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Transcribe Bentham: A Collaborative Initiative

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Help:Palaeography Skills

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Palaeography Skills: Tips for Reading Old Handwriting

Reading and transcribing historical documents can seem daunting at first. Here are some tips to help you.


Be aware that in the past spelling was inconsistent. Always transcribe the spelling you see in front of you and do not attempt to translate the word. Here are some examples of Bentham’s alternative spellings.


Bentham also coined many new words. Some of these, like ‘international’, we still use today, but many words are unusual and particular to Bentham. Try to represent the word as faithfully as possible. See a list of Bentham’s neologisms.


Letters were often represented with certain flourishes we do not use today. For example, Bentham usually wrote the letter 'd' with a swirl to the left.

A double 's', as in the word ‘necessary’, was represented as follows:


Take a look at further Examples of Bentham's handwriting .

Helpful Hints

If you are finding it difficult to make out a particular word, try the following:

  • try to make sense of the context in which the word appears
  • break the word down and read it letter by letter
  • compare individual letters in the word to others letters elsewhere in the document
  • magnify or minimise the document to view the word from a different perspective
  • take a look at a completely transcribed page (such as JB/027/162/001) for help
  • have a break and come back to the word later

The manuscripts have been categorised by difficulty level. If you are a beginner, select a manuscript from the Easy category to start off with. Remember, the more you read the easier it becomes!

Further Advice

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