Professor Whalen’s Medieval Research Page

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At the start of a research paper, rather than “forming a thesis” or an argument, really what you’re doing is “asking a question.” After all, how can you form a proper argument before you’ve read the materials?

Let’s say that you’re interested in the First Crusade and Christian attitudes toward Muslims. What you are essentially asking is a basic research question: What was the importance of the First Crusade for Christian attitudes toward Muslims? How did the crusade change (or not) Christian views of Islam? From here, you might develop an entire set of related questions: How did Christians view Islam before the First Crusade? Did the clergy on the crusade view Muslims in a different way from the laity? Did crusader views of Muslims inform their perceptions of other non-Christians, such as Jews?

To find some answers, you might investigate some Christian chronicles of the First Crusade. Unless you know Latin, you’ll need to read them in translation. Thus the search begins.


To start, you often need to familiarize yourself with the “big picture” before you can frame your research project and search for materials. When was the First Crusade? Who wrote the chronicles about the crusade? What other historical factors were related to the emergence and development of crusading? What impact did crusading have on broader trends in medieval European politics, society, or spirituality? A good place to start is the reference section of the library. For example, large reference works such as these can get your rolling before your spent time on a frustrating search for primary sources:

Dictionary of the Middle Ages. Ed. Strayer. 13 vols. 1982–1988. D114 .D5 1982

Encyclopedia of Early Christianity. Ed. Ferguson. 2 vols. 1997. BR162.2 .E53 1997

Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages. Ed. Vauchez. 2 vols. 2000. CB351 .E53 2000

The Oxford Dictionary of Saints. Ed. Farmer.  BR1710 .F34 2003 [also e-resource]

Women in the Middle Ages. Ed. Wilson and Margolis. 2004. HQ1143 .W643 2004

You might also start out by looking at a survey of your topic. In this case, for example, you could find a lot of basic information in Jonathan-Riley Smith, The Crusades:A Short History (New Haven, 1987).


Now that you’ve got some basic information, it’s time to look for primary sources. Finding Latin sources in English translation can be tricky. I’m a big believer in starting with a wide k – word search, then narrowing things afterwards. Here are some examples of possible combinations:

    • Author’s name (Guibert of Nogent / Fulcher of Chartres / etc.)
    • Genre (e.g. sermons / chronicles / theology / apologetics / polemics / etc.)
    • Subject (e.g. crusades / predestination / resurrection / marriage / etc.)
    • Series titles (Medieval Texts and Studies / Medieval Texts in Translation / Oxford Medieval Texts / Crusade Texts in Translation / etc.)

Some helpful tags: early works to 1800 / sources / translated / translation / English

If you’re searching for primary sources, you might also try the following site at Fordham, the Medieval Sources Bibliography.

After clicking on “Search the Site,” pay special attention to the search parameters: If you already know the name of your author (e.g. Guibert of Nogent), you can search that way. Be sure to click on the box “Translated into English.” There is an option to limit your dates (for example, onoy primary sources written between the years 1000–1200); and a menu for Subject Headings (which includes the Crusades).

Finally, there are two somewhat dated bibliographies of English sources in translation, both available in the David stacks:

  • Farrar, Clarissa Palmer. Bibliography of English translations from medieval sources. New York, Columbia university press, 1946. Z6517.F3 c. 2
  • Ferguson, Mary Anne. Bibliography of English translations from medieval sources, 1943–1967. Series: Records of civilization, sources and studies ; no. 88. New York, Columbia University Press, 1974. Z6517.F47.

Finally, one can get started searching for sources consulting the Medieval Internet Sourcebook, which includes citations to print versions of the primary sources on the website (typically, in my assignments, students cannot rely exclusively on the Medieval Internet Sourcebook, but it might get you started in your hunt).


Now that you’ve found your primary sources, you’ll want to further refine your grasp on the relevant scholarship. Finding books in the Davis library is relatively easy. Finding articles can be a bit more tricky. Of course, in many cases, the bibliography of a book will point you toward articles and essays. Another approach is to try some online search engines:

The International Medieval Bibliography (IMB): a top-notch search engine for secondary literature, updated to include all but the most recent articles. NOTE: unlike JSTOR, the site does not include actual articles, but provides citations that will need to be tracked down in Davis Library. In terms of content, this site is far superior to JSTOR. Access the IMB via the Electronic Resources section on the Davis Library homepage.

Bibliography of the History of Art: similar to the IMB, but for art history. Also accessed through the Electronic Resources section on the Davis Library homepage.

Feminae – Medieval Women’s and Gender Index: search engine and resources with an emphasis on women’s and gender history.

L’Année philologique: search engine for secondary literature dealing with the patristic era and early Christianity, materials too early for the IMB. Also accessed through the Electronic Resources section on the Davis Library homepage. When using, start with the “full text” search mode (essential a k-word search option).

Again, be patient! If you search for “Guibert of Nogent” on the IMB in the “all index terms” line, you get zero hits. If you type “Nogent,” you get 134 hits. If you type “Nogent” and “crusade” in the subject line, you get 12 hits. If you look closely at the entries for those citations, you’ll see that the IMB generally lists his name as “Guibert de Nogent.” Now try that search in the “all index terms.” While “Guibert of Nogent” results in zero hits, “Guibert de Nogent” yields 105.

Please note: these sites do not include articles, just citations. Sometimes there is a link to the digital version of the text, sometimes not. If not, you need to find the volume or journal in the Davis library by searching the Davis catalog. JSTOR, of course, can be helpful and includes actual Pdf files of the articles, but JSTOR only offers a limited selection of the possible scholarship. Trust me—JSTOR does not cover all of your bases for a research paper.


The Internet simply has not supplanted the library as a source for research projects, not yet anyway. That’s why I generally forbid my students from using Internet resources for their research papers. However, it would be foolish not to admit that the Internet provides a possible starting point and source of inspiration for formulating research questions and finding materials. Not to mention, it’s convenient. Some helpful sites:

UNC Libraries Guide to Medieval & Early Modern Studies Online: If you want to explore resources beyond this homepage, this would be a good starting point.

The Labyrinth: A vast online resource at Georgetown with links to numerous other websites, including secondary literature and sources in translation.

Internet Medieval Sourcebook: An extensive site of sources in translation, often from older (frankly outdated) collections (with links to online Ancient History, Women’s History, Saints Lives Sourcebooks and more). Offers a starting point for research but NOT appropriate for your average research paper.

The Douay-Rheims Bible: If you’re using a Bible for a medieval paper, use this one, which includes both English and the Vulgate Latin text.

Christian Classics Ethereal Library: Collection of sources in translation for early Christian history, many from the Ante-Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (see above under Early Christian Sources in Translation).


This style sheet provides simplified examples of the format used for annotation and bibliographies in the Chicago Manual of Style.

Annotation Format

Book (Primary Source)

Robert of Clari, The Conquest of Constantinople, trans. E. H. McNeal (New York: Columbia University Press, 1936).

Book (Secondary Source)

Peter Brown, The Cult of Saints: Its Rise and Function in Latin Christianity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981).

Article, Journal

Peter Brown, “A Dark-Age Crisis: Aspects of the Iconoclastic Controversy,” English Historical Review 88 (1973): 1–34.

Article, Edited Volume

Robert Lerner, “The Medieval Return to the Thousand-Year Sabbath,” in The Apocalypse in the Middle Ages, ed. Bernard McGinn (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2002), pp. 234–55.

Note: Please use the “article, edited volume” format for a primary source that is translated and excerpted in a source-book or collection of primary source documents, including the medieval author and the title of their work, along with the title of the source collection, the modern editor and/or translator, publisher, date, etc. If your medieval work does not have an author, list the author as “anonymous,” and be sure to include the editor and/or translator of the text.

Citations should be in footnotes (not endnotes or internal citation). Footnotes should be consecutively numbered. Insert footnotes at the end of the sentence in question (using the “reference” option on the menu for Word documents). Cite a work the first time that you make any reference to it (including but not limited to direct quotations), providing a full citation of the work. Subsequent references to that work such use an abbreviated form of citation. Provide page numbers when quoting a source, or even when summarizing an important point from the text (play it safe and cite more rather than less).

AVOID multiple notes per sentence, and place notes at the end of the sentence.

For example:

In his book The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity, Peter Brown argues that the sacred relics of holy men and women occupied a critical space in the piety of early Christians and their ideas about salvation.[1] As Brown declares: “This book is about the joining of Heaven and Earth, and the role, in this joining, of dead human beings.”[2]

Bibliography Format

When applicable, divide your bibliography into two sections, one for primary sources and one for secondary sources. PLEASE PAY ATTENTION TO THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE FORMAT FOR ANNOTATION AND BIBLIOGRAPHIES.

Follow this example:

Primary Sources

Robert of Clari. The Conquest of Constantinople. Trans. E. H. McNeal. New York: Columbia University Press, 1936.

Secondary Sources

Brown, Peter. The Cult of Saints: Its Rise and Function in Latin Christianity. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981.

Brown, Peter. “A Dark-Age Crisis: Aspects of the Iconoclastic Controversy.” English Historical Review 88 (1973): 1–34.

Lerner, Robert. “The Medieval Return to the Thousand-Year Sabbath.” In The Apocalypse in the Middle Ages, ed. Bernard McGinn, 234–55. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2002.

NOTE: As a rule of thumb, provide your reader with more and not less information: Include volume numbers, edition numbers, editors and translators etc. Precise formats for more complicated works can be found in the Chicago Manual of Style.

The Bible does not have to be included in your Bibliography. In your text, you can use standard biblical abbreviations and internal citation (2 Thess. 4:3; Gen. 14:13–25, etc.).

If you use JSTOR, please don’t include the link in your citation or bibliography: this is simply not necessary. The original journal is the “real” citation.

[1]Peter Brown, The Cult of Saints: Its Rise and Function in Latin Christianity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981).

[2] Brown, Cult of Saints, 1.

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