The “New” World’s Oldest Profession

Yes, we know what you’re thinking!  But, you’re wrong!  There are more than one “world’s oldest profession”…and, all of us, the modern day scribes are members of it.  Shorthand!  Who knew?

We’re talking about the Gallery of Shorthand, at the Federal Courthouse in Central Islip, NY.  This Gallery is an impressive museum of the evolution of shorthand that dates back to the shorthand developed by ancient Egyptian scribes in 3500 BC!

Photo courtesy of Melanie L. Humphrey-Sonntag

Gallery Director Dom Tursi has put together a permanent display (the first one of this magnitude) that ranges from the Egyptians to the Romans and showcases various methods and machines such as those used at the Nuremburg trials to ones used in speed contests to luminaries and finally to realtime.

Some of the special exhibits at the Gallery are:

  • Reporting the War Crimes Trials
  • Congressional Reporting
  • Legends of Shorthand
  • Famous People Who Wrote Shorthand
  • Historic Reporter Delegation to China
  • World Shorthand Speed Record
  • How They Do That
  • “Alphabetum Tironianum”

Photo courtesy of Melanie L. Humphrey-Sonntag

In addition to the special exhibits, the Gallery is a great historical learning experience.  How many of us really knew just how far back our profession went and how many alterations it went through?  Following are the ten epochs of shorthand.

  • Ancient Scribes – Developed in 3500 BC, these scribes were considered among their society’s literary elite.
  • Chinese Shorthand – Dated to 207 BC, this method is identified with the early successful English systems.
  • Roman Scribes – In 63 BC the orator Cicero invented the first shorthand system of writing.
  • Abolition and Renewed Interest – Considered secret writing, it was forbidden during the Dark Ages around 500 BC.  Around 200 AD, Archbishop Thomas Becket of Canterbury is credited with the renewed interest.
  • Shorthand’s Revival – In 1588, interest was sparked again by Timothe Bright’s creation of the first usable English-language version of shorthand.
  • Revolutionary Shorthand – Sir Isaac Pitman and Dr. John Robert Gregg stand above everyone as being pivotal in shaping the profession of shorthand reporting.
  • Proliferation of Shorthand in Europe – The Industrial Revolution, Clerical demands and Parliamentary debates fuel the increase in use.
  • Proliferation of Shorthand in America – Brother Benn brought Pitman’s Phonography to the U.S. and by 1889 97% of U.S. stenographers used Pitman’s invention.
  • Machine Shorthand – In the late 1800s, the invention of typewriters started man’s love of machines and led to the invention of the first “shorthand typewriter” in 1879.
  • Shorthand in the 21st Century – By the 1940s, shorthand machines had replaced the pen.  And now, computer technology is creating instant transcriptions.

[Source: Gallery of Shorthand website]

Photo courtesy of Melanie L. Humphrey-Sonntag

Long story short, this Gallery is a “must see” and a great source of pride to all of us!  The Gallery of Shorthand is located in the Alfonse M. D’Amato Courthouse and Federal Building at 100 Federal Plaza, Central Islip, NY 11722.  Phone: 631/712-6108 www.galleryofshorthand.org

While we’re on the subject of the history of shorthand, do check out The Pitman Gallery online (http://pitmanshorthand.homestead.com/Gallery.html) for some more about Egyptian scribes including samples of the different kinds of Egyptian scripts.

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