A Brief History of Penmanship on National Handwriting Day
By JENNIE COHEN
Updated AUG 22, 2018 / original: JAN 23, 2012
Borrowing aspects of the Etruscan alphabet, the ancient Romans were among the first to develop a written script for transactions and correspondence. By the fifth century A.D. it included early versions of lowercase letters and sometimes flowed like modern cursive. After the Roman Empire fell, penmanship became a specialized discipline that primarily blossomed in monastic settings, specifically the medieval scriptoria that churned out Christian and classical texts across Europe. Styles varied widely by region, however, so in the late eighth century Charlemagne tasked an English monk with standardizing the craft. Influenced by Roman characters, Carolingian miniscule was designed for maximum legibility and featured lowercase letters, word separation and punctuation.
As the price of parchment and demand for books soared in the later Middle Ages, a denser style of writing evolved for European languages. Johannes Gutenberg used this Gothic approach for his printing press in the mid-15th century. Italian humanists soon revolted against the heavy look by reverting to a more Carolingian script and inventing a cursive form of it, known as Italic. Elegant handwriting emerged as a status symbol, and by the 1700s penmanship schools had begun educating generations of master scribes.
National Handwriting Day
January 23 at 6pm EST
During the United States’ infancy, professional penmen were responsible for copying official documents, including the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Among amateurs, meanwhile, signature handwriting styles became associated with various professions and social ranks; women and men were also expected to embrace flourishes unique to their sex. In the mid-1800s an abolitionist and bookkeeper named Platt Rogers Spencer attempted to democratize American penmanship by formulating a cursive writing system, known as the Spencerian method and taught by textbook, that many schools and businesses quickly adopted. (Ornate and sinuous, it can be seen in the original Coca-Cola logo.)
By the turn of the century, an approach introduced by Austin Norman Palmer replaced the Spencerian method in American classrooms, where students learned to form loopy characters between horizontal lines on chalkboards; its predecessor, D’Nealian script, originated in the 1970s and was designed to ease the transition from printing to cursive writing. Another handwriting style, developed by Charles Zaner and Elmer Bloser for elementary-aged children, dominated textbooks for much of the 20th century.
As typewriters and word processors swept the business world, schools began to eliminate penmanship classes, and by the 1980s many U.S. children received little formal training. (This was not the case in many European countries, where students are given rigorous handwriting instruction to this day.) While penmanship studies haven’t completely disappeared from the American curriculum, schoolchildren today spend more time mastering typing and computer skills than the neat, standardized cursive of their parents and grandparents. As early as 1955, the Saturday Evening Post had dubbed the United States a “nation of scrawlers,” and studies show that handwriting abilities have largely declined since then.
Bemoaned by many (but not all) educators, the loss of penmanship as a requisite skill inspired the Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association (WIMA) to create National Handwriting Day in 1977. According to the group’s website, the holiday offers “a chance for all of us to re-explore the purity and power of handwriting.” How can you celebrate? The WIMA suggests you pick up a pen or pencil and put it to paper—so get off the computer and start writing!
While today we can get machines to write for us, for most of human history, writing was a manual endeavor. And there are people who are super passionate about keeping it that way. Some schools are building handwriting requirements into their curriculums, although even the positive research results on the benefits of handwriting over typing aren’t big enough to be super conclusive, and some studies find that cursive, in particular, probably isn’t any better than other methods of putting words to paper. But handwriting has a long and storied tradition in human history, and if only for that reason, it’s not going away anytime soon. In honor of National Handwriting Day, here are some facts about handwriting through the ages, courtesy of Anne Trubek’s recently published book The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting.
1. THE WORLD’S FIRST WRITING SYSTEM WAS TINY.
Cuneiform, the Sumerian writing system that emerged from Mesopotamia 5000 years ago, was usually etched into clay tablets that were often only a few inches wide. Trubek describes most of the Cuneiform tablets she handled at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York as being only half the size of her iPhone. “Find the second portrait of Lincoln on the penny,” a Morgan Library curator told her. “You know, the one of his statue inside the Lincoln Memorial on the obverse? That’s how small the script can be.”
2. MEDIEVAL WRITING WAS REGIONAL.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, different scripts developed regionally as writers embellished and tweaked existing systems to create their own styles. However, this made books a little hard to read for those not educated in that exact script. All books were written in Latin, but the letters were so different that many scribes couldn’t read writing from other regions.
3. THERE IS AN ENTIRE FILED DEVOTED TO READING HANDWRITING.
Don’t feel bad if you can’t decipher other people’s writing easily. “The truth is, most of us already cannot read 99 percent of the historic record,” Trubek writes. Paleographers study for years to specialize in particular scripts used in a certain time and certain context, such as medieval book scripts or 18th century legal documents. “In other words,” Trubek points out, “even someone whose life work is dedicated to reading cursive cannot read most cursive.”
4. CHARLEMAGNE WAS A STICKLER FOR HANDWRITING.
The emperor—who was largely illiterate himself—decreed in the 9th century that the same script be used across the Holy Roman Empire, an area that covered most of Western Europe. Called Carolingian minuscule, the uniform script dominated writing in France, Germany, Northern Italy, and England until the 11th century. The Gothic script we associate with medieval times today is a derivation of Carolingian minuscule that popped up during the 12th century. It was later revived in the 15th century, and became the basis for Western typography.
5. MONKS WERE NOT FANS OF PRINTING PRESSES.
The 15th century monk Johannes Trithemius defended the need for handwriting in his essay “In Praise of Scribes.” He claimed that while scripture could last 1000 years, the printed book was “thing of paper and in a short time will decay entirely.” Printing would make books unsightly and introduce spelling errors, and he predicted that history would judge “the manuscript book superior to the printed book.” It had nothing to do with him losing his once-steady job to a machine, no. Indeed, Martin Luther complained of books much like people today complain about the quality of writing online, saying “the multitude of books is a great evil. There is no measure or limit to this form of writing.”
6. THE FIRST FONT WAS VERY SCRIPT-LIKE.
The first printed books were designed to look a whole lot like the manuscripts of that day, so as not to shock people with newfangled design. Johannes Gutenberg and his hired craftsmen hand-carved an elaborate Gothic script into 290 unique characters for the printing press, allowing the printer to recreate every letter in upper- and lowercase, as well as punctuation, so that the type looked just like what a scribe would make. The first letters of every section were even red, just like manuscript style dictated.
7. HISTORICALLY, HANDWRITING PROFESSIONALS WERE QUITE UPWARDLY MOBILE.
When printing put scribes out of work, they instead became teachers, tutoring and writing books on penmanship. These writing masters became wealthy professionals in a way that they had never been as simple scribes. When businesses and governments began hiring secretaries for the first time, who would take dictation and have a working knowledge of several different scripts, it became an unusually effective way to rise up the class ranks in medieval Europe. The papal secretary was the highest position a commoner could occupy in society.
8. IN THE 17TH CENTURY, HANDWRITING WAS PERSONALLY REVEALING.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, different scripts became more than just a sign of where you learned. Specific scripts were established for classes and professions, and even for gender. Wealthy Europeans would use one script for their personal correspondence and another for their legal and business correspondence. A whole host of scripts in England were developed just for court use, making many documents completely illegible to anyone not trained in that specific style of writing.
9. PUNCTUATION WAS RARE UNTIL THE 18TH CENTURY.
Before literacy became widespread, spelling varied widely from person to person, and nothing was standardized. It became uniform over time, and the first dictionaries weren’t published until the 17th century. Even then, standardized spelling didn’t become regular for another century. Punctuation was even worse, remaining “largely nonexistent or nonstandardized,” according to Trubek, until the 18th century.
Source: mental floss
Facts And History Of Graphology
Not much is known about the history of graphology before he seventeenth century, except that for hundreds of years, Chinese scholars already knew that the way a person wrote revealed much about that person’s character. In 1622, the first known published book on graphology emerged. The book was written by Camillo Baldi, an Italian doctor of medicine and philosophy (and professor at the University of Bologna).
It wasn’t until much later though, that the word “graphology” appeared. It was coined by Jean Michon, a Frenchman, in the 1870s. His many years of research on handwriting analysis were first published n 1872 and are still required reading for serious students of graphology. From that time forward, an interest in graphology spread throughout Europe. As a result of the strong European interest, leading universities began to offer a Ph.D. or Master’s degree in graphology through their psychology departments.
Perhaps the greatest advancement for graphology, however, was near the turn of the century when psychology emerged as a profession. Since 1895, over 2,200 researchers have been published on this subject in medical, educational and psychological journals. Interestingly, much of the recent research, as well as the utilization of graphology, still lies in Europe.
In a 16-year study conducted by psychologist Herb Greenburg, President of Marketing Research and Survey Corporation, the question was asked: “What is the most important factor in job success?” After reviewing 350,000 employees at more than 7,000 companies, the study determined that: “Personality is the single most important factor in job success – not education, not experience, not age, gender, race.”