Beinecke Early Modern Puzzles Invite Public to Practice Paleography

February 3, 2020

By Michael Morand

“Steal away from work and study, forsake your crosswords and your spelling bees!” proclaims Kathryn James, curator of early modern books and manuscripts at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, in the invitation to the library’s 2020 Paleographical Challenge, ongoing in conjunction with the current building-wide exhibition, Subscribed: The Manuscript in Britain, 1500-1800, on view through April 19, 2020.
Each weekday since January 29, and continuing through the run of the show, the library is posting an example of handwriting drawn from manuscripts in the exhibition. Participating puzzlers’ task is to read and transcribe the passage for themselves, as accurately as possible. James notes: the subsequent day’s post provides a suggested transcription for puzzlers to check against their own. 
James began the Paleographical Challenge to bring the intense joy (sometimes competitive) of reading manuscripts to people in the interstices of the day: the commute, the coffee break, the pick-up or check-out.  She writes: “Each day of the Paleographical Challenge brings a beautiful detail from a manuscript on view in the exhibition, and held for research in the Beinecke Library collections.  And, of course, each day brings the chance to try to read a new and possibly unfamiliar manuscript!  We hope this challenge will be of interest both to new readers and to people already practiced in paleography.” 

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