Planning Your Search
Sometimes the hardest part of research is knowing where to start. Here are some suggestions about how to get started on finding primary sources.
Fist step: EITHER choose a general topic and read about it; reference books such as the Dictionary of the Middle Ages can help you identify people, events, and even documents that may be good leads to primary sources - OR browse some primary source collections (on reserve) and see what ideas they give you.
Second step: searching for primary sources: Primary sources - official documents, writings, letters, works of art - may be found in many places in the library. A number of collections of primary sources are on reserve. Ask for these at the front desk. In addition to the books on reserve, try searching for important people as authors. Or search the catalog for your topic, adding the search terms "sources" or "documents" or "letters." It might also be worthwhile to find out where the books on your topic are shelves and browse through them; often primary source documents may be included in secondary sources.
Third step: Examine your sources and see what questions arise.
Fourth step: Use secondary sources to propose answers to those questions. A historian may provide just the background and context you need to fill in the gaps. You may find yourself going back and forth from one step to another - a secondary source may suggest another primary source to track down. Research rarely proceeds in a straight line.
A final note: as you find sources that look promising, be sure to record enough information to cite it. See Everyday Writer for details.
Reference books are an excellent place to start your research. These specialized encyclopedias provide overviews of topics, giving you both a sense of the scope of the topic and good search terms! Some reference books also have suggestions for further reading; locate these books and articles to use as sources in your paper.
- Atlas of Medieval Europe
Covers the period from the fall of the Roman Empire through to the beginnings of the Renaissance, spreading from the Atlantic coast to the Russian steppes. Each map approaches a separate issue or series of events in medieval history, and a commentary locates it in its broader context.
Location(s): Ref G 1791 .A75 2007
- Dictionary of the Middle Ages
13 vols. A scholarly, readable, and beautifully laid-out encyclopedia covering people, events, ideas, movements, texts, and cultural features of the medieval world. Articles are often illustrated with period art work and are followed by bibliographies of primary and secondary sources.
Location(s): Ref D 114 .D5 1982
- Illustrated Encyclopedia of Medieval Civilization
Identifies historical figures, ideas, works of art and architecture, political events, and social and economic trends from the period between the fifth and fifteenth centuries, around the world.
Location(s): Ref CB 353 .G7 1980b
- New Cambridge Medieval History
A comprehensive history of Europe from 500 to 1500 AD.
Location(s): Ref D 117 .N48 1995
- Oxford Dictionary of the Middle Ages
This four-volume set offers concise articles on people, places, and events as well as substantial essays on broad topics such as art and architecture, medicine, agricultural technology, etc. Bibliographies
Location(s): Ref D114 .O94 2010
- Medieval Art: A Topical Dictionary
Covers early Christian and Byzantine topics.
Location(s): Ref N 7850 .R67 1996
- New Oxford History of Music
An excellent chronological exploration of all aspects of music. Each volume covers a different musical period. Some have been published in newer editions. The final volume includes chronologies, bibliographies, and an index to the set.
Location(s): Ref ML 160 .N44
- Medieval France: An Encyclopedia
An overview of medieval France with topics pertaining to politics, economics, religion, literature, art and society.
Location(s): Ref DC 33.2 .M44 1995
- Medieval Germany: An Encyclopedia
Covering the society and culture of German and Dutch speaking Europe during medieval times, this resouce provides articles on major people, places, historical events, art and daily life. Fields covered include art history, literature, philosophy and religion.
Location(s): Ref DD157.M43 2001
- Medieval Iberia: An Encyclopedia
Includes 800+ articles on people, events, works, institutions, and topics related to the territories of present-day Spain and Portugal from 470-1500. Emphasis is on history, literature, language, religion, science, folklore and the arts. Each entry is followed by a brief bibliography.
Location(s): Ref DP99 .M33 2003
- Medieval Ireland: An Encyclopedia
Multidisciplinary in coverage, this A-Z reference work provides information on historical events, economics, politics, the arts, religion, intellectual history, and many other aspects of the period.
Location(s): Ref DA 933 .M43 2005
- Medieval Italy: An Encyclopedia
Offers brief definitions and longer essays about cities, institutions, families, people, and concepts important to Italian medieval history. Other similar volumes cover medieval France, Ireland, Iberia, and Scandinavia.
Location(s): Ref DG 443 .M43 2004
- Medieval Scandinavia: An Encyclopedia
Covers Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Sweden, and Finland from the Migration Period to the Reformation.
Location(s): Ref DL 30 .M43 1993
- Classical Myths and Legends in the Middle Ages and Renaissance
While numerous classical dictionaries identify the figures and tales of Greek and Roman mythology, this reference book explains the allegorical significance attached to the myths by Medieval and Renaissance authors. Each entry includes a bibliography, and the volume concludes with appendices and an extensive bibliography of primary and secondary sources.
Location(s): Ref PN 669 .B78 1998
- A Companion to the Medieval Theatre
250 alphabetically arranged entries offering a panoramic view of European and British theatrical productions between the years 900 and 1550.
Location(s): Ref PN 2152 .C66 1989
- A Critical Bibliography of French Literature
Volume 1 covers the medieval period.
Location(s): Ref PQ 103 .C76 1947
- German Writers and Works of the Early Middle Ages, 800-1170
Part of the Dictionary of Literary Biography series.
Location(s): Ref PS 221 .A5 v.148
- Medieval Folklore: An Encyclopedia of Myths, Legends, Tales, Beliefs, and Customs
Focus is on European folklore of 500-1500 A. D. Over 300 signed entries written by experts in the field. Each article has a bibliography.
Location(s): Ref GR 35 .M43 2000
- Medieval Japanese Writers
Part of the Dictionary of Literary Biography series.
Location(s): Ref PS 221 .A5 v.203
- Atlas of Medieval Jewish History
Covers the time period from the 5th century to the mid 17th.
Location(s): Ref G 1034 .B413 1992
- Atlas of the Crusades
Over 120 color maps.
Location(s): Ref G 1034 .R5 1991
- New Catholic Encyclopedia
This recently-revised encyclopedia covers many general topics, but is particularly thorough in its coverage of Catholic doctrine, history, and traditional practice. Includes many illustrations.
Location(s): Ref BX 841 .N44 2002
- An Annotated Index of Medieval Women
Over 1,500 women who lived between 800 and 1500 C.E. are listed alphabetically, and details on nationality and brief summaries of available biographical references are provided.
Location(s): Ref CT 3220 .A56 1992
- Cambridge Illustrated Atlas of Warfare: The Middle Ages, 768-1487
The Atlas spans the period from the coronation of Charlemagne to the last of the English Wars of the Roses and covers campaigns in and around Europe and the Mediterranean. The illustrations depict all levels of warfare from the strategic campaigns down to individual battles, fortifications, and weaponry.
Location(s): Ref G 1034 .H6 1996
- Encyclopaedia Judaica
An excellent source for information on the Jewish people and religion, offering scholarly and in-depth articles, recently updated to include current research on historical and contemporary topics.
Location(s): Ref DS 102.8 .E496 2007
For books in the Gustavus library, use the MnPALS catalog. Write down the call number and location information. Use the maps on the library's website, the tags on the sides of shelves, or stop at the Reference Desk to figure out where your book is shelved. To request books from other libraries, visit the Interlibrary Loan page for more information or use the FindIt! button in WorldCat.
See also: Library of Congress Classification System
- MnPALS Plus
The online catalog to the library at Gustavus Adolphus College. Choose "All Libraries" in the search options to search other MnPALS libraries (such as Minnesota State schools) and request books through Interlibrary Loan. View our MnPALS Plus tutorial.
A huge combined catalog of library catalogs. Use this if we don't have a book you want available in our library.
- Medieval Sources Online
This is a small selection of online books that present medieval primary sources. Topics include the black death, the vikings, and women in the middle ages.
You might want to use articles as secondary sources. The library has lots of databases to choose from listing articles in a wide range of magazines and journals. If the full text is not available through the database, click on the yellow FindIt! button. The FindIt! button will search all other databases and our print copies to see if we have access to the article. If the article is not available from our library, there will be an option to request it from another library.
- Academic Search Premier
The world's largest academic multi-disciplinary database, Academic Search Premier indexes nearly 8,050 publications and provides full text for nearly 4,600, including more than 3,500 peer-reviewed journals. Coverage also includes many newspapers and popular magazines and spans virtually every area of academic study since 1975. Updated daily. Access is provided by the Electronic Library for Minnesota (ELM). View our Academic Search Premier tutorial.
- ATLA Religion Database & ATLA Serials
A comprehensive research database in the fields of religion and theology produced by the American Theological Library Association. Includes bibliographic citations and abstracts to journal articles from over 1,500 titles, citations to essays and book chapters, book reviews, and Doctor of Ministry projects. Many journal articles and book reviews are also available in full text.
On the Web
Full-text backfiles to over 350 scholarly journals from more than 25 academic disciplines published between the 19th and 21st centuries in the JSTOR Arts & Sciences I, Arts & Sciences II, and Language & Literature collections. JSTOR provides complete journal backruns from the date of initial publication up to a "moving wall" of 3 to 5 years before the present year. To limit your search to full text articles, make sure that the option to "include links to external content" is turned off.
Use these pages to explore other library resources.
- Citing Your Sources
Start here to find information on citing your sources in MLA, APA, and Chicago Style.
- Reference Desk
Hours for fall semester at the Reference Desk are: Monday - Thursday 10:00 - 5:00 & 6:00 - 10:00, Friday 10:00 - 5:00, and Sunday 2:00 - 10:00. Student peer assistants are also available several evenings a week from 10pm until midnight.
Page Coordinator: Michelle Twait firstname.lastname@example.org
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