Continuing professional development

The History department at Keele has a long tradition of continuing education teaching many enthusiastic and brilliant people about the local history of Staffordshire and surrounding area. We also offer courses on the methods and practice of local history study, as well as key skills such as document reading and analysis, and short courses on topical subjects that regularly attract students from overseas. 

Continuing eduction in History takes place within a wider portfolio of adult education opportunities in the School of Humanities. It is worth checking activities at the Centre for Local HistoryFor many years Keele has run a very successful Certificate in Local History course which we are hoping to relaunch soon. Watch this space! Our next major event is our Latin and Palaeography Summer School, see below.

Saturday 3 to Thursday 8 August 2024

47th Keele Latin and Palaeography Summer School

The summer School takes place in-situ at Keele University and online via Microsoft Teams.

Director of Studies, Dr Andrew Sargent

This summer school organised by Keele University (and now in its 47th year) is for those wishing to acquire or improve their skills in reading and transcribing medieval and early modern documents in both Latin and English. Taken mostly from English archives (both national and local), the documents are chiefly those which are used by historians rather than literary texts. 

If you need an introduction to medieval Latin or palaeography (the study of medieval and early modern handwriting), or wish to enhance the knowledge that you already have and want to meet others with the same interests, then the Keele school is designed for you, and one of its main benefits is that students are able to build up their knowledge and confidence during the week.

Drawing on experience gained during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, this year’s school is hybrid in form, and you may choose to attend in person or online. The school is taught in several small groups, but these are not in sessions at which students just listen to tutors and make notes. Rather, the emphasis is very much on learning the skills in reading and transcribing documents, and so involves a lot of active participation. 

The approach is serious but friendly and attracts a wide range of people from both the UK and abroad: national, local, and family historians, along with archive students and postgraduate researchers. Many return year after year, taking the opportunity to seek advice from tutors and fellow students on their own research interests and problems.

The tutors all have considerable experience in teaching adult groups, and have their own expertise in a wide range of topics, beyond palaeography. They include senior archivists, university lecturers, and local history tutors.

Who comes to the Summer School?

Many students return on a regular basis – but not because they are slow learners; on the contrary, they have become rather skilled palaeographers but wish to experience the problems of reading and interpreting different kinds of documents. Several have published editions of documents, often as part of county record series. 

Many people are actively involved in local history projects, sometimes on their own account or because they are involved with a Victoria County History project. Others need reading skills to undertake original research for university post-graduate degrees, or to enhance their career in an archive office (or prepare for an archive qualification course).

Financial assistance

Some financial assistance is available in the form of a limited number of ‘Higden Scholarships’ provided by the Ranulf Higden Society, which has long been a friend to the summer school. Those wishing to apply should contact Nigel Tringham. In past years many university students and archivists have successfully applied to their institutions to cover the costs of the summer school, which offers valuable professional training, and we strongly encourage potential students in such situations to do so.

The courses

The school is built around a series of small seminar groups of up to 10 or so students, each led by an expert tutor. Students participate in one group only throughout the week.

There are two introductory courses: one for those with no or very little knowledge of Latin as a language (1) and the other for those who want to learn how to read and transcribe a range of medieval Latin documents (2). For those already with a good knowledge of Latin grammar and a reasonable level of palaeographical expertise, there is a choice from two subject courses.

Please note that the tutor of the ‘Introduction to Medieval Documents’ course will teach remotely, via our online platform, and students on this course may also want to attend online. However, last year we also had some on the course attend in person, because they wanted to enjoy the collaborative and social aspects of the summer school; they engaged with the tutor via a large screen at the front of classroom, which worked very well, and we will make the same arrangement this year.

Teaching format

Each group will meet at regular intervals throughout the day (see Daily Schedule, below), interspersed with breaks for refreshment and lunch, or for time offline for those studying virtually.

The tutor – after suitable general advice – will usually ‘go round the group’ inviting each person to attempt a line or two and providing assistance as necessary. This approach is not meant to be intimidating, but is designed to give each person a practical opportunity to do some transcribing and translating; just listening to a tutor reading a text is no substitute for doing it oneself!

  • Digital images: The documents to be tackled are made available in digital form. They will be sent out to students electronically in advance (as email attachments) and/or will be available on the school’s digital platform. Those attending the school in-situ are welcome to bring their lap-top computers to view their documents in the teaching rooms; the rooms have power sockets, but being able to use lap-tops running from batteries is advisable if possible, in case there are not enough sockets for everyone at once. The teaching rooms also have facilities for projecting digital images on a large screen, and tutors may use this as a teaching method. Tutors will share their screens with all students attending the school virtually, using the mouse pointer to indicate elements of interest.
  • Paper copies: Students are welcome to print out their own copies of the document images. Copies can also be requested from Keele in advance, to be given on arrival (unfortunately we cannot normally send paper copies in the post). Some students find paper copies convenient for writing notes on.
  • Pre-school preparation: Students are encouraged to look over at least some of the documents they have been emailed beforehand, as doing so helps to ensure that one gets the best out of the course. Some may not have the time to do so, or have not yet learnt the necessary skills to make much progress on their own. This is fully appreciated by the tutors, and students will not be made to feel inadequate if they struggle somewhat! After all, not being able to read through a manuscript quickly is the main reason for coming to the school.
Introduction to Latin Language (tutor Andy Fear) 

This course is a practical introduction to Latin in its medieval form for absolute beginners or those with only very little knowledge of the language. The intention is that by the end of the week students will have a sound understanding of how the language works, and will be able to attempt their own translations. Throughout the course, use will be made of Collins Latin Dictionary and Grammar (which students are advised to purchase in advance), but the tutor will also explain Latin grammar and sentence structure by creating his own examples, with reference to a selection of medieval documents.

No palaeography is involved, and students do not look at examples of medieval script.

It is very much recommended that students acquire confidence in Latin before they attempt to decipher medieval handwriting, as knowing how a sentence is structured and what case endings to expect is an essential first step.

Introduction to Medieval Documents (tutor Christopher Whittick) 

This group concentrates on reading the kinds of Latin documents most frequently encountered by historians and others when they first explore medieval records, including land conveyances, manor court rolls, estate and financial accounts. Our documents will all be comparatively short but will contain a range of different handwriting forms, scribal abbreviations, and diplomatic conventions, so often considered a barrier to reading medieval texts. 

As the emphasis will be on developing palaeographic skills, students ought already to have some familiarity with Latin grammar. Contact the course director if you would like to discuss where you are in the learning process. Most students will experience a degree of difficulty with the documents if they have limited previous reading experience.  But our sessions will be good-humoured and supportive. Everybody gets a turn at the wheel, reading a line or two; everybody will make mistakes and discover that someone else’s line is easier than the one in front of them. That is the point of participating in the summer school, and the tutor will go through the examples, highlighting the differences in letter-forms over time and the standard forms of abbreviations.

A few weeks before the summer school you will receive digital images of the documents that are going to be used, and students are encouraged to prepare draft transcriptions of those parts that they feel they can interpret. If there are documents on which you are already working do feel free to share them in advance. They may be suitable for the group, or there may be the chance to discuss them with the tutor one-to-one.

Also recommended for this course – because they have illustrations of original documents – are Denis Stuart, Manorial Records (Phillimore, paperback 2004), and Hilary Marshall, Palaeography for Family and Local Historians (Phillimore, 2004). For words and phrases that you are likely to come across, a copy of Eileen Gooder, Latin for Local Historians (2nd edition, 1978) is worth having – although the 2013 Routledge reprint seems very expensive, so perhaps trying to locate a second-hand copy would be best).

Please note that the tutor will teach this course remotely via the Teams platform, but students are welcome to attend the summer school in person if they wish to enjoy the collaborative and social aspects of the school. For those at the school in person, a large screen will be employed at the front of the classroom, an arrangement that worked very well last year. 

Inquisitions Post Mortem and Related Records, 1236–1447 (tutor Simon Harris)

Inquisitions post mortem (IPMs) are a class of records held predominantly at The National Archives at Kew (C 132). They are formal inquiries into the lands held by a specific group of landholders, tenants-in-chief, at the time of their deaths. Tenants-in-chief were those landholders who held their land, or some of their lands, from the king directly. This inevitably included all of those at the top of society – dukes, earls, barons etc. But it could also include much more minor figures such as townsmen and wealthy peasants. The inquisitions were produced so that the crown could protect its feudal rights, especially important if a tenant-in-chief died without an heir, or with an heir or heirs who were not of age (in which case the crown enjoyed the estates until the heirs came of age). The documents in the class extend well beyond the inquisitions themselves. The class also includes the writs used to initiate the administrative process – writs diem clausit extremum (literally meaning that a tenant ‘had closed his last day’) – and usually addressed to the escheator (the official usually responsible for the inquisition process); proofs of age – the means by which the heir or heirs could take possession of their estates; and extents – detailed surveys of estates. The inquisitions were usually completed county by county, so that more important individuals could have several inquisitions completed.

The group will look at a wide selection of the records in this class over the full period that the records cover. It will look at records for members of the nobility, but also those lower down the social scale. The group will develop an understanding of the administrative process and engage with the different types of documents that the class holds. There is a very useful website for IPMs. This gives background information about IPMs and related material, as well as case studies and a guide to further reading, but also allows you to search the class for particular people and places and access English translations of the records. If you intend to register for this group, please do look at this website, and if there are any particular IPMs that you would like to look at then please let the tutor know.

The French of England (tutor Shelagh Sneddon)

Between the eleventh and fifteenth centuries Anglo-Norman French was one of the main languages of England – not only a literary language but also a legal and administrative one, used for letters, petitions, legal proceedings, records of parliament, and more.

This is the third ‘French of England’ course the tutor has taught at Keele’s summer school, the previous two having proved very popular. The group will look at documents from the National Archives and elsewhere, covering a wide range of documents in Anglo-Norman from the thirteenth century to the fifteenth, and will explore the development of the language in that period. The course is intended for students with GCSE-level French or similar.

  • Dr Andy Fear is a Lecturer in Ancient History at the University of Manchester, with particular research interests in the Western Roman Empire and the Dark Ages.
  • Dr Simon J. Harris is currently an independent researcher and records specialist. He has worked on a series of important national and international research projects at the universities of Durham, York, Liverpool, Oxford, Bordeaux and Keele, on material as diverse as charters, petitions, church court records and most recently the Gascon Rolls. He has recently completed work on the archive of the Legh of Adlington (Cheshire) Family, and is currently undertaking work for the Société Jersiaise translating charters, and producing an edition of the judicial Assize of 1299 relating to the Channel Islands and Jersey in particular. Dr Harris has run courses at the summer school since 2015.
  • Dr Shelagh Sneddon is an independent medieval Latinist and palaeographer. She was one of a team cataloguing the petitions in the SC 8 class in the National Archives for the Ancient Petitions project at the University of York (led by W. Mark Ormrod), and has also worked on the Parliament Rolls of Medieval England project for the University of St Andrews, editing and translating parliament rolls from 1290 to 1509. More recently, she has edited and translated heresy depositions, working in York with Peter Biller. She currently teaches Old French and Palaeography for the MA in Medieval Studies at the University of York.
  • Dr Christopher Whittick served as an archivist in local government until 2019 and first taught at Keele in 1997. He has taught palaeography on the UCL archives course and written a module on palaeography and administrative history for the Liverpool University archive course. He is now a self-employed archivist, editor and teacher.

Daily schedule

If you are attending in person, teaching takes place in Keele Hall, the historic mansion house that was the original core of the University.

All meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) are also in Keele Hall. Evening talks will be streamed via Teams for the benefit of those attending online.

Saturday 3 August
  • Key collection in Chancellor’s Building reception until 8pm
  • Dinner in the Terrace at 6.30pm (followed by evening talk at 7.45pm in the Terrace)
Sunday 4 August 
  • Breakfast in the Terrace from 8.00am
  • Teaching sessions 9.15am to 12.45pm (with 20 minute tea /coffee break in the Great Hall at 10.45am)
  • Lunch in Great Hall (1st floor) at 1pm
  • Teaching session 2.00pm to 4.00pm (followed by tea/coffee)
  • Bar open at 6.00pm to 7.00pm in the Common Room
  • Dinner at 6.30pm in the Old Library
  • Evening talk at 7.45pm in the Old Library
Monday 7 August 

As Sunday

Tuesday 8 August 

As Sunday

Wednesday 9 August 

As Sunday

Thursday 10 August 

As Sunday, with Summer School ending at 4pm (with tea/coffee)


Accommodation is available in single en-suite rooms (with tea and coffee making facilities) in halls of residence on Keele campus. You may also choose to make your own arrangements, such as the Courtyard by Marriott hotel on Keele’s campus.
Please note: Early booking is recommended in order to secure a Keele-based room, as they are in high demand at this time of the year. 
Car parking permits will be issued and should be displayed in cars.

Costs, viability and booking 

The cost of the summer school varies according to whether you choose to study with us in person or online. If the former, you can choose to stay on campus or arrange other accommodation; in the latter case you may choose whether to enjoy your evening meal on campus or make other arrangements. The costs are as follows: 

  • Resident (campus accommodation):  £850
  • Non-resident with dinner: £550
  • Non-resident without dinner: £450
  • Online: £350

Please note that the school requires a minimum of 16 students, and of 4 students in each course, in order to ensure a rewarding educational experience. If these requirements are not met the university has the right to cancel the school, or one or more of its courses, but please be assured that in such situations full refunds will be given to those who have already booked. However, once these requirements are met refunds can only be given to those wishing to cancel on or before Friday 19 July. Each course can hold a maximum of 10 students.

To book a place on the summer school please go to our online shop. The closing date is Friday 19 July.

If you have any questions about any elements of the summer school, please contact the director, Andrew Sargent.

Arrival and key collection

Further instructions will be sent to you a couple of weeks before the summer school is due to begin. 

If travelling via public transport, a direct bus service from Stoke-on-Trent railway station (the number 25 from opposite the station front) goes through the University campus. Alight in the centre of the campus near to the Darwin Building, and cross over carpark to the Chancellor’s Building (behind the Tawney Building).

If you are staying on campus, keys can be collected from the Chancellor’s Building main reception until 8pm.

Financial assistance

UPDATE: There is now a limited number of bursaries available to help students with the cost of the summer school. Please see the Overview section above for details about financial assistance.