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What is Chirography?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 30 November 2016
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Chirography is the study of penmanship. Historically, everything was written out by hand, creating a wealth of material for chirographers to work with. In the modern era, other forms of printing and communicating are available, but the study of penmanship is still a topic of interest and exploration. Penmanship includes basic handwriting along with script, calligraphy, and other forms of writing done by hand.

The word “chirography” combines the Greek words for “hand” and “writing.” Handwriting has a long history in human cultures, and some chirographers like to study the history of handwriting, from the earliest printed alphabets to the modern day. Topics of interest include the divergence of writing systems, the origins of writing systems, borrowed writing systems, and the evolution of such systems.

Knowledge of chirography can also be very valuable for going over old handwritten records. Handwriting in many languages has changed substantially through the ages, and it is sometimes difficult to make out or understand documents, even when they are written in a familiar language. A chirographer who is familiar with the writing modalities of the period when the document was written can examine it to decipher the text, making this field of study very valuable to historians.

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Chirographers are also, of course, interested in modern handwriting systems. The study of chirography includes study of calligraphic scripts still in use today, such as those used with many Asian languages, along with the study of cultural perceptions of handwriting and shifts in handwriting norms which are occurring in the modern era. Many are interested in children who are not being taught the art of penmanship due to changing cultural values about handwriting.

Chirography can also be useful for document authentication. Handwriting experts can be used to make comparisons between known samples and a questioned document, but a chirographer can provide more context about the origins of the document. While handwriting experts often look for individual character quirks and try to gain insight into the psyche of the writer, a chirographer can look at a document and gather information about its cultural origins.

Chirographers can be found working in a wide range of settings. Some are primarily interested in research and education in academic settings, but they can also be found in museums and similar facilities, as well as on forensic teams which examine evidence linked with legal cases for the purpose of gathering data which can be used to learn more about the case.

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