Editors: George W. Tuma, Professor of English, and Dinah Hazell, Independent Scholar
Hosted by the English Department, San Francisco State University



Web Spotlight:
Medieval Portal Sites

Daniel T. Kline

The Internet has become as important a tool for scholars as it has for our students.  We communicate via email with colleagues the world over and search the World Wide Web for materials to enrich our scholarship and teaching. Many colleges and universities now offer online courses in which we seldom if ever see the faces of our students, and integrated courseware packages like WebCT and Blackboard have become a part of our pedagogical tool box.

I believe that as medievalists we are uniquely positioned to take advantage of the burgeoning availability of materials on the web and to integrate them into our teaching and scholarship, for two specific reasons:

Since we study manuscript cultures, bordered culturally as they are by the introduction of the printing press, we can assess not only the social impact of the change in media from manuscript to print in that more chronologically remote time, but we can also evaluate the cultural effects of the move from print into digital media on our own cultures.

Since the medieval period is in many ways visually oriented toward different forms of representation (manuscript images, statuary, stained glass, and other types of iconography), the “visual hermeneutics” of the web offer another avenue of comparison and contrast between the medieval and contemporary periods.

Of course, there are a number of other reasons why scholars and students of the Middle Ages find the web to be a compelling tool for scholarship and teaching.  The most important reason must be that by putting materials on the web, students and scholars allow others to access sources that were otherwise sequestered away indistant libraries or limited to the lucky few who could afford the time and travel to examine the sources themselves.

In the Web Spotlight feature of the Medieval Forum, I will draw attention to a select number of related medieval sources available on the web and offer succinct descriptions of their worth and how they might be used by students and scholars. In medieval studies we are lucky to have had dedicated scholars who have been posting materials online since the Internet boom began almost ten years ago. 

Portal Sites

Generally not offering much original content of their own, “portal sites,” sometimes called “metapages,” most often serve as entry points into web materials on a related subject or offer collections of links to other online materials. Some of the most important medieval portal sites include:

              Developed by Martin Irvine and Deborah Everhart, Georgetown University’s Labyrinth < http://www.georgetown.edu/labyrinth/> has been online since 1994 and has not been surpassed for the quality of its offerings. A new database driven search system has been brought online at < http://labyrinth.georgetown.edu/>, offering a variety of search options. Labyrinth offers materials on the literature and culture of medieval Byzantium, England (Old and Middle English periods), France, Germany, Iberia, Italy, and Scandinavia as well as Latin literature and culture. Labyrinth includes pedagogical resources and information on medieval studies organizations, conferences, and journals.  It’s a goldmine of literary, historical, and cultural material.

              ORB: Online Reference Book for Medieval Studies < http://orb.rhodes.edu/> comes out of  Rhodes College and is edited by Laura V. Blanchard and Carolyn Schriber. According to the ORB main page, “ORB is an academic site, written and maintained by medieval scholars for the benefit of their fellow instructors and serious students. All articles have been judged by at least two peer reviewers. Authors are held to high standards of accuracy, currency, and relevance to the field of medieval studies.” ORB offers a number of resources—the two most important being The ORB Encyclopedia and The ORB Textbook Library, while the peer review process used at ORB gives the sources within added credibility.

              Compiled by Beau A.C. Harbin (Catholic University of America) NetSERF: Internet Connection for Medieval Studies < http://www.netserf.org/> currently catalogs over 1700 links, easily organized and accessible by subject heading or search engine.

              Alan Liu’s Voice of the Shuttle <http://vos.ucsb.edu/> (UC Santa Barbara) is the humanities metapage par excellence. It is a great starting point not only for all things medieval but for just about any other literary, historical, or cultural studies topic you or your students might want to pursue.

The next Web Spotlight will discuss how to evaluate and document web resources.  Faculty and students must remember that online sources must be assessed as critically and documented thoroughly, just like print sources.

Daniel T. Kline
The Electronic Canterbury Tales: <http://hosting.uaa.alaska.edu/afdtk/ect_main.htm>  













Updated 3/30/03