Handwriting: It Started with Slaves, Moved on to Doctors, and Now It Has It's Own Doctor!

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I thought that Naomi Baron's essay in Tibble and Trubek's Writing Material entitled "The Art and Science of Handwriting" was very interesting mainly, because it discussed both the history and the present situation in handwriting.  What I initially found most interesting was the various associations that were made between writing and the person.  For instance, although Baron skipped ahead to the middle ages in order to discuss handwriting, leaving out revolutionaries like Di Renzo's Tiro and the invention of the Greek alphabet, she talked about what sorts of people were learning to write and why.  She mentions, "members of learned professions: the clergy, physicians, and lawyers (along with their entourages, including copyists and notaries public," as well as "Gentlemen (and women) and their secretaries," and finally, "new ranks of employees engaged in commerce" (57).  This seems like such a large and varied amount of people; however, Baron goes on to write that they had different reasons for learning to write.  Some of the schooled would become "scholars," while others would "enter the world of commerce" (57).  It is so odd to think that handwriting was initially created and used by slaves, like Tiro, and by those not involved in the highest levels of power or prestige, while later, handwriting was considered an art form of the upper class.  Baron even writes that, "In the 1790s, French aristocrats intentionally developed poor handwriting 'as if an open proclamation of scorn for the arts by which humbler people oftentimes got their bread'" (58).  This trend is especially strange when one considers the importance of literacy and writing in the centuries following this one.   

Another funny trend that developed later was the fact that people connected handwriting with what Baron calls "the self" (58).  Baron cites Johann Kaspar Lavater for arguing that, "it was possible to read a person's character by looking at his face and perhaps even his handwriting" (58).  This trend still exists today.  Handwriting experts are still used to find evidence in court cases, and there is even a Handwriting Doctor, Michelle Dresbold, that contributed to my local newspaper, and many others nationwide.  Yes, some of such evidence may not be as reliable as other forms of evidence; however, in my own experience, the really athletic classmates that I had always had the worst handwriting, probably because they were not the types of people who wanted to sit still and concentrate on such a meaningless and boring art form, or science, depending on which way one is taught.

This idea deals directly with one of the disagreements that I had with Baron in her essay.  Her very last sentence reads, "Not surprisingly, we no longer see handwriting as an expression of social standing, much less as a mirror on our souls" (60).  Although this statement is partially true, I do think that we can still identify a person by handwriting and a person finds self expression through handwriting.  For instance, I can almost always tell which of my friends or family members has written me a note just by looking at the handwriting, not even by looking at what was said.  Also, the way we choose to write suggests something about us.  I sometimes write in cursive when I am taking notes if my hand hurts because the more fluid movements are easier on my wrist.  I also usually use cursive when I write thank-you notes or send cards to people.  This formal style just seems to lend itself to these types of notes.  Also, most of us use some form of formalized or non-print handwriting when we sign important documents.  If you think about it, we are asked not to print when our identity is verified, for instance when we take standardized tests like the SATs, when we have to sign government documents like citizenship papers, or when we sign for a credit card.  I think that in these ways, handwriting is still related to a major part of our identity, if not to our soul.     


See what others have to say about Baron's essay. 


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