Eric (October 28th, 2008): Over the past few weeks, I have been working with Professor Homza and three other students to prepare myself to do archival research in Pamplona, Spain over William and Mary’s spring break. Along with the other students through the guidance of our professor, I am acquiring a familiarity with the historical time-period (the early modern period) in Europe as a whole and Spain in particular. I took Professor Homza’s class Golden Age Spain last spring and am currently enrolled in her European Renaissance class. Additionally, I conducted a Monroe scholars research project on clerical residence in sixteenth century Spain this past summer, utilizing primary source documents in sixteenth century Spanish print and secondary source material from various libraries. To ensure that I have the necessary skills to carry out my archival research, Professor Homza has spent an hour with us each Tuesday to study paleography: in this case Spanish print and handwriting.
How has my experience been so far? The work with Spanish print in the last few weeks has not been overwhelming, as I have been exposed to reading sixteenth century Spanish print from the work I did this past summer. Professor Homza has given us inquisition documents, ranging from trials of conversos (Jewish converts to Christianity or their descendants) and moriscos (Muslim converts to Christianity or their descendants) to suspected witches. The content of such trials fascinates me, so I have been intrigued. It is interesting to note how many of the popular conceptions of the devil are somewhat loosely based on historical accounts, such as witch preoccupation with toads or the casting of spells and poisoning food (and pretty much everything else).
As for the text itself, sixteenth century Spanish contains a number of spelling differences from the modern. However, the differences are not as acute as I thought they would be. Some printed letters are represented by different letters, such as a x for the letter j in some words. Further, some Spanish words in early modern print are no longer in common usage. It helps to read the texts aloud and gather the meaning from context.
This past week, we have begun to look a handwriting. While the handwriting is small, the documents I have studied so far are relatively legible (more so than my own handwriting). However, the presentation of many letters and words is quite different from print or modern Spanish, so it is hard to comprehend some of the words. Additionally, having not looked at handwriting before, I am unused to such documents. As with the print, I know it is a matter of time before I will be able to decipher some of the words. A helpful strategy is to look at the letter I cannot determine in other words that I have determined. Again, reading aloud helps. Some words are abbreviated and many letters take interesting forms. One of my biggest challenges is to separate words, as often times there is no space between different words. Overall, it has been an engaging and motivating experience.