Michigan State University

Collection Development Policy Statement: Medieval and Renaissance/Early Modern Studies

Page Coordinator: Agnes Widder Last updated: 05-16-2023

Purpose or Scope of Collection

A. Curricular/Research/Programmatic Needs

The Medieval and Renaissance/Early Modern Studies collection supports instruction, research, and teaching at the undergraduate and graduate levels on the period of history from the fall of Rome in 476 A.D. through the Renaissance and early modern periods of Western Europe. The Renaissance occurred over a period of time and the dates vary from country to country, from the late 14th century through the early 1600s. The term "early modern" is now often used instead; it covers to 1800.  Materials purchased on this fund are primarily in the English language, but in French, Spanish, Italian, German, etc., on those funds. Practically speaking, because the fund is so small, most of the selections made are about the medieval period.  The subject librarian for British history/studies and French studies, uses those funds for the Renaissance/Early Modern period, for the most part.   The English and history departments offer courses touching on these periods. Additional entities in the University offering courses covering aspects of Western Europe from 476 through 1800 include: Epidemiology, French, Art, Art History and Design, Lyman Briggs College, Linguistics, James Madison College, Music, Philosophy, Political Science, Religious Studies, Romance and Classical Studies, Theater, Urban Planning, Women’s Studies, Integrative Studies in the Arts and Humanities, College of Law, Journalism, and Sociology.  Young faculty in our community include Liam Brockey in History working on Catholicism around the world in the age of discovery and teaching History of the Book.

Medieval pilgrims, pilgrimage, the Crusades, Byzantium, church history, Christian, Jewish and medieval Spain, heresy, preaching, and deviance; Christian martyrdom, medieval universities and learning, updated and corrected editions of medieval primary sources,  English legal and constitutional history, Anglo-Norman law, cartularies (records of monastic, etc. communities), science and religion, the Jesuits around the world in the age of discovery, history of science, history of the book, the Atlantic World, history of slavery, Indian and white relations, and religion in America are the specific research interests of history, Romance and classical studies, and religion faculty members. 

Medieval English language, literature, and culture, Chaucer, death and dissent, Arthurian literature, manuscripts, textual transmission and editing, history of the English language, medieval medicine, literature and medicine, sex, aging, and death in medieval medical compendiums, Langland’s Piers Plowman, marriage and family, Henry of Lancaster’s Book of Holy Medicines, devotional literature; Shakespeare’s language, performance of Shakespeare, silence in Shakespeare, theatrical dimensions of Shakespeare, poetry and drama of the English Renaissance; 16th and 17th- century English literature and culture, rhetoric, theory, gender, scientific and medical discourse, historiography, drama and drama about science; Shakespeare around the world, Shakespeare and feminist politics and 17th-century travel narratives about India have been research interests of English department faculty. 

Presently, there are 46 names on the subject librarian's private mailing list for people with interests in medieval and Renaissance/Early Modern Studies.

“Bulk” loading of content sub-sets from our electronic resources can be negotiated with vendors such as ProQuest, Adam Matthew, and Gale/Cengage for faculty and students to use for digital projects.  People may also find "data" to use from data repositories such as Registry of Research Data Repositories.  The resulting intellectual products can be hosted on our servers for research and teaching.

Grant funded (NEH, etc) research may be subject to data management requirements, including consideration for publishing and sharing of data.  MSU would like to be considered for consultation and retention of such data, if approached by faculty or graduate students.

B. History of the Collection/Existing Strengths and Emphases

Study of the Western Middle Ages and Renaissance/early modern periods has long been a prominent aspect of the study of Western European literatures and history in American universities. Sets, series, primary sources in print and on microform, as well as secondary literature in monograph and periodical forms have long been collected. We own, for example, microform sets called STC I and II (early English books, 1470-1700), French Books before 1601, Italian Books before 1601, and German Books before 1601.  Many online electronic resources are now owned and offered:  EEBO (Early English Books Online), Medieval English Compendium, Domesday Book, Corpus of Middle English Prose and Verse, Early English Prose Fiction, English Drama, English Poetry Database, English Verse Drama, British Newspapers 1600-1800, British History Online, British Records on the Atlantic World 1700-1900, MEMSO, Medieval Travel Writing, Perdita Manuscripts, Early American Imprints, Series One: 1639-1800, Early Encounters in North America, Empire Online, East India Company Records, The Gerritsen Collection, Jewish Life in America, North American Women's Diaries and Letters, Sabin America, Slavery and Anti-Slavery, a Transnational Archive, Slavery, Abolition and Social Justice, Times Digital Archive, and Women and Social Movements.  In addition, many more freely available, digital, primary sources are offered in the web sites sections of our library guides covering medieval and/or  Renaissance/early modern studies.

The present selector's immediate predecessor, Robert Mareck, was a Ph.D. level trained medievalist, a former Benedictine religious, with excellent skills in classical and Western European languages. At the time he was hired, 1979, the History Department offered a defined graduate studies track in medieval history led by nationally known scholars and the English department also had a medieval studies program with several faculty members. At this time there was only one fund used to purchase all materials for the social sciences and humanities for the MSU Libraries. At the time individual discipline, area, and other funds were created, in the mid-1980s, Dr. Mareck’s knowledge and University teaching suggested that we ought to have a fund to select on the medieval period.  Selections on the Renaissance period in the English language are also made on the medieval studies fund to some extent, but not exclusively.  Renaissance/early modern materials are also selected on the British history/studies, French studies, and other funds. Now the English department's medievalists have passed away or retired and they do not teach medieval English literature in as much depth as previously, so we emphasize English medieval literature less in our selections.  The University has some newer hires that focus more on the Renaissance and early modern periods in both the history and English departments. Most material collected on this fund is in the English language.

Murray and Hong Special Collections (MHSPC hereafter) began to collect illuminated manuscript facsimiles in the 1950s. MHSPC contains full and partial facsimiles, as well as a solid collection of secondary literature on various aspects of manuscript illumination and catalogues of collections. The scope of the collection ranges from a 6th c. A.D. Bible fragment to 16th century Books of Hours. The 1993 edition of Shirlee A. Murphy’s Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscript Facsimiles at the Michigan State University Libraries describes 187 items.

MHSPC contains over 40 incunabula, works produced from the infancy of printing to 1501. MHSPC has another 137 works produced between 1501 and 1601. These early printed works are or are about English history, early veterinary medicine, witchcraft, histories of France and Italy and specific places and periods in these countries, Roman, Canon, and civil law, religion, the Catholic Church, Greek and Latin authors’ works, works on various sciences before 1800, such as agriculture, gardening, zoology, and botany, government, cookery, poisons, emblem books, diplomacy, Bibles, architecture, prudence, wood-engraving, epigrams, bees, logic, the Reformation, excommunication, monarchy, education of princes, magic, and political science.