earliest writing manuals were published by Sigismondo Fanti and Ludovico degli Arrighi. Other manuals were produced by Dutch and French writing masters later in the century, including Pierre Hamon. However, copybooks only became commonplace in England with the invention of copperplate engraving. Engraving could better produce the flourishes in handwritten script, which helped penmanship masters to produce beautiful examples for students. Some of these early penmanship manuals included those of Edward Cocker, John Seddon, and John Ayer. By the eighteenth century, schools were established to teach penmanship techniques from master penmen, especially in England and the United States. Penmanship became part of the curriculum in American schools by the early 1900s, rather than just reserved for specialty schools teaching adults penmanship as a professional skill. Several different penmanship methods have been developed and published, including Spencerian, Getty-Dubay, Barchowsky Fluent Handwriting, Icelandic (Italic), Zaner-Bloser, and D’Nealian methods among others used in American education.

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