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Archival Skills: Language

Guide to the skills required to work successfully with archives including palaeography, archaic terms and spelling, historical dates, weights and measures, language, and transcription.

“There's no such thing as dead languages, only dormant minds”

Carlos Ruiz Zafron, The Shadow of the Wind 

Introduction to language

Latin was the official language of the legal profession in England until 1733. Researchers of the Early Modern period are, therefore, likely to encounter Latin documents at some point when using archival material.

It is common to find records such as deeds, registers, wills and court papers written in Latin well in to the 16th century. These records tend to have a standardised structure that employs set phrases. Understanding key set phrases employed in different record types can help researchers to pinpoint pertinent information within a document, without having to understand every word that is written.

From the late 16th century, it becomes more common to find such records in English; although some habits persists, such as the use of Latin dates and Latinised English names.

Therefore, whilst it is not necessary to be a Latin scholar to study the Early Modern period, some of the resources outlined below can be helpful.

Land transaction (deed) in Latin

Online resources and tutorials

Recommended books and eBooks from our collections