Western Libraries

Medieval Studies

Primary Sources

Primary sources are written documents, oral testimonies, visual objects, and digital materials produced by creators from the historical period you are studying. Some examples include: chronicles, diaries, notebooks, letters, newspapers, interviews, paintings, photographs, maps, tools, instruments, and drawings (more recently they also include tweets, blogs, websites, and social media platforms). Western Libraries’ research guide Primary Source Literacy can offer more details. 

Library Catalogue (OMNI)

The best place to start looking for primary sources is by surveying the references in your secondary sources. After you have identified citations pertinent to your research, you can search for them in the Library Catalogue (OMNI). There several search strategies you can use when searching the catalogue. 

  • Author/creator search. Do an “author/creator” search using the Advanced Search option when you know the name of the author or the organization of the primary source. 
  • Keyword search. Do a keyword search on your subject and then limit that search by using subject headings or keywords. For example, you might search for “Catherine AND Siena AND correspondence,” or “crusades AND narratives,” or “monasticism AND history AND sources,” or “saints AND correspondence.” 
  • Potential keywords:
    • Antiquities 
    • Chronicles 
    • Correspondence 
    • Diaries 
    • Documents 
    • Interviews 
    • Letters 
    • Manuscripts 
    • Pamphlets 
    • Personal narratives 
    • Sources (used for collections of primary sources) 
    • Statistics 
    • Trials 
  • Limit by date. Since primary sources come from the period you are studying, you can limit your search to a specific date range. Keep in mind, however, that newer editions of older works will not appear in these types of searches. 

Online Primary Source Collections

There are several searchable collections of primary sources online that have been curated by scholars and librarians at various institutions. 

Internet Ancient History Sourcebook 

A collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts for ancient history from the Fordham University Internet History Sourcebooks Project. 

Internet Medieval Sourcebook 

A collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts for medieval history from the Fordham University Internet History Sourcebooks Project. 

Epistolae: Medieval Women's Letters

A collection of medieval Latin letters to and from women from the 4th to the 13th centuries. They are presented in their original Latin as well as in English translation. 

EuroDocs: History of Medieval and Renaissance Europe: Primary Documents

Provides links to European primary historical documents that are transcribed, reproduced in facsimile, or translated. 

European History Primary Sources - Medieval Period

Provides links to some of the most significant online medieval texts. The site is organized by country, language, subject, and type. 


There are numerous medieval manuscripts available on the web today, from the British Library and other consortiums of libraries and museums. 

British Library – Digitized Manuscripts

Use this website to view digitized copies of manuscripts archived in the British Library’s collections, with descriptions of their contents. 

British Library – Illuminated Manuscripts

Use this website to find and view descriptions and images of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts in the British Library. 

Digital Scriptorium

A consortium of American libraries and museums committed to free online access to their collections of pre-modern manuscripts. 

Digitized Medieval Manuscripts App

Links to more than 500 libraries around the world. Each one of these contains digitized medieval manuscripts that can be browsed for free. 

The Labyrinth: Resources for Medieval Studies 

A web portal, hosted at Georgetown University, which provides free, organized access to online manuscript collections for medieval studies. 

Medieval Travel Writing 

Manuscripts of some of the most important works of European travel writing from the later medieval period. 

Polonsky Foundation Digitization Project

Includes Hebrew and Greek manuscripts, together with incunabula, from the Bodleian and Vatican Libraries’ collections. 


Incunabula refers to books that were printed in the earliest period of the history of the printing press in Europe (1450s to 1501). 

Incunabula Short Title Catalogue (ISTC)

An international database of 15th-century European printing created by the British Library, with contributions from institutions worldwide.