The History of Cursive

Apparently, American schools will no longer be teaching cursive, as it has been deemed useful for nothing more than signing your name. The news got me thinking– why do we have two different scripts in the first place? Where did cursive come from?

Our alphabet is based on the Latin one, which resembles our uppercase letters. By the fifth century, lowercase letters were starting to develop, and people were connecting letters sort of like in cursive. After the decline of Rome, most writing was happening in monasteries, by monks who turned hand-copying books into a form of worship and art. Most people are familiar with the type of beautiful script they produced, but Charlemagne found regional differences to be annoying, so called for standardization.

However, the Italians during the Renaissance (namely Niccolo Niccoli) didn’t like the clunky look, and started showing off ornate writing forms as a status symbol. The habit of elevating certain scripts continued into American history, and in the mid 1800s a bookkeeper named Platt Rogers Spencer decided that since all humans are created equal, their handwriting should be equal, too. He invented a widely-used system, that was later replaced by multiple successive styles that fit the needs of the writers. Cursive has become a way to write quickly and often casually, without lifting the pen from paper.

Today, the need to write quickly, accurately, and legibly has been reduced by the availability of typewriters and then computers, and therefore penmanship is no longer taught as a discipline.

People have been fretting over the loss of good penmanship for half a century, but if my study of Linguistics has taught me anything, it’s that you can’t stop the flow of language. If a culture no longer needs something, it will be dispensed with.

However, that doesn’t mean that the art of penmanship is dead. Calligraphy is a popular hobby, and there will always be those who will appreciate the visual beauty of written language. In my opinion, there’s no reason to mourn.

For further reading:

A Brief History of Penmanship on National Handwriting Day

Is Cursive Dead? Not on your life.

History of Handwriting

Tracing Cursive’s History

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3 thoughts on “The History of Cursive

  1. This was a topic of discussion just the other day among my friends. I do hate to see it go because it hunk it’s easier than printing, but at the same time, people are writing letters less and less. We have email and word docs. BTW, my maiden name is Niccoli. :-) Some family lore connects us possibly to Niccolo. I’d like to find out for sure one day if it’s possible. Nice post.

    1. Well, you could always use it personally, and I think that with the different types of media available, people will be able to easily read it for at least a generation. Also, that’s a cool connection, and a beautiful name!

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