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Rare Hands: How, Where, and What People Wrote with Marc Smith

July 26th, 2021

From Roman inscriptions to digital typography, the study of handwriting and Latin scripts spans centuries and requires a deep knowledge of materials from copper plates to parchment, rings, wax and digital tablets. Join us today as our host Sandra Hindman sits down with Marc Smith, Professor of Paleography at the Ecole des Chartes in Paris to explore the history of handwriting. Have you ever wondered who studies the history and art of handwriting? How did medieval people learn to write, and why has handwriting fallen out of contemporary school curricula? What is the relationship between handwriting and renaissance ring inscriptions? Were medieval scribes ever left handed? You will find answers to these questions and many others in today’s podcast.


As one of the few outstanding professional paleographers in France, Marc is known for his creativity and desire to take on unusual paleographical projects. Today, he discusses some of his more eclectic pursuits with Sandra, including his collaboration with Les Enluminures on some particularly difficult inscriptions found on rings and jewelry. They discuss iconographic rings, gothic handwriting and the possible reasons why metalsmiths might employ such difficult lettering for the inscriptions of these tiny, intimate objects. The discussion ends with a few tantalizing thoughts about the future of paleography as well as the importance of how interdisciplinary work at the intersection of paleography and linguistics might lead to reforms of contemporary writing systems.

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