The Decline of Cursive And the subsequent inaccesibility of history

Shown in the background are the hand-written minutes from an Ohio University Board of Trustees meeting from 1804.

Exhibit Created By: Judinya Thwaites-Brevik

As computers and technology rolled onto the scene, cursive and penmanship became seemingly obsolete. Much like computers advanced past being able to read floppy disks and USB flash drives...

We are now left with a generation of tech-savvy individuals who cannot read or write in cursive

Does this matter?


A large majority of historical documents are written in varying forms of cursive.

If we cannot read it, we may lose that part of history.

Pictured is a letter written during the Civil War from Edwin Brown to Almyra Brown.

When did cursive originate?

Why are we no longer taught cursive in schools?

With the implementation of computers and typing classes, cursive began to be phased out of American public school education in the 1980s

By 2010, the Common Core Standard curriculum mandated an end to cursive classes (Gayo 2021)

As of 2012, only 37% of adults wrote in cursive (New York Times 2013).

How will this impact us?

We are losing parts of history due to our inability to carefully read and analyze primary sources.

Do you recognize this document?

Can you read it?

Did you recognize this as the U.S. Constitution?

Yes, the script is small and faint and we luckily have accurate transcriptions of the document; still, the inability to read the original handwritten documents of a time period creates a massive disconnect from our history.

Now, let's look at some documents written by important people in Ohio University's History.

Can you read this?

This is a letter written by E.W. Scripps to someone named Annie in 1878.

Does this name sound familiar? Maybe you've had a class in the Scripps building across from Baker or are a student in the Scripps School of Journalism. Both are named in tribute to him.

Okay, lets try an easier one.

Try to decipher a few words from the Margaret Boyd diary.

Boyd was the first woman to graduate from Ohio Univeristy

Black History at Ohio University

Martha Jane Hunley Blackburn

Recognize that name? Maybe you've attended a concert at the Templeton-Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium, named after the first Black man (Templeton) and woman (Blackburn) to graduate from Ohio Univeristy. 

Here is a correspondence between Blackburn and Michel Perdreau (who also once worked at the Mahn Center!) in which Blackburn reminisces about a party recounted in a clipping from The Green and White, the predecessor student newspaper to The Post.

This letter was written less than 45 years ago and is still tricky to read for those untrained in cursive.

Here are some pages from Walter Alexander's (an African American teenager from Ohio in 1897) herbarium and plant analysis notebook. This is a concrete example of niche black history that will be lost with the lack of ability to read cursive. Want to try reading Alexander's handwriting for yourself? Consider contributing to a crowdsourcing project to transcribe his herbarium!

Pictured above is a pressed flower from the Herabarium and Plant Analysis Notebook

Below is a continuation of the letter written during the Civil War from Edwin Brown to Almyra Brown.

What can we do to reclaim this part of history?

How can you access primary resources and make your research all the more thrilling?

Learn to read and write in cursive!!!

It takes the average person a mere 30-60 minutes to grasp the basics of learning to read cursive (New York Times 2013).

There are numerous FREE tools on the internet to aid you in learning to read and write in cursive.

What's stopping you from adding this skill to your repertoire?

While it may feel scary to watch history slip between our fingers as we lose the ability to read cursive, we have the power to reclaim that history.

Hi everyone! My name is Judinya Thwaites-Brevik (but you can call me Nya). I am a sociology major in the Honors Tutorial College. I am also minoring in psychology and political science with a certificate in Law, Justice and Culture. Currently, I am the OhioLINK Luminaries intern for libraries at Ohio University.

In my time working in the Mahn Center for Archives and Special Collections, I found it interesting how I simply could not read many of the old documents because they are written in cursive. I realized that in generationally phasing-out learning how to read and write in cursive, we lose our ability to connect with written history. We can typically trust the transcriptions of major historical documents such as the Declaration of Independence, but who is there to translate the journal of a Black teen from Ohio in the 1800s? That history has value and it's a shame to watch it become inaccessible to the average person. I hope you enjoyed this virtual exhibit and take the time to learn more about cursive and ways we can connect with our history.


Bergland, Christopher. “4 Reasons Writing Things Down on Paper Still Reigns Supreme.” Psychology Today, 19 March 2021, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athletes-way/202103/4-reasons-writing-things-down-paper-still-reigns-supreme. Accessed 15 February 2022.

Consistent Cursive: Learn to write Cursive, https://consistentcursive.com/. Accessed 15 February 2022.

Civil War Correspondence, Mahn Center for Archives and Special Collections, Ohio University Libraries.

Cohen, Jennie. “A Brief History of Penmanship on National Handwriting Day.” History.com, 22 August 2018, https://www.history.com/news/a-brief-history-of-penmanship-on-national-handwriting-day. Accessed 12 February 2022.

E.W. Scripps Papers, Mahn Center for Archives and Special Collections, Ohio University Libraries.

Gayo, Jessica. “Is Cursive Writing Gone Forever? | Everything to Know.” INQUIRER.net USA, 17 August 2021, https://usa.inquirer.net/80442/is-cursive-writing-gone-forever. Accessed 11 February 2022.

“Handwriting Matters; Cursive Doesn't - NYTimes.com.” The New York Times, 30 April 2013, https://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2013/04/30/should-schools-require-children-to-learn-cursive/handwriting-matters-cursive-doesnt. Accessed 15 February 2022.

Ohio University Archives-General: Board of Trustees minutes, Mahn Center for Archives and Special Collections, Ohio University Libraries.

Ohio University Archives-General: Margaret Boyd Diary, Mahn Center for Archives and Special Collections, Ohio University Libraries.

​​Special Collections-General: Herbarium and plant analysis notebook, Mahn Center for Archives and Special Collections, Ohio University Libraries.

“The Twisted History of Cursive Writing.” Word Genius, 5 September 2019, https://www.wordgenius.com/the-twisty-history-of-cursive-writing/Xr0yWBPAJQAG8w-1. Accessed 10 February 2022.