Historian Wanted: Cursive illiterates need not apply?

If several recent pieces in the media are any indication, I’m not the only one to notice how none of our students write their exams in cursive these days. Various commentators have naturally tied this to declining educational standards, specifically abandoning instruction in writing cursive. I’ve never been one to mindlessly insist on doing things the ‘old-fashioned’ way, but the following article from Inside Higher Ed brings it a bit closer to where historians live with the following claim:

One unexpected consequence of cursive’s decline shows up among recent graduate students working in archives. Those unable to write cursively, often experience difficulty reading the script of others. That was difficult enough in past times, but what we are seeing now is quasi-illiteracy in all things cursive. If a document hasn’t been transcribed, students won’t use it. Need I remind humanities professors how few documents have been transcribed?”


Whether this is verifiably true or not I’ll leave to the experimentalists, but I wouldn’t be surprised. In the Comments section, Kate Gladstone adds some historical perspective, going all Renaissance on cursive’s ass.

All of which prompts me to post a related graphic from my Historical Research and Writing class, reminding (undergraduate) students that almost all of the primary sources they will encounter are but the tip of the iceberg, and that they should give some thought as to why those sources and not others were deemed publish-worthy:

Types of Historical Sources

Types of Historical Sources



One response to “Historian Wanted: Cursive illiterates need not apply?”

  1. Björn Thegeby says :

    I’ll see your cursive and raise you Dutch notary script!

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