• Length:
    3 Weeks
  • Effort:
    2–3 hours per week
  • Price:

    FREE
    Add a Verified Certificate for $70 USD

  • Institution
  • Subject:
  • Level:
    Introductory
  • Language:
    English
  • Video Transcript:
    English

About this course

Thousands upon thousands of manuscripts written in Latin and other languages remain from the 12th century, when Western Europe saw an unprecedented increase in manuscript production. Of these manuscripts from the middle ages, only a small percentage have been identified, much less edited and published. To explore these fascinating texts, you need to learn the art and science of reading medieval handwriting.

This module of The Book: Histories Across Space and Time introduces students to medieval paleography, the science of reading old handwriting, with a focus on the era of the 12th century. By studying a representative hand in depth, you will learn to read 12th century Transitional Gothic script and decipher the abbreviations that set the pattern of writing for the following centuries before print. We will work with selected manuscripts from Harvard’s Houghton library and enter into the cultural world of the 12th century monasteries and schools. Assessments and quizzes will allow you to track your progress as you move through letter forms and abbreviations to read whole blocks of text.

Some knowledge of Latin will be very helpful for understanding the texts you will read, but students without the necessary language skills will still enjoy this chance to explore 12th century hands.


HarvardX requires individuals who enroll in its courses on edX to abide by the terms of the edX honor code. HarvardX will take appropriate corrective action in response to violations of the edX honor code, which may include dismissal from the HarvardX course; revocation of any certificates received for the HarvardX course; or other remedies as circumstances warrant. No refunds will be issued in the case of corrective action for such violations. Enrollees who are taking HarvardX courses as part of another program will also be governed by the academic policies of those programs.

HarvardX pursues the science of learning. By registering as an online learner in an HX course, you will also participate in research about learning. Read our research statement to learn more.

Harvard University and HarvardX are committed to maintaining a safe and healthy educational and work environment in which no member of the community is excluded from participation in, denied the benefits of, or subjected to discrimination or harassment in our program. All members of the HarvardX community are expected to abide by Harvard policies on nondiscrimination, including sexual harassment, and the edX Terms of Service. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact [email protected] and/or report your experience through the edX contact form.

What you'll learn

  • Transitional Gothic, the script of 12th century  monasteries and school , and the tiny variations of it used for notations and glosses.
  • The basic form of each letter
  • Standard abbreviations
  • Patterns of abbreviation that will allow you to approach the writing of later periods

Meet your instructors

Beverly Mayne Kienzle
John H. Morison Professor of the Practice in Latin and Romance Languages
Harvard University

Pursue a Verified Certificate to highlight the knowledge and skills you gain $70.00

View a PDF of a sample edX certificate
  • Official and Verified

    Receive an instructor-signed certificate with the institution's logo to verify your achievement and increase your job prospects

  • Easily Shareable

    Add the certificate to your CV or resume, or post it directly on LinkedIn

  • Proven Motivator

    Give yourself an additional incentive to complete the course

  • Support our Mission

    EdX, a non-profit, relies on verified certificates to help fund free education for everyone globally