Automatic Decoding of Historical Manuscripts

Beáta Megyesi
Uppsala University

Thousands of encrypted, still undeciphered manuscripts are found in libraries and archives all over Europe, documents not yet available for historical research. Examples of such material are not only diplomatic correspondence and intelligence reports, but also private letters and diaries as well as manuscripts related to secret societies. The bulk of these historical manuscripts will remain undeciphered unless we can automate -- in part or in full -- the processes involved in decoding them.

I will present the basic research needed to develop a set of useful software tools, and to apply those tools to ciphers of historical interest in order to decode them. More specifically, the process involves (semi-)automatic transcription of cipher images, the systematic automatic detection of various cipher types, the development of algorithms for the (semi-)automatic decryption of different types of ciphers, and the creation of language models and pattern dictionaries for early variants of European languages.