Types of Sources
Understanding the Sources
The Study of Documents
The Study of Seals
All knowledge and every insight regarding the Middle Ages comes directly or indirectly from the analysis of primary sources. In his introduction to the study of history, Paul Kirn defined 'sources' as "all texts, objects and facts that can yield information for the study of the past". Kirn distinguished among sources according to their material characteristics. The divisions between categories should be understood as quite fluid. For instance surviving written materials are always contained within objects. Historians call both these together, under specific circumstances, a manuscript. But whether one studies the parchment or the text written in it depends on the research questions one is trying to answer.
Written sources are found in archives and libraries. Working with them is exciting and requires both experience and particular kinds of knowledge and expertise. How source-based research works and which questions and problems the historian might confront in doing such work are the subjects of this introductory film to the chapter 'Manuscript Reading Room': 'The Archive and the Historian'
You will see that a whole range of knowledge is needed to access primary sources and thereby to gain access medieval history. This knowledge will be laid out in more detail in each of the following sub-chapters.
Film: The Archive and the Historian