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Using Resources

Understanding manuscripts & archives

Reading documents: language

The majority of documents and manuscripts from the early and medieval periods are in Latin. There is a fair amount of surviving material from this time held in collections across the UK. You will need some basic knowledge of the Latin language as well as of the most widely used Medieval Latin abbreviations to make sense of particular documents.

During the high and later medieval periods documents were also written in Old and Middle English, as well as in other old European vernaculars. You may also find a good number of Byzantine manuscripts in Medieval Greek. The greatest number of existing manuscripts and archives are, however, ‘modern’, dating from the 17th century to the present time. Many repositories will have documents and manuscripts written entirely or partially in French, German, Italian and Spanish.


Online language tutorials may be a good place to start learning the fundamentals of a language you require for reading manuscripts. Here are some useful links:

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