History

The history of handwriting goes back thousands of years. For practical purposes you may want to know more about the more recent past, and how it relates to the BFH program--just two thousand years past!

We refer to our western alphabet as Roman, and it is based on the Greek that came before. Because the Roman Empire extended so far, so did its alphabet. Most survives as capitals. You see them all around on buildings and monuments.

We have little evidence of cursive writing at the time, but some survives. Roman soldiers in the field scratched warnings on their possessions that a demon would invade the spirit of a thief, and graffiti exists on some ancient walls. None of the writing is easy to read, but it is definitely cursive. The word has a broader meaning than we usually give it today, where we think of cursive as writing that is joined with loops.

The cursive and basic lowercase letters in the BFH program derive from the italic that developed in the 14th century Renaissance, a time of extraordinary art and learning. Handwriting played a critical role at the time, from formal papal edicts to politically motivated communiques between powerful families and governments. The latter could be quite hurried. Numerous pages exist that reflect both legibility and fluency.

Even with quills as writing tools Renaissance writing appears to flow effortlessly. A quill is pulled down to form letters. Upstrokes must be exceedingly light or ink will spatter everywhere and the quill will possibly break. We have inherited the thick and thin strokes in handwriting, and even in typefaces with the theory that characters are easier to read. Even the type you are reading has a subtle difference in the weight of lines that make up the characters. For handwriting, the rhythm of pull-down, lift-up greatly aids fluency.

Italic handwriting has been the method of choice among some Europeans and Americans ever since the Renaissance. Italic came to the Americas primarily through Spanish conquests.

European events and fashion diminished the use of italic. Several writing methods and styles came on the scene, including copperplate. Beginning in the 16th century copperplate was used to print handwriting books. Copperplate engraving allows for fanciful flourishes made more easily by a burin (incising tool used on metal plates) than by a hand. Fancy writing paralleled the fancy dress and court manners that were in vogue. Writing masters claimed they could instruct students to write beautifully, and so popularized copperplate handwriting.

Gradually characters were simplified. In the latter part of the 19th century the Palmer and Zaner-Bloser methods were developed in the United States. These methods are still in use today, with little modification.

In the first quarter of the 20th century educators concluded that handwriting would be easier for children to learn if the characters looked the same as ones that were in the books that children used for reading. A few years later educators decided that print-script was not suitable for grown-up writing, so they looked to the conventional cursive of the 19th century. Now many children are taught print-script first. Then in second or third grades educators ignore the complications of retraining young hands, and they introduce conventional cursive, the cursive that joins every letter in words with loops. Some schools teach conventional cursive only, and a few teach italic, neither of which require learning two different sets of letter forms.