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Scottish Handwriting 1: 1500-1700

Course Times & Enrolment

Tuesdays from 27th September 2022 (Code HS231-106) Tuesdays from
27th September 2022 5:30pm - 7:00pm • (10 classes)
National Records of Scotland • Tutor: Samantha Smart BA (Hons) MA PGDip , Jessica Evershed BA (Hons) PG Dip
This course is now closed for enrolments

Course Summary

This course aims to enhance your research skills by introducing you to the transcription of documents from the period of 1500-1700. The course will focus on how to read old handwriting of the period and develop archival research methods.

Please note, this course is held at the National Records of Scotland, General Register House, Princes Street (report to the side door, located to the west side of the building and bring identification).

Course Details

Pre-requisites for enrolment

No previous experience required but some preparation for each class will be necessary.

Special Information

An additional £5 fee is to be paid to the NRS for the use of facilities.

Content of Course

Each class will include: brief contextual lecture on the types of record studied; practical transcription skills developed in small groups with discussion and readings; secretary hand alphabet and early modern writing conventions explored and explained.

Types of records covered in class include:

1. Kirk session minutes.

2. Wills and testaments.

3. Legal documents such as sasines and trial papers.

4. Private letters and accounts.

Teaching method(s)

Brief contextual lectures introduce the documents to be studied closely in class. Small groups are guided through the process of transcribing and reading documents.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  • Handle and transcribe original Scottish documents;

  • Describe and analyse different handwriting styles from 1500-1700;

  • Show familiarity with the NRS catalogues and other materials.


Core Readings

  • Gouldesborough, P., 1985. Formulary of Old Scots Legal Documents. Edinburgh: Stair Society.

  • Robinson, Mairi, 1985. The Concise Scots Dictionary. Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press.

  • Rosie, Alison, 1994. Scottish Handwriting 1500 - 1700: A self-help pack. Edinburgh: Scottish Records Association.

  • Simpson, G., 1998. Scottish Handwriting 1150 – 1650. Edinburgh: Tuckwell Press.

Web Sources

Scottish handwriting website, complete with weekly posers and more extensive tutorials. Also includes a letter finder and useful hints and tips to help readers become familiar with peculiar letterforms.

The Dictionary of the Scots Language (DSL) comprises electronic editions of the two major historical dictionaries of the Scots language: the Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue (DOST) and the Scottish National Dictionary (SND).

Class Handouts

Alphabet, dates, numbers and abbreviation guides are provided at the beginning of each session. Colour copies of each document are provided at each lesson along with a glossary of unusual words and information on the background of the document. Transcriptions of each document are provided once we have finished transcribing the text in class.


If you have questions regarding the course or enrolment, please contact COL Reception at Paterson's Land by email or by phone 0131 650 4400.

Student support

If you have a disability, learning difficulty or health condition which may affect your studies, please let us know by ticking the 'specific support needs' box on your course application form. This will allow us to make appropriate adjustments in advance and in accordance with your rights under the Equality Act 2010. For more information please visit the Student Support section of our website.