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Medieval English Peasant: Subject Dictionaries and Encyclopedias

This is a guide to researching the medieval English peasant. Medieval West -- Reference Sources and Medieval West -- Additional Web Resources are more extensive research guides. Latest update 06-12-2023

Subject Dictionaries and Encyclopedias

Why to use these? To get a handle on a topic new to you written by an expert on it.  To see how you might break a topic down into a more doable paper, or to enlarge a topic.  To read a little about a topic, if you only need a little information about it.  To find further reading references on a topic recommended by an expert on that subject. 

Cambridge Histories Online

Click to enter the resource, then type New Cambridge Medieval History into the search box in upper right of screen.  This brings up the latest edition of each volume, a monumental synthesis of medieval history arranged by chronological period.  We also have copies of the paper volumes, New Cambridge Medieval History in Main at D 117 .N48 1995 v. 1-7. 

Handbook of Medieval Studies: Terms, Methods, Trends

Main D 116 .H37 2010 v. 1-3

Volume one and two have alphabetically arranged, topical bibliographical essays, with select bibliographies at articles' conclusions.  Volume two also has bibliographical essays on a series of important terms in today's medieval studies such as gestures, laughter, ritual and performance, also with bibliographies.  Volume two also has bibliographical essays on different medieval textual genres, such as bibles, charters, financial and tax reports, also with bibliographies.  V. 3 continues the essays on textual genres and has bio-bibliographical essays on 19th and 20th century scholars of  the Middle Ages with bibliographies. Best to read through the entries in the tables of contents. All the articles are written by scholars in the medieval studies field.  Overall editor is Albrecht Classen, professor of German studies, University of Arizona.  Emphasis is continental Europe.

Handbook of Medieval Culture

Ref. CB 351 .H227 2015 v. 1-3

Link above is to v. 1.  Link to v. 2Link to v. 3. Overall editor is Albrecht Classen, same as above work, so emphasis is more on continental Europe. Alphabetical arrangement of lengthy bibliographical essays on a wide range of topics, such as hell, horses, hunting, illness, languages, law, love, medicine, money, monsters, to name just a few.  Best to read through the table of contents pages.  About half of the third volume is a bibliography of primary and secondary sources, each arranged alphabetically without annotations.  Articles by scholars in the field.

Encyclopedia of European Social History (also available online. See last 2 lines of annotation.)

Ref. HN 373 .E63 2001 v. 1-5
Covers only the latter portion of the Middle Ages. V. 1 has table of contents for all volumes, showing the articles contained in each. V. 2 has a section "rural life," with articles on agriculture, land tenure, serfdom: Western Europe, peasant and farming villages. V. 3 has section "social structure" with articles on peasants and rural laborers. These articles are extensive and have a bibliography at the end. Signed entries by scholars.  This is available online, but each volume has its own entry. It is available online also.  Each volume has its own entry/link in Books and Media or E Books and Journals.  Type in the title Encyclopedia of European Social History to find the links to the individual volumes.

Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages

Ref. D 114 .E53 2000 v. 1-2
Articles vary in length from a paragraph to a couple of pages, are signed, by scholars, and have a short bibliography for further reading at the ends. Topics, places, events, people.  Online version (2006 edition)

Oxford Dictionary of the Middle Ages

Main D 117 .O92 2010 v. 1-4

This is a brand new work in 2010, intended to replace the 13 v. Dictionary of the Middle Ages published in the early 1980s.  We offer it both online and in paper.

Historical Dictionary of Late Medieval England, 1272-1485

Main  DA 175 .H56 2002
Goal is to synthesize the scholarship on the Middle Ages, emphasizing "political religious, constitutional, and military aspects of English history during the late Middle Ages. At the same time, topics dealing with social, economic, cultural and intellectual history have been included...." Further reading references, plus extensive bibliography at the end of the book; see esp. pp. 618-20. Signed articles, by scholars.

Medieval England, an Encyclopedia

Ref. DA 129 .M43 1998
"[This] is an introduction to the society and culture of England from the coming of the Anglo-Saxons in the 5th century through the accession of the Tudor dynasty (1485) and the turn of the 16th century." Articles on topics, places, persons, events, are signed, by scholars. Bibliographical references.

Oxford Companion to British History
Main DA 34 .O93  2015

Very short articles, unsigned, no further reading references. High quality publisher, though. Both paper and online versions available.

Companion to Britain in the Later Middle  Ages

Main DA 175 .C598 2003

A "companion" in the sense of guidebook, meaning chapters on various topics authored by individual scholars: land and people; women and gender; economy and society; law, society and the state; religion and piety; education and society; culture and society, etc.   Large bibliography of secondary sources at the end.  Online edition is 2007.

Encyclopedia of the Black Death

Daily Life of Women an Encyclopedia from Ancient Times to the Present

Ref. HQ 9 .D324 2021

See pp. 324-355 of v. 1 for women in the medieval period.


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Terrie Wilson
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Michigan State University