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Palaeography at the Ecole National de Chartres

Old Members’ Trust Graduate Travel Fund Report – Clare Burgess (2020, MSt History)

I was granted £500 from the Old Members’ Trust Graduate Conference and Academic Travel Grant in August of 2021. This money was essential in allowing me to travel to France and attend a palaeography course at the Ecole National de Chartres in Paris.

As a first year DPhil student, it is important that I begin to develop the skills which will facilitate my research for the coming years. I study sixteenth century history, specifically in the French and Iberian contexts, and thus a large part of my research will involve visiting archives and reading handwritten sources. These sources are often written in ‘secretary hand’, a form of writing used in early modern Europe to enable quick and efficient record keeping – for example in court records and receipts. I will be studying sex workers, which means I will rely heavily on court records, lists of fines, censuses, etc, most of which are written in secretary hand. Unfortunately, the University of Oxford does not currently offer a French palaeography course, only an English one, meaning that whilst I had a basic grasp of palaeography, I was lacking knowledge of French specificities. To the best of my knowledge, there is no such course on offer in the UK, and the Chartres course came highly recommended by professors in the French department. It is a well-respected course with a high standard and was enormously useful to me.

The three-day course covered texts from the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and gave me the skills I will need to study my sources. It involved transcribing texts from these eras, learning about the developments in written culture, and the way in which certain records might differ. I was also taught about the common abbreviations and shorthand used, many of which derive from Latin and are almost unintelligible to the untrained scholar.

The travel grant enabled me to pay the 315 euros for the course, as well as the travel to Paris and a hotel while I was there. As term has yet to begin, I had not received my scholarship money so the £500 given to me by the grant was the only way I could afford the trip. It was an invaluable help which will allow me to hit the ground running with my DPhil, and the skills I learned will be in use for years to come.

I am extremely grateful to the Old Members who made this possible, and can testify first-hand to the important contribution the fund makes to scholarly life at Univ.

Find out more about the range of travel grants and scholarships available to assist Univ students on our Travel Grants page or read further travel reports.

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