PhD in History, University of California, Santa Cruz
History 65B: Europe 1000-1500 (Winter 2009)

Websites for Primary Sources

World History Matters (search engine for primary source websites) - You can do a website search via the keyword box in the upper right hand corner -or- you can go to the Advanced Search page and do a search on "Europe" as your Area and "1000-1500" as your time period. Your search results will mostly be brief summaries of other sites with lots of primary sources on them. Some search results also contain website reviews by a scholar that can help guide you to the specific sources you need from the other website. Since world history matters does not contain the actual primary sources in most cases, you need to navigate to the linked site and then search for your topic there.
Here are a few good sites I found so far:
Monastic Matrix
Online Reference Book for Medieval Studies
Les Tres Riches Heures of the Duc de Berry
Florilegium Urbanum (medieval urban life)
Internet Medieval Sourcebook
Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts
Epistolae: Medieval Women's Letters

Online Writing Guides, Citing Sources, Passive Voice

Basic Writing Guides for the United States - For general writing, I recommend Strunk and White's The Elements of Style and for academic papers the Chicago Manual of Style and MLA Handbook. Most questions can be answered in these guides.

Chicago Manual of Style Quick Guide to Citing Sources - As the title suggests, with lots of examples you can copy, paste, and modify as applicable to your own paper.

The Passive Voice - Avoid using the passive voice as much as possible because it can make your writing confusing or difficult for others to read. This document explains how to identify the passive voice and how to avoid using it.

Passive and Active Voice - This website gives examples of the difference between passive and active voice. Use active voice when writing papers.

Citations, ethics, and plaigairism - This guide from the UCSC library website includes a short online exercise to show the difference between quoting and plaigairism.

General advice for writing papers

  • Pick a topic and do some initial research. Try to find a topic you are interested in and start your research by looking through your lecture notes and readings that address your topic. Remember: you must use both primary and secondary sources! [UCSC library website: Distinguishing between primary and secondary sources.]
  • Based on your initial research, narrow your topic down. This can be the most difficult part of the assignment. You need to choose a topic which you can 1) develop an argument for using both primary and secondary sources and 2) answer in 5-6 pages. Start by asking: What do your readings focus on? That is, go beyond a mere broad topic such as "the church in the middle ages" and focus instead on a specific aspect of the church. Did it have a big impact, for example, on marriage? Or maybe you'd rather talk about the close ties between church and state and the power of the papacy?
  • Pick an argument (develop a thesis) based on what you can say/prove with your sources. Again, this can be tough and requires thinking about your sources more than just superficially. What do these sources tell you about your topic specifically? For example, I want to know more than "the church was important in the middle ages for marriage" or "trade guilds excluded Jews and women." Instead, use your sources to tell me why the church was important to marriage or why and when trade guilds excluded Jews and women, e.g. under what circumstance. By answering these questions about your topic, you can develop an argument/thesis and then prove it to me with the sources you used to answer your questions. For example, you might look at your lecture notes and sources and find that in terms of legal rights, Jews and had more rights in 11th century Southern Europe than they did in the 12th. You could therefore argue that "While Jews in Southern Europe were originally granted certain trading rights in the 11th century, by the 12th century these rights were quickly disappearing with the rise of anti-Christian laws." You might also mention a few of the differences in the first paragraph and then go into detail and reasons for this in your paper.
  • Organize your paper. Prepare an outline for your paper. A basic structure would include an introduction with your argument/thesis statement (your argument, which is related to the topic you picked), several supporting paragraphs that highlight your main points and cite several primary and secondary sources, and a conclusion that restates your argument/thesis statement. For each supporting paragraph, you should have 1) a supporting point and 2) at least one or two examples to prove it. For example, if you are going to say that peasant women were central to maintaining the medieval household, you might start with a supporting paragraph regarding spinning and weaving, using at least one source that suppports that (the putting-out system perhaps, or Cecilia Penifader's sisters) and then another paragraph might discuss child rearing.
  • How to outline and write supporting paragraphs. While this can depend on the person writing, it is generally a good rule of thumb to start each paragraph with a topic sentence that summarizes your supporting point (see above note) and follow that with at least two source citations. Your paper should include both primary and secondary sources, but not every supporting point has to include both.
  • Citing your sources. Citations are vital as examples to support what you are claiming. However, avoid unnecessary blockquotes (citing a whole paragraph of information) and be careful of plaigirism. [see above websites for more details on how to cite sources, as well as how to avoid plaigirism.]
  • Proofread! Do NOT do this on your own. Have a friend, classmate, or writing tutor read a draft. Even if you are procrastinating to the last minute, try to have at least one person read your paper (maybe you can work out a deal with your roommate or classmate in exchange for reading their paper or buying him or her a coffee). Besides reading for grammar and typos, ask them: what is the topic and argument of the paper? does it seem like the argument is well-supported? NOTE: I am known to mark down for grammar. If you have more than few mistakes and/or the paper verges on incoherent, you WILL be marked down. If I can't read it, I can't give you a good grade.
  • Make sure your paper meets the basic requirements. This is things like making sure you use 12 point font, double-spaced, Times New Roman, etc. Check the guidelines on the syllabus for writing assignments. [You and I both know when margins increase by inch, a font size turns to Courier New, your footnotes font increases, spacing of the lines go from double to 2.25, 2.5, or triple spacing, etc etc. I'm not stupid and neither are you, so don't do it!]