Reading hieroglyphics

Who knew that hieroglyphics existed as late as the 1970s?  I (Mariecris) made this discovery when looking through a collection with a donor.  She was describing all the files she would deposit in the archives.  One of the files she showed me was filled with papers covered in hieroglyphics. That is when she told me about how she used shorthand when interviewing people.  She even made up her own symbols for words or concepts she used frequently.  I started to panic a little.  How was I going to make the information available to researchers? Does anyone in the archives or library know shorthand?  Apparently, there are a variety of shorthand systems.  I guess standardization was not important.  It was at that moment that my appreciation for standards, like xhtml and javascript, shot into space. 

I knew about shorthand long before I saw it in person.  I was a fan of movies from the 40s, 50s, and 60s. Sometimes in the movies secretaries or their bosses would make a quick reference to shorthand. I just assumed that shorthand meant a person wrote in abbreviations. The donor’s shorthand was composed of swoops, circles, and dots.  There was not an abbreviation in the bunch.  After doing some digging, it looked like she used Gregg shorthand.  Gregg shorthand has many variations.  For example, countries utilized the system differently.  It was a phonetic system that used intricate symbols. Some shorthand symbols looked very similar.  It was amazing that people were able to do shorthand! An aftereffect of that amazement was the realization that learning to read shorthand would take a significant amount of time.  For now I am content to keep a list of shorthand resources that researchers could access online or checkout from the library.  One interesting website is Omniglot.  Omniglot provides a history on shorthand and a summary of the Pitman and Gregg shorthand systems. And I will be making a note in the resulting finding aid when documents are written in shorthand.  The least I could do is warn them that they will be reading hieroglyphics.

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