Fordham University            The Jesuit University of New York
 



Google, for the Middle Ages

Center for Medieval Studies Hosts Two Widely Used -Wildly Popular - Online Search Engines

In 1996—when the World Wide Web was still in its infancy—Fordham’s Center for Medieval Studies began sponsoring an online repository of English-language translations of primary source documents from classical antiquity to modern times, with a special emphasis on the Middle Ages.

Since then, the Internet Medieval Sourcebook, the largest—and most popular—component of the center’s Internet History Sourcebooks project, which also includes the Ancient History and Modern History Sourcebooks and a Byzantine Studies page, has opened a whole new world for medievalists everywhere.

It is now the go-to destination for students, teachers and researchers seeking primary information from the Middle Ages.

If a researcher wanted to find an English translation of Einhard’s Life of Charlemagne (c. 817-830), for instance, or Martin Luther’s Theologia Germanica (1516), they could find these texts—and more— in full on the Medieval Sourcebook.

“We are now a leader in the field of making translated texts available in classrooms around the world,” said Maryanne Kowaleski, Ph.D., director of Fordham’s Center for Medieval Studies, which hosts the Medieval Sourcebook. “Before the Internet Medieval Sourcebook, where did you even look? Older translations weren’t even available in every library. The site gained attention and academics started offering their own translations.”

The Medieval Sourcebook, which is managed by founding editor Paul Halsall, Ph.D., GSAS ’99, features a wide range of governmental, legal, religious and economic texts, and an extensive selection on women’s and gender history, Islamic and Byzantine history, Jewish history and social history.

Organized into three main index pages—Selected Sources, Full Text Sources and Saints’ Lives— the Medieval Sourcebook includes a number of supplementary documents.Selected Sources includes links to an organized index of selected and excerpted texts for pedagogical purposes. Full Text Sources featurescomplete texts arranged according to subject, while Saints’ Lives highlights ancient, medieval and Byzantine hagiographical sources.

Caroline Dunn, GSAS ’07, an assistant professor of history at Clemson University, said the Medieval Sourcebook brings dusty old texts into the 21st century without compromising scholarship or authenticity.

“It really is outstanding,” said Dunn, who earned her Ph.D. in history at Fordham in 2007. “It is as close as you can get to the original source without having to travel to a European archive. “It broadens the amount of coverage allowed to students and really is the best way for students to get a better understanding of what was written at the time and what the writers were thinking.”

Dunn encourages her undergraduate students to use the Medieval Sourcebook regularly because it is reliable—and economical, too.

“I always send my students to the Sourcebook,” she said. “Not only do I trust it, but students also don’t have to purchase all of these texts from the bookstore. The primary sources are all available there.”

The Medieval Sourcebook isn’t the only Internet search engine that’s changing the way researchers and students find primary texts. The Center for Medieval Studies’ Online Medieval Sources Bibliography (OMSB), a searchable annotated list of printed and electronic sources from the Middle Ages, is also at the forefront of online research.

“The bibliography is also starting to get attention from discussion groups and library websites,” said Morgan Kay, GSAS ’05, the assistant editor of the sourcebook and the bibliography. Launched in 2003, the OMSB includes details about printed and online primary sources that can shed light on the history, literature, culture and religion of the Middle Ages. The site contains an extensive list of materials written between A.D. 300 and circa 1500, including letters, wills, household accounts, literary works, philosophical treatises, chronicles, court proceedings, church records and a host of other primary documents.

The bibliography provides a historical context and provenance to the various sources and includes annotated entries on the genre, contents, archival reference and original language of the text.

“The bibliography helps researchers find specific texts that cater to their specific researching needs,” said Kay, a doctorial student in medieval history, who earned her master’s degree in medieval studies at Fordham in 2005. “We’re trying to become the one place to find all of these texts.”

The Internet History Sourcebooks account for 80 percent of online traffic to the University’s website, according to Kowaleski.

“Not only are both the Internet Sourcebooks and Online Medieval Bibliography tremendous pedagogical resources for a very large online constituency,” she said, “but they are also incredible public relations tools for Fordham and the Center for Medieval Studies.”


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