Department of History and Philosophy of Science

Sources and reference works for historians of medieval science

Rosamond McKitterick

If you want to work on the history of medieval science you need to think about whether you will want, firstly, to work specifically on astronomy, medicine, geometry, arithmetic, the mathematical and theoretical aspects of music, epistemology, cosmology and so on. Secondly, you might wish to to investigate the writings, influences on the thought, and impact of the work of a particular individual. Thirdly, you may wish to look at aspects of medieval science in particular contexts, such as the teaching of science in the medieval universities, the transmission of scientific works in the middle ages etc. It is important to bear in mind how close scientific enquiry and thinking was to both philosophy and theology, so that a general understanding of intellectual developments in the middle ages will be of great assistance. The relevant chapters, all with extensive Bibliographies, of The New Cambridge Medieval History (II, ed. McKitterick; III, ed. Reuter; V, ed. Abulafia; VI, ed. Jones and VII, ed. Allmand (1995–: vols I and IV are still in preparation) will be useful in this respect, as will the relevant chapters of the medieval volumes of the History of the University of Oxford, gen. ed. J. Catto (Oxford, 1984) and A History of the University in Europe ed. H. Ridder-Symoens (Cambridge, 1992).

Further, medieval scientific knowledge and enquiry was based on the foundations of Ancient learning in Greek and Latin and also in Arabic translations from the Greek which increasingly became available in Europe from the end of the tenth century onwards: see D. Gutas, Greek Thought, Arabic Culture (London, 1998) and D.R. Hill, Islamic Science and Engineering (Edinburgh, 1993) and L.D. Reynolds, Texts and Transmission: a survey of the Latin Classics (Oxford, 1983). Much of the process of the transmission of scientific ideas from east to west in the middle ages is still being explored.

If you are still trying to make up your mind about which emphasis your research will have, you should read first of all a few general works about the history of the different sciences in the middle ages, on which preliminary guidance is available in the following bibliographies:

  • C. Kren, Medieval Science and Technology: A Selected, annotated Bibliography (New York, 1985)
  • J.W. Dauben, The History of Mathematics from Antiquity to the Present: A Select Bibliography (New York, 1985)

A few introductory guides will also help, such as E. Grant, 'Medieval Science and Natural Philosophy', in James M. Powell (ed.), Medieval Studies. An Introduction. 2nd edition (Syracuse, 1992), pp. 353–75 and his bibliography. Edward Grant, Physical Sciences in the Middle Ages (Cambridge, 1977).

Two older surveys are still useful:

  • L. Thorndike, A History of Magic and experimental science, 6 vols (New York, 1923–41)
  • G. Sarton, An Introduction to the History of Science, 3 vols (Washington D.C., 1927–48)

See also P. Butzer and D. Lohrmann, Science in western and eastern Civilisation in Carolingian Times (Basel, Boston and Berlin 1993) and P. Butzer, M. Kerner and W. Oberschelp (eds), Charlemagne and his heritage: 1200 years of Civilisation and Science in Europe, 2 vols (Turnholt, 1997) with many articles with Bibliographies of further reading, and the collected papers in the Variorum Collected Studies series by Wesley Stephens (Aldershot, 1995) (Mathematics) and Bruce Eastwood (Aldershot, 1997) (Astronomy). S. McCluskey, Astronomies and Cultures in early medieval Europe (Cambridge, 1998) is useful in its presentation of the content of the astronomical traditions of the early middle ages. There are many interesting papers in D.L. Wagner (ed.), The Seven Liberal Arts in the Middle Ages (Bloomington, Indiana, 1986), in L. Nauta and A. Vanderjagt (eds), Between Demonstration and Imagination. Essays in the History of Science and Philosophy presented to John D. North (Leiden, 1999) and in J. Marenbon (ed.), Medieval Philosophy (2nd ed., London, 2003).

All these will give you a sense of what has been established and what is being discussed at present, the kinds of questions being raised and also the questions that are not being asked but in which you are interested. Following these up in terms of texts available for study, in print or in manuscript, and medieval authors whose work is relevant is the next step. At this stage you should do a systematic tour of the CUL Reading Room, where an enormous range of guides are to be found. Sections R532, and the 500s as a whole are particularly relevant.

Two very useful guides to sources in print are R. van Caenegem, Introduction aux sources de l'Histoire Medievale (Turnhout, 1997) (CUL R532.11), a one-volume revised version of a guide published in English and Dutch in 1978 and L. Genicot (ed.) Typologie des sources du moyen age occidental (1972–) (CUL R532.6) which has separate fascicles on many different categories of sources, including scientific sources. It is important to check the availability of properly edited modern editions for your texts. There are two major collections of medieval texts (about 400 vols in all) which include treatises which could be termed scientific, namely the Patrologia Graeca and the Patrologia Latin, both compiled by J.P. Migne in the 1850s and comprising editions available in the middle of the nineteenth century. These are also now available on CD ROM in the UL. Texts in these are now being reedited, sometimes from newly discovered manuscripts. Many scientific manuscripts wait to be discovered, and a guide to many of these is to be found in D.W. Singer's Handlist of western Scientific manuscripts in great Britain and Ireland dating from before the sixteenth century (1945–6) available for consultation in the British Library and now available in an electronic version (e-TK). The BL has published a guide to this by T.C. Skeat, Catalogues of the manuscript collections in the British Museum (London, 1962) pp. 42–3 and some portions of this, e.g. the Alchemy section, have been published (1945–6). For medical manuscripts see A. Beccaria, I codici di medicina del periodo pre-salernitano secoli IX, X e XI (Rome, 1956) and E. Wickersheimer, Les manuscrits latins de médicine du haut moyen âge dans les bibliothèques de France (Paris, 1966). For identification see also L. Thorndike and P. Kibre, A catalogue of incipits of medieval scientific writings in Latin (London, 1963).

There are also a number of guides to particular categories of science or authors, namely:

  • Aristoteles latinus, ed. B. Lacombe et al., 3 vols (Paris, 1957, 1961 and Cambridge, 1965)
  • Pseudo-Arsitoteles Latinus: a guide to Latin works falsely attributed to Aristotle before 1500, ed. C.B. Schmitt and D. Knox, Warburg Institute, Survey and texts, 12 (London, 1985)
  • Aristoteles arabus: the Oriental translations and commentaries on the Aristotelian Corpus, ed. F.E. Peters (Amsterdam, 1968)
  • Hippocrates Latinus: Repertorium of hippocratic writings in the Latin Middle ages, ed. P. Kibre (rev.ed.New York, 1985)
  • H. Diels, Die Handschriften der antiken Artz, 2 vols reprinted (Leipzig, 1970)
  • R.J. Durling, 'Corrigenda and Addenda to Diels' Galenica', Traditio 23 (1967) and 37 (1981)
  • G. Fichtner, Corpus Galenicum: Verzeichnis der galenischen und pseudo-galenischen Schriften (Tubingen, 1983)
  • Avicenna Latinus, ed. M.T. d'Alverny, in Archives d'histoire doctrinale et littéraire au moyen âge 28–37 and 39 (1961–70 and 1972)
  • Avicenna latinus: Liber de anima seu sextus de naturalibus, ed. S. van Reit, 2 vols (Leiden, 1968 and 1972)
  • Catalogus translationum et commentariorum, ed. P.O. Kristeller and F.E. Crantz, 4 vols (Washington DC 1960)

On all matters to do with topics as well as individuals the best guide is the recently (1999) completed Lexikon des Mittelalters (CUL R532–7). Even if you cannot (yet) read German, you can use the Bibliographies to each article. A short guide to medieval authors is Tusculum-Lexikon griechischer und lateinischer Autoren des Altertums und des Mittelalters. (CUL R706.10, revised edition in French CUL 706.1.d.95.20), and the longer standard guide is 'the new Potthast' = Repertorium fontium historiae medii aevi 1962– (CUL R532.14) which has reached R. Other useful biographical dictionaries are:

  • C.C. Gillespie (ed.), Dictionary of Scientific Biography, 16 vols (New York, 1970–80)
  • C. Lohr, 'Medieval Latin commentators', Traditio, vols 23–24, 26–30
  • C.H. Talbot and E.H. Hammond, The Medical Practitioners in Medieval England: a biographical register (London, 1965)
  • E. Wickerheimer, Dictionnaire Biographique des Médecins en France au Moyen Age, reprinted in Hautes Etudes Médiévales et Modernes, 34,i and ii (Geneva, 1979) with two supplementary volumes by D. Jacquart, H.E.M et M 34, iii (Geneva, 1979) and M. (Geneva, 1985)

An essential task, of course, is to see not only what has been done already so that you have a scholarly and historiographical context for your own research, but also to check that noone has got there before you, or at least, not so precisely as to make it pointless for you to do it too. There are a number of bibliographical guides but the most useful of these is the International Medieval Bibliography (articles and books to 1998, available in hard copy to 1998 and also on CD ROM in the UL to 1995).

In addition you should make use of the other online bibliographies and guides associated with the Monumenta Germaniae Historica [] in Germany and the Medieval Academy of America []. These will give you access to other websites and bibliographies. A useful resource for articles and reviews is the Arts and Humanities Data Base (for articles) on BIDS ISI [] (for this you will need a password for which you should ask in the UL Reading Room). Another useful collection on sources and secondary work is the Internet Medieval Sourcebook [].

Working on medieval scientific texts or manuscripts means that you will have to develop the skills and use the research methods and tools of the medieval historian. There is an enormous range of standard guides and bibliographies on all aspects of the middle ages in the form of websites, electronic guides and collections of primary sources, texts, atlases, dictionaries, encyclopaedias, guides to sources, calendars, biographical dictionaries, manuscript catalogues and so on. If you apply to the MPhil in Medieval History Secretary in the Graduate Studes Office in the Faculty of History, you can obtain an extensive 15-page guide to the Bibliographical Resources for Research in Medieval History. It is also a good idea to check the History Faculty lecture list for courses for graduate students which may be useful or of interest. There is also a Medieval History Research Seminar, whose details are published in the lecture list.