Pathfinder for Old and Medieval English Literature, for academic study and language comprehension.
This pathfinder is designed to be a guide for locating resources useful to an academic student beginning study in medieval literature. This is not a comprehensive guide; most of the resources presented here will have a broader focus, and might include references to several medieval works. A few select resources have a narrower focus on the most notable medieval texts.
When studying Medieval English Literature, there are several different call numbers which can be browsed for information. The call numbers below use the Dewey Decimal System.
820 – English and Old English Literature. This is a broad range, and includes all Old and Medieval English literature.
821 – English poetry. A good portion of medieval literature was written in the form of poetry. This is the call number range including Chaucer.
829 – Old English. This includes translations of some of the oldest English texts, often originally written in verse. The notable and most recognizable work in this range is Beowulf.
420 – English & Old English. This call number range focuses on language rather than literary works. The differences between Old, Medieval, and Modern English are large enough to be considered different languages. Books in this range will assist with understanding the differences and nuances.
429 – Old English. Within the 420 range is the more specific 429 range. These texts deal specifically with the Old English language, including English-to-Old-English and Old-English-to-English dictionaries.
English literature — Middle English, 1100-1500 – History and criticism
This subject heading will provide articles about English literature in general, though some specific texts will also be included. Recommended for generalist searches.
English poetry — Old English, ca. 450- 1100
This subject heading will provide Old English poetry specifically, including texts such as Beowulf and Caedman’s Hymn.
Middle Ages — Literary collections
A broader subject heading, this includes resources on all literary texts considered to fall within the years of the middle ages. Recommended for primary sources.
English literature — Old English, ca. 450-1100 — Modernized versions
Similar to the English Poetry subject heading, this subject heading is specific to Old English works. Where the previous subject heading had limited the search to poetry, this subject heading instead limits to modern translations. These texts do not typically contain the original words, only the modern translations.
Anglo-Saxons — Literary collections
This subject heading will provide resources on all literary texts which might have been written in Old English, and might extend to texts beyond the borders of England.
The reference works listed below are all resources I have made use of in the past, and would be useful to those with an interest in the subject. Four of the five are available through the University of Kentucky libraries; for the first (the Norton Anthology), the library does not contain the specific volume I reference (Volume A); this volume is included in the Volume 1 reference book found at University of Kentucky.
Greenblatt, S., & Abrams, M. (2006). The Norton anthology of English literature (8th ed., Vol. A). New York: W.W. Norton.
-UK Libraries location: Young Library, Books – 4th Floor; PR1109 N6 2006
This volume is limited to only the selections for the middle ages; it is included in Volume 1 of the Norton Anthology. This book includes an introduction and timeline, and over 30 different medieval works, either in whole or in part. They are arranged by context (Anglo-Saxon, Anglo-Norman, 14th and 15th century England), and all works have an introduction discussing the author, the specific work, the context, or some combination of the three depending on how much is known. Included in Volume A is an insert with selected color images relevant to the works.
Trapp, J., Gray, D., & Boffey, J. (2002). Medieval English literature (2nd ed., The Oxford anthology of English literature). New York: Oxford University Press.
-UK Libraries location: Young Library, Books – 4th Floor; PR1120 M37 2002
Similar to the Norton Anthology, the Oxford Anthology is a collection of works, either in whole or in part, which gives the reader a sample of the time period. There is some variation between what was chosen for the Norton Anthology and what was chosen for the Oxford, with the notable inclusion of ballads (and the melodies which go with them). The Oxford Anthology is also structured a bit differently, organizing works by type (Romance, Theater, Ballad) rather than context. Maps and black-and-white images are included.
Wallace, D. (1999). The Cambridge history of medieval English literature. Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press.
-UK Libraries location: Young Library, Books – 4th Floor; PR255 .C35 1999
Unlike the previous texts, this book focuses on the history of literature rather than the text itself. This reference is a great starting point for placing medieval works in historical context, and includes a vast number of references to scholarly writings leading readers to additional information. It also includes a chronology of historical events, and a bibliography of relevant materials.
Davis, N. (1979). A Chaucer glossary. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
-UK Libraries location: Young Library, Books – 4th Floor; PR1941 .C50
This is the only reference book included which is focused on a specific work. I include this text because Chaucer was such an important medieval author it is almost impossible to go through an introductory medieval literature course without seeing one of his tales. Similar to a dictionary, words are arranged in alphabetical order with the first and last words on the page printed in bold letters in the header. In addition to providing the modern English version of the word, the text also provides the source language/dialect and references the work where the word appears.
Cusack, B. (1998). Everyday English 1500-1700: A reader. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
-UK Libraries location: Young Library, Books – 4th Floor; PE825 .E94 1998
While it does include a short bibliography and some notes on the period, the primary reason I include this text is because of the focus and notes on language. Letters, journals, memoirs, etc. have excerpts typed out, and then notes follow for the manuscript (multiple handwritings, etc), glossary of terms, notes for cultural context of terms (or possible misspellings), and background. Each text also includes a section titled “Topics for linguistic investigation”, providing the reader with linguistic points of interest. For several texts, a black-and-white image of the original source text is provided.
This resource is invaluable when it comes to locate source materials. While not all materials have full text available, all records contain images of the text pages, allowing users to see the original format, with all original line breaks, illustrations, and layouts.
The OED is a great resource as it allows the user to search for a word in the old or middle English spelling and will return results for definition as well as provide examples of the word in relevant texts. It will also display the different forms of the word and relevant timeframes. For example, the old English word “wyrd” shows more than 10 Middle English variants. Also provided is etymology of the word.
The Internet Medieval Sourcebook: http://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/Halsall/sbook.asp
A collection of online sources related to medieval studies. It includes three sections: selected sources, full text sources, and saints’ lives. There is a warning on the website that, due to the age of the sourcebook (first began in 1996) some links had experienced “link rot”. They believe all bad links have been resolved, however I would suggest searching for newer links rather than using the internet archive (as the site suggests). An updated version of a source may be the cause of the bad link. A wide range of resources are available, linked through the site.
The Online Reference Book for Medieval Studies (The ORB): http://the-orb.arlima.net/
Includes teaching resources, online texts, an encyclopedia, and other reference materials. Also included are links “of General Interest” – resources geared specifically towards non-specialists, so ideal for first steps into understanding medieval studies. Also included tips for writing papers.
Online Medieval Sources Bibliography: http://medievalsourcesbibliography.org
A searchable database of annotated bibliographies. Primarily used to find modern editions or translations of primary sources; audience is also considered for each source, allowing teachers and professors to find the source most appropriate to the students they are teaching.
Academic Search Complete (EBSCOhost), available through the UK Library: http://libraries.uky.edu/record.php?lir_id=4
While this is a broad database covering many subjects, the Academic Search complete contains over 1,000 works under the subject heading “Medieval Literature”. This database also allows the user to search for author’s, as not all works are marked as medieval (i.e., some articles on Chaucer are listed under the subject heading “English Manuscripts” or under “translating and interpreting”). EBSCOhost allows the user to search by all text, author, title, subject terms, abstract, geographic terms, people, reviews and products, company, NAICS Code, DUNS number, Ticker, Journal Name, ISSN, ISBN, or Accession Number. My recommendation is to search all text by either the author of the source piece or the title, then to limit the results appropriately (publication date, type, etc.). This will lead the user to find common subject headings for the specific work they are researching.
JSTOR, available through the UK Library: http://libraries.uky.edu/record.php?lir_id=266
This database contains a larger selection of works relevant to medieval studies; under the topic “Medieval Literature” are nearly 5,000 articles. While there are fewer ways to limit the search (full text, author, title, abstract, and caption), the user can again narrow by publication date or subject, or choose an advanced search to retrieve results only from specific journals. JSTOR also has a “Text Analyzer”. The user can “drop” a document in the analyzer, and within moments the analyzer will identify key terms and generate recommended articles. This is a useful tool for someone with typed notes who is looking for sources relevant to their ideas.
The Modern Language Review: http://www.mhra.org.uk/index.php/journals/MLR
Published four times a year, this journal is focused predominately on medieval and modern literature. It is known for scholarly articles and is an excellent compilation of reputable sources. First published in 1905, it published over 1000 pages annually, split between articles and book reviews (provides over 500 book reviews a year).
The Chaucer Review: http://www.psupress.org/Journals/jnls_chaucer.html
Published four times a year, this journal centers on Chaucer but also includes articles on associated subjects such as medieval literature, philosophy, etc., which are relevant to the study of the author, contemporaries, predecessors, or audiences. This would be a primary research source for Chaucerian studies, and may provide some supporting research for other medieval studies.
Medium Ævum: http://mediumaevum.modhist.ox.ac.uk/journal
Only published twice a year, the most recent volume contained 9 articles and over 80 reviews. It is published by the Society for the Study of Medieval Languages and Literature.
Published four times a year, this is the only academic journal which focuses primarily on Arthurian studies; it encompasses all aspects of Arthurian culture and chivalry – including from the time of the middle ages. Authors are some of the top scholars of the field, and current journals include formal notices of the International Arthurian Society’s activities. Also included are book reviews and brief notices on a variety of medieval subjects.
The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Middle Ages (Norton Topics Online): http://www.wwnorton.com/college/english/nael/middleages/welcome.htm
While not as thorough as the physical anthology, the website contains several overviews, texts, contexts, illustrations, and resources; some of these resources are not found in the physical book version. Some linked web resources include bibliographies and databases. It also includes a quiz where users can test their knowledge and send their scores to their professors. The quiz provides the correct answer, and also a page reference. Additional texts are provided under the “Chronological Index” as scanned PDF images of the anthology.
The Camelot Project: http://d.lib.rochester.edu/camelot-project
A scholarly resource for those studying Arthurian literature. It contains both texts and images, sorted by author, artist, character, symbol, place, or creature. It contains links to both scholarly resources and to student projects. It also includes links to other Robbins Library Digital projects, including the TEAMS Middle English texts, the Robin Hood project, and Visualizing Chaucer.
The Digital Scriptorium: http://www.digital-scriptorium.org/
Free online access to pre-modern collections from various libraries and museums. The collection includes high-quality images; the quality shows detail on a very small scale, and many of the images also contain a ruler for the user to have as a reference point.
International Congress on Medieval Studies: https://wmich.edu/medievalcongress
Each year, Western Michigan University has a medieval conference at Kalamazoo, MI. For those committed to scholarly medieval studies, this conference is a big deal. Top scholars in the field attend, along with over 70 exhibitors (publishers, etc.). The conference lasts three days, and has over 500 sessions of paper presentations, panel discussions, roundtables, workshops, and performances.