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Michigan State University

Global Catholicism in the Age of Discovery, 1450-1700: Free Web Sites

This is a guide to researching Catholicism around the world in the age of discovery, 1450-1700

Free Web Sites

Primary sources provide first-hand evidence about an event, place, historical period, discovery, invention, organization, or person’s life.

They may be found in libraries or archives in printed volumes, in manuscripts, on microform, or online.

Diaries, letters, journals, autobiographies, memoirs, some government documents, early printed books, manuscripts, archival collections, pamphlets, ephemera, facsimiles or reprints of early works, photographs, artifacts, maps, field notes, oral histories, or records of organizations/companies may all be primary sources.  Read more about them here. And here.


As you use the online catalog by subject heading watch for sub-headings: sources, personal narratives, correspondence, early works to 1800.  Example: Counter Reformation--sources

Watch for, look for, citations to primary sources in secondary works and in reference sources, in footnotes or bibliography.

Watch for, look for, references to primary sources amidst search results in periodical index searches.

Below is a list of possibly free web sites.   Please see the section of this guide called Primary sources to access the electronic resources M.S.U. Libraries owns or subscribes to.

Atlas of Early Printing

From University of Iowa.  Interactive map and timeline illustrating the rise of the printing press in 15th c. Europe.  Includes essays about the early history of print in Europe and the technical processes of the time.  Learn about specific places or events in printing history by clicking on pins on the map.

Catholic Research Resources Alliance

The CRRA is a nonprofit (501c3) membership alliance of institutions collaborating to deliver projects and services in support of its mission "to provide enduring global access to Catholic research resources in the Americas." Their immediate focus is creating access to those rare, unique, and uncommon research materials which are held by libraries and archives in North America.

Christian Classics Ethereal Library

Contains about 1,000 of the most important public-domain works for theological study. This is more like a 'real library' than most sites.

Digital Library of the Catholic Reformation

M.S.U. Libraries DOES NOT subscribe to or own this resource and it is not free on the internet. It MIGHT BE available at the University of Michigan Libraries in Ann Arbor to walk-in patrons.  A uniquely valuable resource for historians, theologians, political scientists, and sociologists studying the religious and social upheavals of the 16th and 17th centuries, the Digital Library of the Catholic Reformation gives researchers immediate, Web-based access to an extensive range of seminal works from the Reformation and post-Reformation eras. With 845 titles by 277 authors, the collection is a treasury of theological writings, biblical commentaries, confessional documents, social and political works, sermons, letters, polemical treatises, and other key documents from this critical epoch in European history.

Early Canadiana Online: Public Access Site

This search engine provides access to a reduced portion of Early Canadiana Online (ECO),a collaborative research project to provide Web access to a digital library of primary sources in Canadian history from the first European contact to the late 19th century. The collection is particularly strong in the subject areas of literature, women's history, native studies and the history of French Canada. The MSU Libraries does not subscribe to the complete collection due to its high subscription cost.

EuroDocs: Primary Historical Documents from Western Europe

These links connect to Western European (mainly primary) historical documents that are transcribed, reproduced in facsimile, or translated. They shed light on key historical happenings within the respective countries (and within the broadest sense of political, economic, social, and cultural history). Covers medieval and Renaissance, Europe as a supranational region, as well as documents of individual countries. From Brigham Young University.

European Jesuit Provenance Project

This is the largest census of books owned by European Jesuit institutions prior to the suppression.  It includes both texts currently held in libraries and information from pre-1773 inventories, and is an ongoing project created by Kathleen Comerford (Georgia Southern University).

Gods and Scholars

Cornell University Library hosts Gods and Scholars, an online exhibition of diverse archival material on religion. Browse this collection, which includes religious texts, art, objects, and architecture, by a variety of themes, including the The Study and Practice of Religion, Witchcraft and Witch Hunts, and Reformation.  Cornell has a noted witchcraft collection.

Guides to Catholic-Related Records about Native Americans

Guides to Catholic-Related Records about Native Americans in the United States: The guides contain over 1,000 repository entries in PDF format, which provide contact information on the churches and repositories that hold these records, brief descriptions about records, and identification of the Native groups represented and the related Catholic organizations involved. Many of the entries include institutional chronologies to explain the history of the records.Genealogists, historians, and others with historical research needs will find the guides to be especially helpful.

History Online (U.K.)

History On-line is being developed by the British Institute of Historical Research to provide a gateway resource to high quality resources for teaching and learning history in the U.K. Approach is by search or browse. It is browsable by type of history (ecclesiastical, cultural, economic, gender, imperial/commonwealth, social, intellectual, etc.), geographic area, time period, or type of resource (archives, bibliographies, datasets, journals, museums/galleries, organizations/research centres, primary sources, subject gateways). The project works jointly with Humbul Humanities Hub to enhance the history content there.

Internet Archive

The Internet Archive is a non-profit that was founded to build an Internet library. Its purposes include offering permanent access for researchers, historians, scholars, people with disabilities, and the general public to historical collections that exist in digital format.  It includes texts, audio, moving images, and software as well as archived web pages.

Internet Modern History Sourcebook

Collection of primary sources of historic documents from the early modern period to the present for both Europe and the Americas. Includes links to other sources of information on modern history and on the nature of historiography, and links to maps, images, and music.

Internet Sacred Text Archive

"Nonprofit archive of religious texts privately maintained in Santa Cruz and not affiliated with any religious organization or institution."

Internet Theology Resources

Points to many hundreds of primary texts from throughout the 2,000 year history of Christianity, emphasizing Roman Catholic liturgy, monastic history, and systematic theology. Author trained in theology. Organization reflects curriculum at St. John's School of Theology and Seminary.

Jesuit Historiography Online

An Open Access resource offering over seventy historiographical essays written by experts in their field. Aimed at scholars of Jesuit history and at those in all overlapping areas, the essays in JHO provide summaries of key texts from the earlier literature, surveys of more recent work, and digests of archival and online resources. Scope of the essays is global.  Supported by Institute for Advanced Jesuit Studies at Boston College.  You will need to register yourself and set up a personal account to use this.

Papal Documents

From the Vatican Web site, links to the encyclicals (and biographies, letters, sermons, exhortations, etc.) of growing number of the Roman Catholic popes. Try entering the phrase “Catholic Missionaries seventeenth century.”

Pioneering the Upper Midwest: Books from Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin

A collection of historical materials pertaining to the states of Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin from the 1600s through the early 1900s. Includes first-person accounts, biographies, promotional literature, local histories, ethnographic and antiquarian texts, and colonial archival documents. Searchable; and browsable by author, subject, and title. From the American Memory Project, Library of Congress.

Portal to Jesuit Studies

By Institute for Advanced Jesuit Studies from Boston College.  It offers "online access to a curated and fully searchable collection of important primary sources and some of the latest secondary scholarship related to the history, spirituality, educational heritage, and pedagogy approach of the Society of Jesus. The Portal also hosts online resources, such as key documents in Jesuit history and a forthcoming lexicon of Jesuit terminology."

Binding Friendship: Ricci, China and Jesuit Cultural Learnings

Matteo Ricci was a Jesuit missionary in China in the early 17th century and an important person in Catholic history.  This is a digital version of an exhibit about him produced by Boston College.  Read two digitized books about Ricci's experiences in China. Watch a 54-minute documentary called "Beyond Ricci" and a number of student films about his legacy.

Spiritual Journeys

This rather contemplative online exhibition looks at books which document the first two centuries of the Society of Jesus, courtesy of St. Louis University in Missouri. The original in situ exhibit was curated by Paul Shore, who worked with rare books librarian Jennifer Lowe. Visitors should start by clicking on the Introduction area and reading a thoughtful essay by Shore on the early history of the Society, which began in 1540. The piece talks about the important of spiritual journeys (which often had a strong literal travel component) and it sets the tone for the entire exhibit. The work goes on to describe nine key books, including works by Daniello Bartoli and Mathias Tanner. The site is rounded out by an afterwords and a bibliography.

USTC, Universal Short Title Catalogue

USTC is a freely accessible database of bibliographical entries, with library holdings information, for books printed in Europe between the invention of printing and the end of the sixteenth century. Its purpose is akin to the ESTC, English Short Title Catalogue, also in our electronic resources. USTC began as a professor's project at University of St. Andrews to "survey French religious books, intended as a contribution to the study of the Reformation. But it proved impossible to make sense of French Protestantism without also creating a bibliography of Catholic books; then it seemed important to survey all French vernacular imprints, to establish how religious books fitted into the economy of print. It was only when this first project was nearing completion in 2007 that we conceived the more ambitious goal of extending our work on France to all of Europe." Then the project surveyed holdings in over 300 French libraries, particularly municipal libraries, which have many early printed books seized during the French Revolution. The project then "turned its attention to other areas of Europe for which there were no comprehensive surveys of early print: notably the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) and the Low Countries." They are now working to include entries from German and Italian libraries There are links to some freely accessible, full texts.


Goal is to provide links to excellent academically oriented resources in classics, Dutch, French, German, British, Iberian, Irish, Italian,  Scandinavian, and, eventually,  Eastern European studies, as well as in medieval and Renaissance studies, and in social science and history. ESS, the American Library Association, Association of College and Research Libraries' section,  is professionally involved in the acquisition, organization, and use of information sources originating in or related to European countries. Their aim is to promote the improvement of library services supporting study and research in  European affairs from ancient times to the present. Click on nationalities or medieval/Renaissance section. 

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