Yvonne Seale

Making Women Matter, One Medieval Manuscript at a Time

Category: Resources

A Beginner’s Reading List: Medieval Europe

It’s difficult for an academic historian to critique popular history books on the Middle Ages without sounding snotty, or dry, or some unappetising combination of both. Popular history books are where the majority of general readers encounter the medieval past. The issue is that many of the popular history works about the Middle Ages best represented in local libraries and second-hand bookshops are not particularly good.

Judging from my casual conversations with people, they’re most likely to have read works such as William Manchester’s egregious A World Lit Only By Fire: The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance (1992), which was a New York Times bestseller and an unabashedly shoddy hatchet job on the medieval world, or Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century (1978), which spins a yarn good enough to win a U.S. National Book Award and does a better job with the sources than does Manchester, but whose arguments were dated even when it was first published. (Let’s not even get started on the person who once told me, in all seriousness, that they’d learned a great deal about medieval Italy from reading The Da Vinci Code. I still get the night sweats thinking about it.)

It’s much easier, however, to push good books on people than to sneer at what they have already read in good faith. All the titles listed here are in English, and should be accessible to the interested general reader, or academic non-specialist. I’ve also tried to only include works which aren’t too expensive (as far as medieval history books go), or which should be available cheaply secondhand.

Getting Started

Miri Rubin. The Middle Ages: A Very Short Introduction (2014).

Find it: Indiebound | Publisher | Local Library

This little paperback does exactly what it promises on the cover: provides a very short introduction to the Middle Ages. In just 120 pages, Miri Rubin covers the ways in which medieval Europeans thought society should work and what salvation would look like, how they treated minorities and what points of connection we can see between the Middle Ages and the modern world. This is a straightforward refutation of the idea that the Middle Ages were a benighted and backwards time.


Chris Wickham. Medieval Europe (2016).

Find it: Indiebound | Publisher | Local Library

If you’re looking for a slightly more extensive introduction than Rubin’s Very Short Introduction, Chris Wickham’s Medieval Europe is probably the most up-to-date broad introduction available. Wickham covers the broad sweep of the thousand years between the end of the Roman Empire in the West to the Reformation, taking in some of the key social, economic, and political factors that shaped medieval Europe. Byzantium, the Islamic world, and Eastern Europe all feature—essential areas to consider, yet ones which are often omitted in standard surveys.


Marcus Bull. Thinking Medieval: An Introduction to the Study of the Middle Ages (2005).

Find it: Indiebound | Publisher | Local Library

If you want to step back and consider why we think about the Middle Ages in the ways that we do, pick up Marcus Bull’s Thinking Medieval. It’s compact but wide-ranging, looking at the stereotypes and representations of the Middle Ages in film, television, and the press—from Ivanhoe to A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court and Pulp Fiction—and exploring why they are so persistent. Though written with the college classroom in mind, I think it’s also accessible to the general reader with an interest in understanding why the remote past matters.



Digging Deeper

Paul Freedman. Out of the East: Spices and the Medieval Imagination (2008).

Find it: Indiebound | Publisher | Local Library

There’s a popular misconception that before Columbus’ sailed west across the Atlantic, medieval Europe was cut off from the rest of the world. Yet in Out of the East, Paul Freedman explores how trade—in particular the spice trade—had long linked Europe with parts of the world far distant from it. Traders were drawn east in search of pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, and other culinary and medicinal luxuries—and medieval Europeans enjoyed heavily spiced food that often resembled what we’d think of as quintessentially Asian or Middle Eastern food today.


Fredric L. Cheyette, Ermengard of Narbonne and the World of the Troubadours.

Find it: Indiebound | Publisher | Local Library

In the late twelfth century, a woman named Ermengard, viscountess of Narbonne ruled across a large swathe of what is now southern France. Fredric Cheyette sets out to rescue her from the historical shadows. This is a hefty book, but one which provides some fascinating insight into the political and social contexts of this period—what it meant for a woman to be the lord of an important port city in a region home to one of the Middle Ages’ most famous heresies.


Barbara Hanawalt. The Ties that Bound: Peasant Families in Medieval England (1986).

Find it: Indiebound | Publisher | Local Library

How did peasants in medieval England—the vast majority of the population—care for their children and their elderly? What games did they play? What did their homes look like? In The Ties that Bound, Barbara Hanawalt made pioneering use of late medieval coroners’ rolls to uncover details of the daily lives of peasants in fourteenth- and fifteenth-century England—and to show people who were as distinct and complex as anyone nowadays.



The Medieval and the Modern

Celia Chazelle et al. Why the Middle Ages Matter: Medieval Light on Modern Injustice (2011).

Find it: Indiebound | Publisher | Local Library

This thought-provoking collection of essays sets out to prove the assertion in its title. The various essays—on topics as diverse as healthcare, crime and punishment, and clerical sexual scandals—argue that while the Middle Ages may not provide neat solutions to modern social problems, then they do at least offer us new ways of approaching them. After all, “medieval” is not, and should not be used as, a simple synonym for “barbaric”, any more than “modern” is a synonym for “progress.”


María Rosa Menocal. The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain (2002).

Find it: Indiebound | Publisher | Local Library

The “clash of civilisations” narrative—of an irreparable, binary conflict between the Christian West and the Muslim World—is used by many to explain contemporary political conflicts. Yet religious polarisation is hardly inevitable, and in The Ornament of the World, María Rosa Menocal explores the diverse and vibrant culture created by Muslims, Jews, and Christians in medieval Iberia. This multi-cultural society was one of the most advanced in medieval Europe. Menocal’s recreation of the glories of al-Andalus is perhaps at times an overly rosy one, but this is still a useful introduction to a period that’s still too-little known.


Patrick Geary. The Myth of Nations: The Medieval Origins of Europe (2003).

Find it: Indiebound | Publisher | Local Library

Nationalism is undergoing a resurgence in Western politics—Brexit and the election of Donald Trump being the two most prominent examples. Much of these ideologies are predicated on certain views of medieval history, but here Patrick Geary argues that ethno-nationalism has more to do with myth than with history—that its rallying cries date back to the nineteenth century, not to the Middle Ages. Geary packs a lot of argument into a relatively brief space, and even if you don’t agree with all of his conclusions, The Myth of Nations is sure to spark much further reflection.


That’s nine great books to start with, but there are lots more out there. If there are other books about medieval history that you’d particularly recommend to a beginning reader (or really wish that people would avoid), feel free to leave a comment below!

On Empathy in Editing

Archived from its original publication at http://hortulus-journal.com/2015/06/06/digital-publishing-column-yvonne-seale-on-empathy-in-editing/

Detail of a miniature of Christine de Pizan presenting her book to Charles VI. BL Harley 4431 f. 178. [Source]

Detail of a miniature of Christine de Pizan presenting her book to Charles VI. BL Harley 4431 f. 178. [Source]

You’d perhaps expect to learn a great deal about the craft of writing when working as the editor of a journal like Hortulus. It’s true. I learned to wrangle wayward apostrophes, to figure out where an argument needed to be shored up with a contextualizing paragraph, and the tricky art of unearthing topic sentences from where they’ve been buried mid-paragraph. But what I didn’t expect to learn was something more profound: that you are not what you write.

Getting to grips with the mechanical aspects of editing is an important thing for any aspiring academic to learn, one which benefits both the article on which you’re working and, ultimately, your own writing. I know from my experiences as an editor and as a peer reviewer that figuring out how to phrase the suggestions you want to make to an author, thinking through how to articulate a hunch you have about why that paragraph needs to be moved there, can help you to truly internalize writing rules you’ve been hearing for a long time. It may be an old adage, but it’s a true one—you only really understand something if you can explain it to someone else.

Yet this is not the most valuable aspect of the editorial experience. That lies in the way that working with someone else’s prose can change your own relationship with your writing. One of the most difficult things for a budding medievalist to learn in graduate school—or at least so it was for me—isn’t getting to grips with paleography, or the myriad uses of the Latin ablative, or even how to get through a lengthy comps exam reading list with relative speed. (Though each of these things carry their own special brand of frustration.) The most important thing is learning that you are not your work.

I know that may sound a little corny, and as the product of a stolid Irish farming family, I resisted fully understanding the maxim for quite some time. I was raised to believe that if something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right, and that you should take pride in a job well done. There’s nothing inherently wrong with those ideas, but I think that how I internalized them led me to confuse the end-product with the process. Looking back at my undergraduate career, and even my time as a Master’s student, I can now see how that confusion led to a lot of stress, frustration, and anxiety. It’s possible to make a sincere effort with a paper or an article, to do the best you can with the information that you have, and still end up with a piece of work that doesn’t entirely do what you want it to do. And yet the most difficult thing turns out to be not looking at that draft that’s not what it should be, and figuring out how it needs to be fixed; it’s realizing that producing an imperfect draft isn’t a measure of your ability as a scholar.

 Detail of a miniature of Vincent of Beauvais, a Dominican friar, writing at his desk. BL Royal 14 E I f. 3. [Source]

Detail of a miniature of Vincent of Beauvais, a Dominican friar, writing at his desk. BL Royal 14 E I f. 3. [Source]

What gives you a far better sense of your measure as a scholar is your ability to adapt your writing, to see the potential in your work, and to make something better of it. Working as an editor provides you with a good object lesson in the truth of this. Once an article has been accepted by a journal, an editor doesn’t work with just one version of it. At least during my stint at Hortulus, I got to see multiple versions of the same work: the original version (which was of course often itself the final iteration of many months of work), which I read through with an eye to identifying appropriate peer reviewers; the annotated versions which the reviewers return, marked up with what excited them or what they felt lacking; and then the revised version which the author returns, incorporating the reviewers’ suggestions. This version then goes through another round of line and structural edits before it’s ready for publication. The process allows you to see people making critiques, and then others taking those critiques and doing something with them—to see not just the polished final version, but also the various revisions of it along the way.

Getting to observe this process at a remove helps to break down some of the fear that there are other scholars out there—the nebulous “good ones”—who are able to produce perfect work without so much as a bead of sweat dampening their brow. When you get a seminar paper or a dissertation chapter back from an advisor and it’s liberally annotated with suggestions for further readings, queries about the framing of your argument, or even the occasional inscrutable ‘???’, it is in no way proof that you are less good than other graduate students, or that you are not working as hard as your peers. Critique is just one step in the process, one that will hopefully let you see the potential in your work.

Working as an editor also makes you see that you have something to offer as a scholar, that you have amassed a body of knowledge on your area of study on which you can draw. The work that you put into structuring the historiographical section of your master’s thesis—you can draw on that to provide advice to someone who’s struggling to make the framework of their article cohere. All that reading you did for your comps exams—that lets you come up with a reference to a journal article that will help to bolster the point that the author has made. As graduate students, there’s still so much for us to learn about the craft of being a historian or a literary scholar, but it’s not self-important for us to recognize that our own work is built upon a steadily expanding knowledge base.

BL, MS Harley 2850, fol. 47v. St Brigit of Sweden is shown writing.

BL, MS Harley 2850, fol. 47v. St Bridget of Sweden is shown writing.

Yet equally, to be a diligent editor also requires a recognition of the fallibility of critique, of the fact that those who review work are not omniscient. Their assessment may be wrong; they may want the author to have written a completely different manuscript. I know that when I edit something, I do so out of a sincere desire to help someone improve their work and the belief that my suggestions will help the author to do so. However, I don’t presume to think that my advice is always right just because it’s well-intentioned, nor am I so naïve as to think that all peer reviewers are working from the same good motivations. Having to critique others’ work has helped make it much clearer for me, that the critique which I receive on my work is something to be taken seriously and thoughtfully, but also as counsel rather than a final judgment.

Part of being a good editor is treating another’s work with empathy, mindful of the labor that has been put into it so far and looking always for its potential—and when you learn to do that with a colleague’s work, you learn to do the same with your own.

A Beginner’s Guide to Digital Palaeography of Medieval Manuscripts

[Header Image: Cambridge, Queen’s College MS C.13.16]

Today, together with my colleagues, Heather Wacha, Sarah Bond, and Katherine Tachau, I led a workshop on “Latin Paleography and Transcription”, under the auspices of the University of Iowa Digital Scholarship and Publishing Studio. The workshop celebrated the launch of a new feature of UI’s DIY History website: a translation feature to join the site’s pre-existing transcription function. It also introduced participants to the hundreds of medieval Latin manuscript leaves held at the University of Iowa Special Collections, but which DIY History now makes available worldwide to students, scholars, and anyone with an interest in the Middle Ages. This is a great new tool for both research and teaching.

Palaeography is the study of historical handwriting; reading archaic hands is a highly necessary skill for historians, but one that takes a lot of practice to acquire. Digital tools can help make it easier for a budding medievalist to get to grips with sources in the original, both in terms of transcription and of translation. They can also help more established scholars to push discussion of manuscripts in new directions, by allowing for the easier comparison of a whole corpus of digitised manuscripts, their letter forms, and internal structures.

The resources listed here are some of those which I touched on in the workshop. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but one designed to provide a jumping off point for future exploration of digitized manuscripts.

British Library Cotton Caligula A.xv, f. 132r.

British Library Cotton Caligula A.xv, f. 132r.


DigiPal is designed to allow you to see samples of handwriting from the period and to compare them with each other quickly and easily. It is focused on eleventh-century English hands, like the one in the manuscript pictured left. It uses lots of different kinds of annotations applied to individual letter forms or symbols so that you can really drill down and compare different manuscripts on a fine-grained level. This is good practice for working out how to identify individual scribal hands.

The Album interactif de paléographie médiévale, hosted by the University of Lyons, offers a useful selection of practical introductory exercises that will help you get your eye in on a variety of Latin, French, and Italian scripts from the 9th to the 15th centuries. (Thanks to Rosemary Moore for the heads up about this site!)

If your focus is on a slightly later period, the French Renaissance Paleography site, recently launched by the University of Toronto and the Newberry Library in Chicago, is a really great resource. It contains more than a hundred French manuscripts dated 1300-1700, with tools for teaching and transcription and some associated historical essays.

And if you really want to practice on the go, you can download the Medieval Handwriting App [iOS/Android] that lets you get your eye in on 26 different manuscripts. It includes primer pages and the opportunity to check your work.


Every so often, even the most intrepid paleographer can be stumped by a word—whether because of damage to the manuscript, because a string of minims can be difficult to parse, or because of an unusual word abbreviation. There are some digital tools that can help you out in these situations, like Enigma. If you type the letters you can read and add wildcards for those you can’t, Enigma will list all the Latin words that it could be. This tool has saved me from tearing my hair out on a number of occasions.

Portrait of the scribe Eadwine. English, ca. 1147. Cambridge R.17.1, f.283v.

Portrait of the scribe Eadwine. English, ca. 1147.
Cambridge R.17.1, f.283v.

Latin was the language of scholarship, law, administration, and diplomacy in the Middle Ages, but it was not quite the same language that had been spoken during the Roman Empire. Christian terms were borrowed from Greek and Hebrew, while regional vernaculars also shaped the vocabulary and syntax of medieval Latin. This means that medieval Latin manuscripts often contain words that you’re not going to find in a standard Latin dictionary.

That’s where the work of a French nobleman, Charles du Fresne, sieur du Cange (1610-88), still comes in useful for modern scholars. Du Cange wrote a multi-volume work, the Glossarium mediae et infimae Latinitatis (“Glossary of medieval and late Latin”, though it’s almost always referred to simply as “Du Cange”), which has gone through various editions over the centuries. One of its later iterations is now available online courtesy of the Sorbonne in an easily searchable digital edition. (I’ve also previously put together a handlist of dictionaries for those working with medieval Latin and French (langues d’oïl) texts which might be useful.)

Capelli’s dictionary of Latin abbreviations was published in 1912, but it remains an indispensable reference for medievalists. My ever more battered print version accompanies me on all my archival research, but if it’s too bulky for you or you want to look things up on the fly, you can refer to a copy which has been scanned and put online. There is a browser-based app (which is also mobile compatible) called Abbreviationes which draws on a much larger range of manuscripts than does Capelli, and is updated occasionally; however, it’s pretty expensive and has some clunky restrictions on how a subscription can be used.

If you’d like to work on transcriptions of medieval manuscripts that are not part of the University of Iowa collections, it’s worth checking out the T-PEN project at the University of St Louis. It hosts more than 4000 manuscripts that can be transcribed or annotated, and also allows you to upload your own manuscript images to create transcriptions through its online interface. You can work alone or in small groups, but for copyright reasons—and unlike DIY History—the projects can’t be public or crowd-sourced on a large scale.

Read More

If you’ve been bitten by the palaeography bug (it happens) and want to know more about how to read manuscripts and how to use them as historical artefacts in and of themselves, there are lots of resources out there for you to explore. The Sorbonne’s Theleme website hosts a bibliography with over 1500 entries (French language), all on palaeography from Late Antiquity to the modern era.

There are an ever-increasing number of websites which host manuscripts digitised by libraries and archives across the world. The easiest way to get a sense of the breadth and variety of digitised medieval manuscripts is to visit the Digitized Medieval Manuscripts site. It hosts links to more than 400 institutions and tens of thousands of manuscripts. DMMaps is a crowd-sourced project and is updated regularly.

If you know of any tools or resources that you think are useful for the budding digital palaeographer, feel free to drop a link in the comments below!

List of Inventaires-Sommaires (Séries G & H) of French Departmental Archives

This is a list which links to digitised copies of série G and série H of the inventaires-sommaires for the archives of the northern French départements on which I primarily work. These departmental “summary inventories” are arranged largely according to the same scheme, so in all cases their série G volume(s) brings together sources from the secular clergy (diocese, cathedral chapters, parishes, cures) and the série H volume(s) from the regular clergy (abbeys, priories, collegiate churches). Most of them were compiled in the late nineteenth or early twentieth centuries.

Despite the name, these inventories can often be quite detailed. The image above gives a sense of what a standard entry looks like: the heading gives the cote (call number), if it’s a liasse (bundle of documents) or a single document, and then how many items are within the liasse. At the beginning of the entry proper, the figures in bold give the date range for the documents contained within the liasse (so in the case of H 775 (pictured above), the oldest is from 1173 and the most recent from 1268), and then follows a one-sentence description of each individual document, arranged (where known) in chronological order.

These descriptions are very useful in giving you a sense as to whether you need to call up a particular cote—however, as they were drawn up according to nineteenth-century and early-twentieth ideas of what is historically important about a given source, these descriptions cannot be relied on wholly, particularly when it comes to the presence of women as actors within a particular medieval charter. In addition, as many of the inventaires were compiled before the World Wars, some of the documents which they describe have since been destroyed.

Sadly, not all of the departmental archives’ websites make these inventaires available online. Where volumes have been digitised by Google Books or Gallica, the meta data are often confused and confusing, and finding the volume you’re looking for can be a trial in frustration. This list brings together all the inventaires which I have been able to find, either on the archives’ websites or on external sites like Archive.org and Google Books.


Série G & H, Vol. 3 — Bishopric and Cathedral Chapter of Laon; Abbeys of Saint-Jean de Laon, Saint-Quentin-en-l’Ile, Prémontré. [Google Books]


Série G, H & I — Parishes [Internet Archive]


Série G, Vol. 3 — Episcopal officialité of Troyes; Grand and petit séminaire of Troyes. [Google Books]

Série G & H (entirety). [AD Aube]


Série G, Vol. 4 — Bishopric of Meaux. [Internet Archive]

Série G & H (entirety). [AD Marne]


Séries G & H (entirety). [AD Meuse]


Série G (nos. 1 à 2352) — Bishoprics and Cathedral Chapters of Beauvais, Noyon, Senlis. [Google Books]

Série H, Vol. 1 (nos. 1 à 1717) — Abbeys of Saint-Quentin de Beauvais, Saint-Martin-aux-Bois, Saint-Barthélémy de Noyon, Saint-Vincent de Senlis, Note-Dame de la Victoire, Saint-Germer, Saint-Lucien, Saint-Symphorien. [Google Books]

Série H, Vol. 2 (nos. 1718 à 2649) — Abbeys of Breteuil, Saint-Éloi de Noyon, Saint-Corneille de Compiègne [Internet Archive]


Série G (nos. 1 à 1169) — Bishopric and Cathedral Chapter of Amiens. [Google Books]

Série H (entirety) — Abbeys of Saint-Jean d’Amiens, le Gard, Saint-Riquier, Berteaucourt-les-Dames [Internet Archive]


Série G, Vol. 2 — Archbishopric and Cathedral Chapter of Sens; Parish churches. [Internet Archive]


Série G (nos. 1 à 1167) — Parishes; collégiales of Notre-Dame de Poissy, Saint-Mellon de Pontoise. [Google Books]

Série G (entirety). [Archives Portal Europe]

Série H (entirety). [Archives Portal Europe]


If you know of other places where digitised copies of the inventaires-sommaires are hosted, please let me know.

Handlist of Medieval Latin and French Dictionaries

[Image above page from a 15th-century Latin-German dictionary. Badische Landesbibliothek, Donaueschingen 54, f.1r. Credit.]

This is a handlist of dictionaries useful for those working with medieval Latin and French (langues d’oïl) texts. I’ve divided it into sections based on whether the text is written with particular regions in mind (Belgium, France, Ireland and the UK, etc) or are more generally useful for patristic and medieval Latin. Given my own particular areas of interest and research, this list is heavily weighted towards texts written northwestern Europe. It doesn’t claim to be inclusive and further suggestions are welcome.

Belgium | France | Ireland and the UK | Patristic and Medieval Latin


Thesaurus linguae scriptorum operumque latino-belgorum medii aevi. 1st part. Le vocabulaire des origines à l’an mil. 5 vol., Brussels: Académie royale de Belgique, 1986.



Algirdas, Julien Greimas. Dictionnaire de l’ancien français jusq’au milieu du XIVe siècle. Paris: Larousse, 1969.

A portable single volume dictionary which draws heavily on Godefroy’s dictionary, but not on the corrections incorporated in the second part of that work.


Algirdas, Julien Greimas and Teresa Mary Keane. Dictionnaire du moyen français: la Renaissance. Paris: Larousse, 1992. (Last reprint, 2007)

Covers the period 1340-1611. Portable single volume.


Baldinger et al. Dictionnaire étymologique de l’ancien français. Québec-Tübingen: Presses de l’université Laval-Niemeyer, 1971-

Words are grouped by etymological families to make the links between them clearer. Covers mid-9th to the mid-14th centuries. Scheduled for completion in 2017.

Available online: [Link]


Bonnard, Jean and Amédée Salmon. Lexique de l’ancien français. Paris, 1901. (Most recent reprint Paris: Champion, 2003)

Abridgement of Godefroy’s Dictionnaire de l’ancienne langue française. Incorporates some amendments and additions. More portable.


Dictionnaire du moyen français (1330-1550).

Complements the Tobler-Lommatzch dictionary (see below). Based on a corpus of wholly or partially digitised texts.

Available online: [Link]


Di Stefano, Giuseppe. Dictionnaire des locutions en moyen français. Montréal: CERES, 1991.

A dictionary of idioms and phrases.


Godefroy, Frédéric. Dictionnaire de l’ancienne langue française et de tous ses dialectes du IXe au XVe siècle. Paris, 1881-1902. 10 vols.

Particularly useful for non-literary texts and for its coverage of the 14/15th centuries. Volumes 1 to 8 (Part 1) cover words which have disappeared from modern French or whose meaning has changed since the Middle Ages. Volumes 8 (Part 2) to 10 give the words used in modern French whose meaning is the same or very close to that used in medieval French, together with corrections.

The first nine volumes are available in .pdf format on the Gallica website: [Link]

Accompanying bibliography available online: [Link]


La Curne de Sainte-Palaye, Jean-Baptiste de, Dictionnaire historique de l’ancien langue françois ou Glossaire de la langue françoise depuis son origine jusqu’au siècle de Louis XIV. Paris, 1875-82. 10 vols.

Published only a century after the author’s death; as a work of the 18th century, it’s not rigorous and should be used with care.

Available in .pdf format on the Gallica website: [Link]


Tobler, Adolf and Erhard Lommatzch. Altfranzösisches Wörterbuch. Vols. 1-10, Berlin, 1925-76. Vol. 11, col. 1-768, u-vonjement, Wiesbaden: Steiner, 1989-95. Vol. 11, col. 769-938, vonjement-zure, Stuttgart: Steiner, 2002.

The standard reference dictionary for medieval French literature. Focuses on the 11-14th centuries.

Digital version available through the University of Stuttgart, for online search or download: [Link]


Ireland and the UK

Harvey, A.J.R., ed. Dictionary of medieval Latin from Insular Celtic sources. Dublin: Royal Irish Academy, 1979.

Covers the 5th-12th centuries.

Latham, Ronald Edward, ed. Revised medieval Latin word list from British and Irish sources. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1965. Repr. 1980. (New revised edition of J.H. Baxter, C. Johnson and P. Abrahams, Medieval Latin Word List from British and Irish sources, 1934).

Covers period to 1500. 20,000 words. Now superseded by the Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources (see below).

Latham, Ronald Edward, David Howlett and Richard Ashdowne, eds. Dictionary of medieval Latin from British sources. London: British Academy; Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1975-2013. 17 vols.

Covers the period 500-1600, with 58,000 entries drawn from both literary and documentary texts.

See the project website for discussion of planned digitisation: [Link]


Rothwell, William, ed. Anglo-Norman Dictionary, Second Edition. London: Maney Publishing, 2005. (New revised edition of Louise W. Stone and William Rothwell, eds., Anglo-Norman Dictionary, 1977-1992, 7 volumes.)

Covers French texts written in England from 1066 to the middle of the 15th century; also useful for Norman texts and more generally for continental French. The second edition is still in progress and has only published through volume D-E. Modifications and corrections of the printed volumes of the second edition can be found on the electronic version.

Digital version, for online search: [Link]


Patristic and Medieval Latin

Blaise, Albert. Dictionnaire latin-français des auteurs chrétiens. 1st edition, Strasbourg: 1954. New revised edition, Turnhout: Brepols, 1967. (Repr. 1993).

A dictionary of Patristic Latin, also useful for monastic authors or those drawing on the writing of authors to the end of the Merovingian period.

————. Dictionnaire latin-français des auteurs du Moyen Age. Turnhout: Brepols, 1975. Repr. 1986, 1988.

Useful especially for religious terminology.

Cappelli, Adriano. Dizionario di abbreviature latine ed italiane. Milan, 1912.

A must-have reference work on scribal abbreviations for those working on Latin or vernacular manuscripts, though it’s more of a starting point than it is universal coverage.

A scanned version of the German language edition of Capelli can be found at this site via the University of Köln: [Link]


Du Cange. Glossarium ad scriptores mediae et infimae latinitatis. 1st ed. Paris, 1678.

Main editions: Paris, 1733-36, 6 vols. by the Benedictines of Saint-Maur, with additions. Completed by Carpentier in 1766 (4 vols.), with additions.

Ed. G.A.L. Henschel, Paris: Didot, 1840-50, 7 vols. Contains additions. Vol. 7 contains a French-language glossary and an index of authors.

Ed. L. Favre, Niort, 1883-87, 10 vols. Many reprintings.

Digital version available through the École des chartes website: [Link]

Hoven, René. Lexique de la prose latine de la Renaissance. Leiden: Brill, 1994.

Uses corpus of 150 Latin authors from Petrarch to Lippe. Useful for Latin texts of 14/15th centuries.

Lewis, Charlton T. and Charles Short. Harpers’ Latin Dictionary: A New Latin Dictionary Founded on the Translation of Freund’s Latin-German Lexicon. New York, 1879.

Largely superseded by the Oxford Latin Dictionary as far as classicists are concerned, but it remains useful for medievalist because it covers Late and Medieval Latin, though inconsistently.

Available online through the Perseus website: [Link]


Niermeyer, Jan Frederik. Mediae latinitatis lexicon minus. Leyde: Brill, 1954-76. 2 vols. Repr. in 1 vol., 1984, 1993, 1997. 2nd edition, Leyde: Brill, 2002, 2 vol.

Covers the period 550-1550. Provides French and English translations and example dates. Especially covers legal and institutional language; weaker on philosophical, scientific, and literary terms and for later medieval Latin.

Novum glossarium mediae latinitatis. 

The “new Du Cange.” Begun in 1920, covers the period 800-1200.

Digital version available through Glossaria website: [Link]

Sleumer, Albert. Kirchenlateinswörterbuch. 2nd edition. Limburg, 1926. Repr. Hildesheim: Olms, 1990.

Not Wise Yet*

It’s once more the time of year when graduate student thoughts turn to the writing of syllabi and the purchasing of new stationery. This year I was asked to lead some of the training sessions for the department’s incoming cohort of graduate students, and to share advice with them about how to approach their time here. I’m reproducing some of my remarks here, because they include things I need to remind myself of every now and then.

“Enjoy your time here. There will be plenty of things to complain about—grading, advisors, the job market, grading, grant applications, grading—but you are going to spend at least five years here surrounded by people who are all passionate about history, getting paid to read and to research. Venting is a great and necessary thing, but every now and then remind yourself why you’re here.

Don’t fret about how much you don’t know, or how much more your colleagues seem to know in comparison to you. There’s a term for this—Impostor Syndrome—which means that feeling that no matter how much you’ve accomplished, someone’s going to unmask you as a fraud at any moment. High-achieving women and first-generation college students in particular are prone to this. Remind yourself that it’s okay. If you don’t know something, that’s okay. That’s why you’re in graduate school, this is where you’re going to start learning—and where, pro tip, you’re surrounded by other really smart people who also don’t know everything. An awareness of what you need to work on is great, but don’t let it turn into chronic self-doubt or feelings of inadequacy. On the flip side, if you’ve arrived here thinking that you know better than your advisor, or even your peers—you don’t. Remember what pride goeth before.

Repeat the mantra: “I am not my work.” Your self-worth isn’t dependent on what you produce.

Make sure that your office is always stocked with a heavy duty stapler, a water bottle, your preferred form of caffeine, and Kleenex. The Kleenex isn’t necessarily for you—you will see what I mean when you have office hours in the run-up to exam week.

Be kind to yourself. Be kind to other people. If you’ve been working for a week straight, your body and your mind are going to need time off. Don’t let guilt drive you into all-nighters or endless stretches in your office. It’s one of those weird brain things, that sometimes you need to think about nothing in order to be able to think about anything. Make your writing a priority, protect your own boundaries, but don’t cut yourself off from other people. Sometimes it’s a good thing to give up your time on behalf of others. Your training as a historian doesn’t just involve acquiring a knowledge of your field’s historiography or how to plumb the depths of JSTOR, but also learning what it means to be a colleague.

When you go to conferences, do not be an asshole. People will remember you.

Get to know graduate students and faculty at Iowa outside of the history department. Their perspectives will enrich your work in unexpected ways. Remember to keep in touch with the family and friends you had before you moved here—you will want to stay grounded with people who knew you before you were mumbling about comps lists in your sleep.

Read stuff outside your field. Read fiction. Read poetry. Read with an eye to the ways in which people use language. It will help with your own writing, but also it’s just fun. You will need to remember what fun is.

Your relationship with your advisor is going to be extremely important. Depending on
who that person is, you may develop a strong mentoring relationship with them; with others you may not. Regardless, you’re going to have to learn to advocate for yourself with your advisor. Take their advice on board, but remember that their career is not your career, that their priorities are not necessarily your priorities. Seek out the people who will be your best guides.

Never presume upon the time of Pat, Sheri, and Heather, the department’s administrative assistants. Always appreciate their work, and the fact that they know so much more about the arcane ways of university bureaucracy than you do. They know all. They see all.

Have a sense of purpose, but just as importantly, have a sense of humour. And remember that here I’m giving advice which I don’t always follow. I have days when I think my dissertation is crap and I just want to go home. But I love what I do. Remember that you love what you do.”


* “She hoped to be wise and reasonable in time; but alas! alas! she must confess to herself that she was not wise yet.” —Jane Austen, Persuasion, Chapter 19.

[Image from the Codex Manesse, f. 364r.]

My Digital Toolbox

As I mentioned before, my laptop did its best ex-parrot impression last weekend, so I’ve been spending the past few days getting my new computer set up the way I want it. This has given me plenty of time to reflect on the ways in which how I use a computer in my work has changed in the five years since I last bought one—the programs which I now, as a doctoral student, consider essential are quite different to those I was using as a recent graduate of a Master’s programme.

The apps/programs mentioned below are for Mac, as that’s what I use, but I think almost all of them have Windows versions or equivalents.

Cloud Storage

The first programs I installed were those which let me get back copies of all the files I’d saved to the cloud. I use a combination of Bitcasa [Referral link], Google Drive, and Dropbox [Referral Link] (the latter primarily for resources I’m sharing with others), though there are lots of good choices out there, both free and premium. The decision as to which cloud storage service is right for you probably depends on your needs, preferences, and budget. But regardless, these three services, in combination with an external hard drive backed up via OS X’s Time Machine, meant I didn’t lose anything when my old MacBook died. (I always wince when I come across graduate students who aren’t backing up their work on a consistent basis, and I have met several, because it’s not a matter of if your computer will die, it’s when.)


6a013486c64e2e970c01a73deeedd4970dMy digital brain is contained within Evernote, a program which I’ve been using for a little less than a year but one which I already cannot imagine doing without. As I started amassing ever more primary and secondary sources for my dissertation, the file folder system I was using to keep track of things became ever more unwieldy. Things were nested five or six folders deep and there was, of course, the issue of what to do if a file ‘belonged’ to two different folders—if a given charter transcription was relevant to both Topic A and Topic B. I was losing a lot of time just to sorting through and finding material.

The solution to my frustration turned out to be Evernote. I’ve transferred my sources—transcriptions, photos, pdfs of finding aids and so on—into this program. As a digital filing cabinet, it offers ‘notebooks’ (which you can see listed along the black sidebar on the left-hand side of this screenshot) which are in many ways analogous to file folders on your hard drive, allowing you to bundle together similar ‘notes’. For instance, I have a notebook for notes on Premonstratensian rules, one for the monastery of Lieu-Restauré, and so on. Evernote also, however, allows for tagging individual notes in many different ways across notebooks—so clicking on the tag ‘charter’ will let me find all the notes I have tagged ‘charter’ across all notebooks.

Evernote even has the ability to recognise printed/handwritten text within images through its own OCR process. Put an image into Evernote and that image becomes searchable within Evernote—I’ve found this very accurate with scans of maps from books or pdfs of typewritten manuscripts, but unsurprisingly medieval handwriting will make it very confused.

Evernote syncs to your browser and to mobile devices—on more than one occasion, I’ve been able to call up photos of charters to show to colleagues on the spot (truly, we’re living in the future). There are limits to how much you can upload in a month with the free version, but a month’s paid time (which gives you 1GB worth of uploads) is just $5, which even for a grad student budget is pretty affordable.

6a013486c64e2e970c01a511e3a73d970cWhere Evernote is my commonplace book, Zotero is my reference manager. I’ve been using Zotero since I started my doctoral programme, and I really wish I’d had it when I was working on my Master’s. (I used to keep a list of things I’d read in a .txt file! The humanity.)

Zotero is a free browser extension for Firefox, Chrome and Safari (also now available as a standalone tool) which was designed by historians for historians as a bibliography tool. It stores full references to journal articles, books, manuscripts, and a whole host of other sources commonly used by historians. Zotero can save references automatically from online databases like JSTOR or from library catalogues, including automatically saving pdfs of journal articles; it lets you create collections (as you can see in this screenshot of my library) corresponding to particular projects or courses; and it can generate citations according to hundreds of different reference styles. It does have some integration with word processors via plug-ins, so you can write in Word and it will keep track of your references for you and then automatically generate a bibliography for you.

Zotero does sync with Zotero.org so that your references are always backed up. There is an option to sync both the bibliographic references and the associated files. The one big drawback is that if you work with a lot of large pdfs (as I do), you will hit the 300MB storage limit very quickly and upgrading to their premium syncing level is expensive. I manually back up my Zotero library to Google Drive instead. There is apparently a way to automatically sync your Zotero library, complete with stored pdf files, to Dropbox, but I have to confess that the instructions are too technical for me and I’ve never tried to make it work.

Last, in my browser, I also added the bookmarklet which lets me easily add bookmarks to my Diigo account, which is a social bookmarking site. Here’s where I confess that I find Diigo’s website design to be incredibly clunky and unintuitive, and that I’m always on the look-out for an alternative, but needs must. I’m still irritated with Yahoo for what they did to delicious.com, the original version of which was simple to use, let me look up my bookmarks from any computer, and had a (now-destroyed) social network of academics, libraries and research institutions sharing their online finds with one another. I know most people probably use Twitter to find new links nowadays, but its ephemerality and lack of a solid search function make it a poor alternative for me.



6a013486c64e2e970c01a511e3ac89970cI have Word for Mac installed, but I hardly ever use it unless doing something like formatting my CV, putting together a flyer, printing out a formal letter and so on. This is because I realised that what Word does best is layout, but that layout is way down on the list of priorities for someone working on a lengthy piece of writing, academic or otherwise. Enter Scrivener. This program has made me become one of those terrible evangelist types, because I honestly can’t envision writing anything longer than a couple of pages in Word anymore.

This is because I don’t write in a linear manner, and non-linear writing is something which Word is not designed to facilitate. Word is about layout, but Scrivener is about actual composition. It lets you work in ‘chunks’—smaller individual sections which you can name, drag and drop to move them around within larger sections or your project as a whole (project layout is visible in the lefthand sidebar of the screenshot), and to which you can attach a digital ‘index’ card which lets you keep track of your intended goal for that chunk. You can add comments and footnotes (as you can see on the right of the screenshot), and you can also split the main text frame, vertically or horizontally, to compare two sections or versions of a text. This means I can, say, have the current version of a chapter in the top half of my screen, with a version (complete with track changes) sent to me by my advisor in the bottom half of the screen. I can easily work on one as I refer to another with no switching back and forth between windows.

The one downside for me is the lack of a plug-in which lets it talk easily with Zotero, but Scrivener more than makes up for this in other ways. Such as how it saves your work automatically after two seconds of inactivity, and you can also set it to automatically back up your work to a Dropbox account every time you close the program.

Scrivener is a paid app, but there is an educational discount year-round and I think it always goes on sale around November.



These are small programs which don’t necessarily form a direct part of my research process, but which I find very useful in a more general way.

  • Alfred is a launch bar—a little program which lets you search for, and launch, apps and files without having to go near a mouse or dig through folders.
  • Flux automatically adjusts the intensity/colour of your computer’s screen throughout the day, making it dimmer and warmer as the evening progresses. I’ve noticed less eye-strain since I started to use it, and I’ve been able to get to sleep much more quickly after a late-night writing session.
  • Interpres is a tiny, free little program that gives you access to a Latin-English translator/parser right there on your desktop. I find it indispensable while translating.
  • An RSS reader. There are a bunch of them out there—I use Bamboo, which is an extension that sits inside my email program, though I know Feedly is very popular. Probably none of them will ever work for me the way the late, lamented Google Reader did, but I find an RSS reader indispensable for keeping up with the news and academic blogs in a quick manner.

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