Reviewd April 2019
Special Collections Librarian
Medieval Digital Resources (MDR) is a free, curated database of online resources compiled by the Medieval Academy of America (MAA). These sources include databases, bibliographies, editions/translations of medieval works, and digital scholarship. Sources can be recommended for inclusion but must be peer-reviewed by subject experts and digital specialists before being added to the collection. Recommendations of sources are openly welcomed by the MAA. The quality of the database overall is further assured by their “Standards of Web Publication,” which clearly state the tenants of assessment for the resources included in the database. The MAA is transparent about the creation of MDR as they name all those who helped to conceptualize the resource and what roles each played in starting and fine-tuning it. As is common with Medieval Studies, a greater selection of resources devoted to the Middle Ages in Western Europe has been included, though there are a few sources related to studying it in other geopolitical regions.
As a compilation of other sources, MDR lends itself well to a database format. Users obtain a much more meaningful experience than if had this content been maintained only as an online list. The interface is easy to use and aesthetically pleasing. Despite the rigorous selection process, descriptions of each resource vary from comprehensive to nonexistent, though these shorter summaries will hopefully be improved as MDR grows and becomes an established resource. Each resource entry comes with a comprehensive set of fields and subject headings, as well as tags that use controlled vocabulary, including those for “Resource Details” (resource type, license, modern language) and Medieval “Content Details” (dates, subject, type/genre of medieval primary source material, geopolitical region, original language). Entries include the project status of each resource, ensuring users know if the information in the resource is up to date.
Users can browse by any of these categories to find the definitions of the controlled vocabulary, which not only helps users understand what terms are being used in each field but also allows for useful, serendipitous discoveries. These definitions are available through pages under the “Search Field Description” tab which could cause some confusion. There is a separate “Search” page, located next to “Search Field Description” and one has to explore both to ascertain the different nuances provided by each option.
The search function itself is quite easy to use, providing options to search by keyword and/or date range. Searches can be further refined by combining multiple terms from the controlled vocabulary, which are made available through drop-down menus for each field. However, this is the only place one can conduct a basic keyword search, which could frustrate those used to having that function available at the top or side of each page.
MDR will be most useful to students and faculty searching for a wider variety of good quality online resources that are free to use to supplement their library’s subscription-based resources. Academic librarians who engage with disciplines that contribute to Medieval Studies will also find this a valuable resource, particularly when helping undergraduate and graduate students find both primary and secondary sources for class assignments and research on the Middle Ages. No account is needed to view MDR, nor does it require specific software. MDR, as a resource of resources, will quickly become an invaluable resource for librarians and scholars of all levels in the wide variety of disciplines under the umbrella of Medieval Studies.