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Medieval History Collections

Find out more about the extensive Medieval History Collections in the IHR Wohl Library. We collect historical sources, reference works and guides to finding and using sources. This page shows examples from the collections.

Introduction

The collections on medieval history are one of the strengths of the IHR library. The collections focus on editions of primary sources, alongside complementary aids to study such as reference works, guides and historiography. 

There are sections on medieval history across the library. Collections are both geographically-arranged (for example within the French collection, works on Medieval France are at classmark EF.2) and thematically-arranged (for example Medieval Military history at W.41). The local and regional history sections (e.g., ENL Low Countries, ESR Spain) also contain particularly rich sources on medieval history. Material is collected both in language of origin and translations, and language dictionaries and guides are available. Online resources are included within the relevant sections of this guide and as a separate section at the end. 

For the purposes of this guide, we are using an end date of around 1500 varying from region to region based on political changes and dynasties. There is a complementary guide covering Early modern history [to link here]. This guide is arranged in three sections: Primary sources with subsections on types of source, Selected themes such as Medieval Women and Travel writing and Secondary Works including bibliographies, guides and historiography.  

The collections are complemented by material at Senate House Library and the Warburg Institute Library. For the very early middle ages readers will also find useful material in the Institute of Classical Studies Library which covers late antiquity. 

 

Image credit: "a miniature depicting a family by the Seder table with the master of the house placing the basket of unleavened bread on the head of one of his children", from British Library Additional 14761 f. 28v, Spain c. 1340.

Finding within the Library

Collection Arrangement

Collections within the library each have a letter, followed by a numerical sequence (decimal numbers are used, arranged as if after a decimal point, so for example ER.53 comes after ER.504). Each national collection has a sequence of local and regional material following the general sequence. The main areas with medieval sections and the corresponding classmarks are as follows: 

  • Austria (to 1556): EA.291
  • Britain and England: General sections with medieval material: B.0 Bibliographies/guides, B.2 Biography, B.3-4 Law and Parliament, B.5 England to 1485, BC English local history 
  • Byzantium: EV 
  • Crusades: EU 
  • France (to 1483): EF.2
  • General history: E.1 Historiography and Methodology, E.2 Reference works, E.41-46 Carolingian and Holy Roman Empire, E.6 Sources and Secondary works Medieval 
  • Germany to 1517: EG.2  
  • Italy to c. 1494: EI.2
  • Ireland to 1540: BI.4  
  • Jewish history: EY.092 and EY.2 
  • Low Countries to 1555: EN.31-37  
  • Mediterranean world: EM 
  • Military: W.41 History of Naval and Military operations Ancient and Medieval
  • Portugal to 1580: EP.2
  • Religious history: ER. Includes sections on Patristics ER.2, Saints and Hagiography ER.4, Theology ER.4, Papacy: ER.5, Medieval Papacy ER.504, Papal Letter and Registers ER.53, Monasticism ER.6-7, Aspects of Religious life: liturgy, pilgrimage, Heresy and the Inquisition ER.8. Source material on religious establishments is also found in the relevant national collections. 
  • Scandinavia: ED arranged by country 
  • Scotland: BS.2 to 1542 
  • Spain to 1516: ES.2 
  • Wales to 1536: BW.2

Further Help

Contact us if you would like help on finding or using our collections, or if you have any comments or suggestions about the content of this guide. We are happy to help.

You can also join the library and book a help session.

Highlights from the Collections: Primary Sources

General Collections of Sources

Included here are some freely available online collections as well as print editions. Examples are:

Church Records

Examples are:

Place-names

The library collections include place name reference works which document place-names and allow their origins to be traced. Some examples:

Highlights from the Collection: Secondary Works

Biographical Works

Most of the library’s sections include biographical listings, both general resources such as National Biographical dictionaries, and themed listings such as by trade, religious office holders or listings of aristocratic households. Examples are: 

The collections also include some biographies of individuals e.g. B.58 British collection

Secondary Texts

The library doesn’t generally collect secondary material but some works are held where they are considered useful guides to the sources or have source-based appendices. We actively collect Festschriften. A few examples:

Periodicals

The most recent years of most of our journals are on open shelves in the Current Periodicals room. Earlier issues can be ordered from the stack. Many are also available online within the building via the links on the catalogue. Bibliography of British and Irish History and JSTOR are examples of the online databases that can be used to locate journal articles. Examples of medieval history periodicals are listed below, but articles will be found across periodicals on many subjects:

Selected Themes

Medieval Women

Insights about the lives of medieval women are found within many primary sources across the collections. There are also compilations of sources on the subject, and some secondary works. Finding items in sources require some digging and knowledge of the likely places. Secondary works and collections of sources on the subject can be found using subject and keyword searches on the catalogue. Some examples: 

Collections of writings

Individual women or families

    Women and religion

    Spaces and objects

    Wills

    Secondary works

    Clothing and Textiles

    Examples include sources on clothing, laws on clothing and the textile trade, archaeological sources and secondary works. There will also be many examples within more general sources. See also the Fashion history guide.

    Examples of descriptions from within sources:

    • Descriptions of the prescribed apparel for Servants, Esquires and Gentlemen, Merchants, Knights, the Clergy and Ploughmen in Statutes of the Realm, 37 Edward III c.8-15 1363
    • "A statute was approved during the parliament to prohibit the export of wool, while seeking to encourage the manufacture of cloth in England... No one was to use foreign made cloth, except the king, queen and their children" (Parliament Rolls of Medieval England, 1337 March, Vol. 4 p.230)

    Building and Households

    The collection includes both primary sources such as estate and building records and secondary works. See also the separate Architectural History collections guide. Examples are:

    Primary sources

    Reference and secondary works