The Journal for MultiMediaHistory
Volume 1 Number 1 ~ Fall 1998
 

Internet Medieval Sourcebook, http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/sbook.html
Paul Halsall, editor and originator (Fordham University), 1996.
 

Image from David Burr's Web site. See URL reference below.
Image from David Burr's Web site.
This impressive Web site was originated in 1996 by Paul Halsall, a Ph.D. candidate in history at Fordham University. The expressed goal of the site is to provide teachers and students of Medieval history with a convenient alternative to unnecessarily expensive sourcebooks in the form of an online collection of primary historical documents in translation that are available as public domain and copy-permitted texts. With the cooperation of numerous Medieval scholars across the Internet, the site has grown today into a well-designed and comprehensive compilation of resources that goes far beyond the initial goal to include some primary texts in Spanish, a few secondary sources, a hot-linked list of courses using the Medieval Sourcebook (sixty-five so far), selected maps and images, a guide to Medieval films, and links to the Online Reference Book for Medieval Studies (http://orb.rhodes.edu/) as well as to other extremely useful pages designed by Halsall including e.g., the Internet Ancient History Sourcebook (http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/ancient/asbook.html), the Byzantine Studies Page (http://www.bway.net/~halsall/byzantium.html), and the Internet Modern History Sourcebook (http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/modsbook.html).

The Internet Medieval Sourcebook is thoughtfully organized into three major parts: "Selected Sources" (excerpted texts for teaching purposes that are usually three or more pages long “allowing students to see a larger context, and to escape from being spoon-fed”); "Full Text Sources" (full texts of Medieval sources arranged according to type); and "Saints’ Lives" (devoted to Ancient, Medieval and Byzantine hagiographical sources). Each part has its own index page with a number of supplementary documents attached. The index pages are large but, since graphics are kept to a minimum, they load quickly and allow the user to access the primary information within two to three “clicks.” The index pages are also carefully designed with bookmarks to the numerous sections and subsections. For example, the "Selected Sources" index includes well-considered sections on "Studying History," "The End of the Classical World," "Byzantium," "Islam," "The Formation of Latin Christendom," "The Flowering of Latin Christendom," "Medieval Life and Thought," "The Late Middle Ages," and "Transformations." One of the great strengths of this Sourcebook is the equal coverage given to Byzantine and Islamic sources as well as the inclusion of texts addressing women's history, the history of sexuality, lay and popular religion, and the history of marginalized groups such as the Jews.

Map of Europe in 1360, from the Internet Medieval Sourcebook site.
Map of Europe in 1360, from
the Internet Medieval Sourcebook site.
Contributing to Halsall’s great success in putting together this enormous and nearly comprehensive Internet Medieval Sourcebook is the large availability of public domain material (as defined by U.S. copyright law). However, in many cases, as Halsall himself notes, this means that the available online translations are from before 1923 (or 1964 if copyright was not renewed after twenty-eight years) while later, more correct or readable translations cannot be used. This situation pertains, for example, to the works of Bede, Froissart, and Joinville. Nevertheless, what the site occasionally loses in translation quality, it more than gains in comprehensiveness. There is much more for students to discover here than in any sourcebook of the printed variety. In fact, according to Janet Loengard (http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/courses.html), who teaches Medieval Europe classes at both Moravian College and Lehigh University, the use of the Internet Medieval Sourcebook has transformed her course because students tend to browse beyond the assigned documents and make their own discoveries of interesting and "funny" texts. To achieve this kind of student engagement with primary sources from the Medieval period is indeed a great accomplishment!

Like Loengard’s students, this art historian also browsed among the wealth of material within the Internet Medieval Sourcebook, and made one especially interesting discovery on the "Selected Sources" page under the headings "The Flowering of Latin Christendom" and "The Rise of France": a new, copy-permitted translation of the Liber de Rebus Administratione Sua Gestis of Suger, Abbot of St. Denis (http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/sugar.html), written between 1144-1148. This crucial text, familiar to every student of Medieval art and civilization, is concerned with the Abbey Church of St.-Denis in Paris, the birthplace of the Gothic style envisioned by Abbot Suger, who dreamed of an architecture which by means of unified space and dramatic colored light would recreate on earth the celestial light of heaven. The text of the De Administratione has been available to students and scholars primarily through the English translation (1946; revised 1979) by the great art historian Erwin Panofsky who examined the original manuscripts. It is otherwise known in Latin editions of the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. The new translation is David Burr's of the History Department at Virginia Polytechnic Institute. According to his Web site (http://dburr.hist.vt.edu/), he made this translation for the sake of his classes and not apparently with a view to print publication. He provides his translation with a brief introduction on the life and significance of Abbot Suger, useful for teaching purposes. Unfortunately, there is no information on when or how the translation was produced other than the statement that "all of the work that has survived is reproduced here." This statement, however, is incorrect; and the translation reproduces only those sections that Panofsky chose to publish in his book, i.e. the "Introduction" (chapter 1, first half), and the "Second Part," beginning with chapter XXIV. It seems likely, therefore, that the translation was made from the Latin text reproduced in Panofsky’s book (although no mention is made of this fact) rather than from the original manuscripts. Despite this lack of information (which surely would have been included in a print publication), the translation itself is quite wonderful. It eliminates the archaic English, and at times, the awkward word order, that is characteristic of Panofsky’s translation, resulting in a vigorous and faithful text that should be infinitely more accessible to students of the 1990s. It is to be hoped that Burr (and Halsall) will eventually provide translations of the rest of De Administratione as well as Suger’s Libellus Alter de Consecratione Ecclesiae Sancti Dionysii and the Ordinatio of 1140/1141 which are currently not to be found within the Internet Medieval Sourcebook.

An image from the<br><i>Internet Medieval Sourcebook</i> site.
An image from the Medieval
Sourcebook site.
Another art historical source that I examined within the Internet Medieval Sourcebook was the Lives of the Artists by Giorgio Vasari, which can be found on the "Selected Sources" page under the headings "Transformations" and "Italian Renaissance." Halsall provides selections from the Life of Leonardo da Vinci (http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/vasari1.html) reproduced from the fine English translation by Gaston du C. de Vere (London, 1912-1915). Although identified as a translation of the 1550 edition of the Lives, it is actually a translation of the 1568 edition, which is just as well since the 1550 edition is of limited interest to most art historians. Halsall also provides a partial posting (actually, re-posting) of Vasari’s Lives at http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/vasari/vasari-lives.html. This originally was available on a site at the University at Maryland, Baltimore, but has since disappeared from that server. Here, however, the English translation that is used is not identified, and it is difficult to determine who was originally responsible for the posting (which has not been carefully proof-read). Nevertheless, it appears that this version of Vasari's Lives basically reproduces the edition published by Noonday Press in 1967 which utilizes the 1885 version of Elizabeth L. Seeley, who selected, translated, and abridged the chapters that seemed to her the most important.

Halsall has provided the Internet Medieval Sourcebook with a good and flexible search engine (HotBot) that allows the user to choose the search range and key words (Boolean operators work). To this, Halsall has added a "user-friendly" explanation of how the search engine works, demonstrating an awareness of his wide audience that includes both students and scholars with varied computer skills. This sensitivity is evident in the numerous explanations that are included throughout the site and in the occasional gentle reminders to undergraduate students that they should visit the library and not rely on Internet sources alone for their papers. Halsall also provides students with a useful link to "A Brief Citation Guide for Internet Sources in History and the Humanities" by Melvin E. Page (http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/cite.html).

Because of its comprehensive coverage and careful design, which makes it very easy to use, the Internet Medieval Sourcebook must be counted among the very best Web sites available for teachers, scholars, students, and enthusiasts of Medieval history.

Ann M. Nicgorski
Willamette University

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Web Site Review of The Internet Medieval Sourcebook
Copyright © 1998 by the Journal for MultiMedia History



Comments to: jmmh@csc.albany.edu

Contents: JMMH, Volume 1 Number 1 ~ Fall 1998