The dying art of reading handwriting

Spending time in the reading room of State Records NSW at Kingswood and the State Library NSW can be an educational experience.

I sometimes come across university history students looking for convict indent records as part of an assignment, and I help them when I can with the finding and the printing. The surprising thing to me was that they can’t read the records!

It’s not beautiful writing, but that isn’t the problem. The style of writing I was taught at school in the late 1960s was called Modified Cursive. Or running writing. Joined-up writing. The pen doesn’t leave the paper until the end of each word.

Kids don’t seem to learn to write like this at school any more. I have no idea why, but they learn to write in a way that we used to call “printing”. Where each letter is separated from the next. Block letters.

Perhaps it’s easier for kids to learn. Or for teachers to read. They learn to type and use computers and calculators, and never have to write a lot, or write quickly. I don’t know why it changed, or what most of the consequences are.

So what’s going to happen in the future?

We often hear about the Death of Microfilm and how all these records that have been preserved on microfilm will be unreadable in 50 years unless we transfer them to another media because we won’t have microfilm readers, or the spare parts for them.

Never mind the media, it seems to me that even if they are all digitised in the next 5 years we will still have a problem.

Who’s going to be able to read them?

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