Deciphering the Squiggles - Christie Pavey and William Little Fellowships


By Ellyce Loveless

For graduate students Christie Pavey and William Little, paleography is an exciting and fresh field of study. The two Classics students, who also participate in the Institute for Latin Studies here on campus, have been recently awarded fellowships to study abroad in an aim to practice deciphering ancient and medieval scripts.

Though they are from very different parts of the country, both Pavey and Little decided to study at UK for the unique approach to learning that the Institute for Latin Studies provides for its students. The program is attractive because it focuses on actively reading, writing, and speaking Latin.

Pavey, who received her undergraduate degree at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, said “I was drawn to UK by the Institute for Latin Studies.  Mastery of the Latin language was a high priority for me, especially for my future academic endeavors, so I wanted to study at a place where I could be immersed in the language.”

According to Little, who received his undergraduate degree from Harvard, “You can learn about medieval scripts and manuscripts all you like, but at the end of the day you need to have a close knowledge of the language.  At UK, through the Institute for Latin Studies, this knowledge is transmitted by introducing students to the entire Latin tradition, from classical antiquity to the Scientific Revolution, and they are made a part, however modest, of that tradition through the active use of Latin both in speaking and writing.  In fact, UK is really one of the very few places at present in the world where such opportunities can be found.”

This program is in part what helped both students receive their fellowships to research in other countries.

For six weeks this summer, Pavey will be studying at the Gennadius Library in Athens through the Leventis Foundation scholarship. “In addition to learning Medieval Greek,” she said. “I will be learning Greek paleography- that is; I will learn how to decipher the "squiggles" that medieval scribes used to record both ancient and medieval texts.” She will be given close access to the manuscripts at the library which, in her words, will make the subject even more alive. She credits her success to those in the Classics and History departments at UK who have been helpful and influential to her in her studies.

Similarly, Little will be studying in Toronto for six weeks through the Pontifical Institute for Mediaeval Studies. At the end of the program, he will receive a diploma in Manuscript Studies. He explained the program as study in paleography but added that “other important and practical skills taught are codicology, dealing more with the physical construction of manuscripts; diplomatics, the study of mainly official documents from the Middle Ages; and textual editing.”

He wants to work towards closely and properly editing manuscripts that haven’t been given the care that they deserve. He said, “This program will familiarize me with the sciences that are prerequisites to a proper use of these manuscript sources.  So, it will not only be enjoyable for me, but also of immediate and practical value!”

When asked why she enjoys studying paleography, Pavey responded, “There is little in the world better than holding and reading the same book held and read centuries ago by a scholar just like me. Discovering just who made that little twist of the pen, and why it was important to him - or her! - is absolutely thrilling.”

Both Pavey and Little hope to obtain doctorate degrees in the future and go on to teach at the university level. 

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