Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Today's hours:

See all library hours »

  • Ask a Librarian
  • FAQ
We are excited to share our new Library catalog and search tool! We hope that you will find it easy to search and explore our collections. If you need help, have questions, or want to share feedback, visit the Ask a Librarian page.

Prof. Bisaha's courses: A research guide to Medieval and Renaissance History

Prof. Bisaha's courses: A research guide to Medieval and Renaissance History

Author Searches

Search names of people you read about, when they appear as authors, it's a primary source:

Anna Comnena

Bernard of Clairvaux

Gregory of Tours

Venerable Bede


Keep lists of synonyms for keyword searching

For example:

middle ages, dark ages, medieval

barbarian, anglo-saxon (other individual group names)

church, catholic, christian, chrisitanity (christian*)

monk, monastic, relgion, religious (religio*)

constantinople, byzantine, byzantium, instanbul

(edit text Add/edit text for this content box

Consider what type of source you are looking for

Searching the catalog using a variety of keyword vocabulary will lead you to a broad selection of primary sources.

Consider WHAT type of primary sources were produced in the period you are researching. Additionally, which type of source would most likely provide perspective on the historical theme you wish to explore.

  • Early Christian literature, narrative sources composed by churchmen, including homilies, hagiographies and historical chronicle
  • Legal texts
  • Charters recording donations and other privileges of church institution
  • Literary and religious texts, for example
  • Travel accounts
  • Crusade texts

consider WHO wrote the sources. For example if you're researching late Byzantium and the Ottoman Empire, there are sources by:

  • Greek and Slavic writers
  • Turkish and other Muslim writers
  • Latin writers

Start with Subject Headings

Look at the catalog record for a primary source or sourcebook on your syllabus or on Course Reserves. Click on the Subject Headings to find more titles with the same subject heading.

Watch for these words in the Subject Headings - they are Library of Congress Subject Heading controlled vocabulary indicating primary sources

sources, letters, interviews, speeches, personal narratives, diaries, correspondence, sermons, notebooks, sketches, description and travel, treaties, pamphlets, biography (includes memoirs), newspapers, periodicals, pictorial works, art, architecture, portraits, caricatures and cartoons, cookery, decorative arts, furniture, material culture, guide books, maps, fiction, poetry, periodicals, newspapers, bibliography, early works to 1800

Use them in keyword searches in the library catalog: example (pope or papacy) AND (sources or correspondence)

This is one research technique, but not a perfect system. Most topics fall under multiple Subject Headings. Many wonderful sources at Vassar do not have Subject Headings indicating they are primary sources.