Online Tuition in the Palaeography of Scottish Documents

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Consider the physical factors which improve performance

In palaeography, as in any other physical and mental activity, there are certain factors which improve your performance. Much of the following might appear to be common sense, but it is worth bearing in mind, particularly if you read or transcribe documents regularly or for long sessions. Factors which optimise an individual's palaeographical performance vary from person to person, but in general, when you are relaxed and healthy and interested in what you are reading, you will be most effective. Be aware of the following:

  • Reading for periods of several hours can lead to eye-strain; your eyes need to focus on distant as well as close objects to maintain their optimum efficiency.

  • Reading in artificial light for any length of time can result in a headache.

  • Sitting for any length of time cramps muscles and leads to aches and pains in the back, neck and arms.

  • What you eat and drink can affect performance. Dehydration, which causes the brain to work less efficiently, can be caused by drinks containing caffeine or alcohol while sugary and processed foods can make you sluggish, despite the initial rush and thus impair your performance
If you are reading documents for more than an hour or two, make sure your performance is optimised by taking a short break every hour or so, during which you:
  • Focus on objects in the distance such as posters and pictures on the walls, features of the room, etc. This exercises the eyes properly and can save you from headaches and eye-strain.
  • Walk or move around a bit, or do some stretching and exercising. This helps the muscles relax, and can avoid aches and pains which distract you from reading.
  • Drink a cup of water or some other fluid though go carefully with caffeinated or alcoholic drinks to avoid dehydration. If you drink any of these, take a glass of water or a soft drink as well.
  • Eat something to maintain you blood sugar level though remember the caveats above about sugary and processed foods.
A short break of at least 15 minutes in every two hours spent reading will pay off, both in terms of your palaeography and in your general well-being. Taking breaks is still important, even if leaving the archive search room or library reading room for short breaks is awkward (because of security precautions such as bag and coat deposits, or because a canteen or place to drink and eat is some distance away).