skip to primary navigationskip to content

A medieval and early modern toolkit

Jenny Rampling

This list is not particularly focused on the history of science, but is rather intended to provide background resources for those interested in pursuing medieval and early modern topics, and acquiring the skills necessary to carry out archival research. I've compiled the toolkit mainly from courses, groups and websites I've used myself, and have doubtless omitted many wonderful resources. Fortunately, many of the sites listed below include excellent links pages.

Language skills

This section started out purely as directory of medieval and early modern language resources, but the facilities at Cambridge are so staggering that it seemed a shame to stop there. After all, much of the secondary literature on pre-modern topics is written in languages other than English...

  • Arabic at the Divinity Faculty [http://www.divinity.cam.ac.uk/detailed_paper_descriptions.html] – a great resource if you need to learn Qur'anic Arabic, or, for that matter, New Testament Greek, Hebrew, Sanskrit, or – new this year! – Syriac. All are taught at the Divinity Faculty, mainly in three lengthy classes per week at varying levels. If you're serious, email the relevant organiser to enquire whether you can join in.
  • Arabic Therapy – an informal Arabic Therapy group organised by HPS postgrads will be starting this year at a relatively sedate level. The plan is to learn the script, visit the language lab at the Department of Middle Eastern Studies, and attempt to read basic texts by the end of the year. More details will be circulating soon on the HPS list.
  • Birkbeck Neo-Latin Reading Group [http://www.bbk.ac.uk/eh/research/research_seminars/nlrg] – 12noon on the first Saturday of each month, 30 Russell Square, London (but check first, as one of the organisers is now commuting between London and Glasgow). Runs on similar lines to Latin Therapy (see below). Email Jenny Rampling or visit the website.
  • Cambridge Centre for Neo-Latin Studies [http://www.mml.cam.ac.uk/other/courses/ugrad/NL_news_events.html] – organises seminars (mostly held at Clare College) and symposia, and provides a page of useful links.
  • Cambridge University Language Centre [http://www.langcen.cam.ac.uk/] – Taught courses run through the academic year, typically two/three hours a week in the main modern languages, at a student rate of £100 (half of which is often refundable by your college or department). Intensive three week courses also run during the vacation, as does a course in Reading German. The Centre also offers resources that may be of use to early modernists, including the news translated into Latin.
  • French and Spanish at the History Faculty [http://www.hist.cam.ac.uk/graduate_students/training/grad-training.pdf] – 6 day intensive courses for Spanish and Beginners' French run at the History Faculty over the Christmas vacation (4, 5 and 8 December, and 8, 9 and 12 January). The Faculty also offers courses in Latin, Beginners' and Intermediate German, Beginners' Italian, and Intermediate French, all a snip at one and a half hours a week – and free, of course. You'll need self-discipline, though.
  • MML Language Certificates [http://www.mml.cam.ac.uk/courses/DipCert.html] in Dutch (tbc), German, Modern Greek (learning from scratch) and Diplomas in Dutch, German, Modern Greek and Russian (tbc) (learning from approximately A-Level standard). One year courses run by the Department of Modern and Medieval Languages (MML), leading to a recognised qualification and FREE to students. Courses are extremely well taught, and you will be able to read and communicate in the language after a year. However, be prepared for five taught hours a week, and the feeling that you're doing a second degree in your spare time. Don't leave until the final year of your PhD! (Sign up quickly as the course starts in week 1 and soon picks up pace).
  • Latin classes in the Classics Department, provided by Dr Neil Wright. Learn Latin from scratch, or improve with the consolidation course.
  • Latin Therapy [http://www.hps.cam.ac.uk/latintherapy/], HPS – 4pm every Friday. The University's premier language resource, now with sister groups in London, Vienna, and, coming soon, Johns Hopkins University! Rusty language skills are improved by practicing on real texts, with the added benefit of having your appalling research texts brainstormed by a pot-luck committee of resourceful Latinists. You may even end up in print in one of LT's series of booklets.
  • Middle and Far Eastern Languages [http://www.ames.cam.ac.uk/news_events/open_language.htm] – attend open classes in Modern Hebrew (beginners, post-beginners, and advanced) and 'all comers' Hindi and Chinese, courtesy of the new Faculty of Middle Eastern and Asian Studies. Classes run throughout the academic year, at a modest £25 per term. Sadly, no Arabic this year – hopefully this will return in the future.
  • Ukrainian and Polish [http://www.mml.cam.ac.uk/slavonic/courses/other/] – open classes in these languages, at both elementary and improvers' level, leading to a departmental certificate. Weekly classes run throughout the year at MML, but you need to attend the first class on Wednesday 15 October (10am for Polish, 1pm for Ukrainian).

Paleography and archival training

  • HPS Research Guides [http://www.hps.cam.ac.uk/research/] (includes guides to medieval science, scientific manuscripts etc.). Lots of priceless information helpfully set out by subject.
  • Codicology and book production seminars – training provided as part of the History Faculty's MPhil but open to other postgrads by arrangement. This glorious series of seminars includes visits to some of the most luxuriant medieval libraries in Cambridge, with the opportunity to handle relics of the cultural A-list of the Middle Ages. More details in the 'History Faculty graduate training' site (below) – you'll need to email one of the lecturers concerned.
  • Paleography – training for the History MPhil but open to other students by arrangement, organised by Dr Tessa Webber. Classes are aimed at various periods (e.g. early medieval, late medieval) and languages (mainly Latin, but also vernacular). Excellent training, with homework and handouts, which really pays off once you're stuck in the archives with a bad case of bastard anglicana. More details in the 'History Faculty graduate training' site (below).
  • Institute of English Studies [http://ies.sas.ac.uk/] – The Institute's School of Advanced Study (London) offers a feast of conferences, summer schools, training courses, and seminars. Attractions include Medieval Paleography workshops and the London Rare Book School. In particular, a new AHRC Collaborative Training Scheme is starting this year on Medieval Manuscript Studies in the Digital Age [http://ies.sas.ac.uk/study/mmsda/], organised in collaboration with Cambridge, King's College London, and the Warburg Institute.

Other graduate training

  • HPS graduate training [http://www.hps.cam.ac.uk/students/training/] – Far too much is available to list here. It goes without saying that you'll be there in any case, since it ranks among the best in the university, covering everything from publications to presentations to finishing your PhD and looking for a job. (Top tip: put the dates in your diary now, as you'll be far too busy to check again in Lent Term.)
  • History Faculty graduate training [http://www.hist.cam.ac.uk/graduate_students/training/grad-training.pdf] – not all will be relevant to HPS, but look at pp. 29–33 for a comprehensive timetable of paleography and language tuition.
  • Research Methods in the Social Sciences [http://www.jsss.group.cam.ac.uk/] – Joint Schools' Courses are organised for postgraduates by the School of Humanities and Social Sciences and School of Physical Sciences.
  • Wellcome Doctoral Training Programme – five sessions, held on Saturdays throughout the academic year (the Introductory Full Day Workshop runs on Saturday 11 October, 10.30am to 4.30pm) at the Wellcome Centre for the History of Medicine at UCL, London. This is an excellent programme of training for PhD students researching history of medicine, very broadly construed! It's free to attend and travel expenses are reimbursed, with topics ranging from getting published to applying for funding and preparing for the dreaded viva. However, you have to book, and do so early to get a place – email Adam Wilkinson at ucgaawi@ucl.ac.uk for more information.

Seminars and workshops in Cambridge

The Cambridge calendar is packed with events for medievalists and early modernists. Those listed below are offer merely a sample of what's on offer – so it's well worth searching departmental websites, and sites like talks.cam [http://talks.cam.ac.uk/], to see what's on. The weekly Graduate Union email bulletin is another good source for forthcoming talks.

  • Cambridge Interdisciplinary Renaissance seminar, fortnightly in St Catharine's College (2–3.30pm, Wednesdays). Hopefully will keep going this year, although details have yet to be circulated.
  • History Faculty seminars [http://www.hist.cam.ac.uk/seminars_events/seminars/] – as you'd expect, the faculty offers a wide range of seminars and reading groups on medieval and early modern themes.
  • History and Theory Reading Group [http://www.hps.cam.ac.uk/seminars/theory.html], fortnightly at HPS (Friday, 2.30–4 pm). Often includes discussion of early modern topics.
  • Marginalia / The Medieval Reading Group [http://www.marginalia.co.uk/], based at the English Faculty. The website hasn't been updated in a while, so further investigation may be required.
  • Medieval Philosophy Reading Group [http://crun.crassh.cam.ac.uk/events/252/], CRASSH (1–2 pm every Wednesday). A great opportunity to read and discuss some of the key philosophical texts of the Middle Ages. Non-specialists (like me) are made very welcome, and plied with strong coffee (you may need it!) Organised by Dr John Marenbon.

Outside Cambridge

Again, a very eclectic selection from the vast range of available resources:

  • History Lab [http://www.history.ac.uk/histlab/] – a fortnightly postgraduate seminar organised by the Institute for Historical Research, aimed at fostering a sense of community among UK historians. The Institute's website [http://www.history.ac.uk/] is full of information, including some useful prizes and funding sources [http://www.history.ac.uk/awards/].
  • London Renaissance Seminar [http://www.bbk.ac.uk/eh/research/research_seminars/lrs] – regular events organised by Birkbeck's English and Humanities Department.
  • Royal Historical Society [http://www.royalhistoricalsociety.org/postgraduates.htm] – besides surfing for lectures and conferences, you might like to investigate the RHS's generous array of prizes and grants for postgraduates.
  • Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistry [http://www.ambix.org/] – besides producing the journal Ambix, SHAC provides useful resources for the historian of alchemy and early chemistry, including links and a directory of scholars working in the field.
  • Society for Renaissance Studies [http://www.rensoc.org.uk/] – the Society's website is a goldmine for all matters Renaissance, ranging from forthcoming conferences to sources of funding, as well as many useful links to other sites. The SRS also offers travel fellowships (deadline 31 January each year), which are wonderful for funding archival visits at home and abroad.
  • The Warburg Institute [http://warburg.sas.ac.uk/] – in addition to its legendary library and photographic collection, the Warburg hosts talks and symposia on some of the more fascinating aspects of medieval and Renaissance culture.