Parallel Source Problems in Medieval History



IN teaching history the advantages to be gained from the use of some source material are generally recognized. "Experience has proved, not only that the interest of students can be more readily obtained through the vividness of a direct and firsthand presentation, and that knowledge thus gained is more tangible and exact; but that the critical judgment is developed in no slight degree, and the ability as well as the interest for further study thus secured,"

The realization of these advantages has led to the preparation and publications of numerous volumes of source books, readings, etc. Unfortunately, the practice has usually been to supply "a multitude of fragments," spread out thinly over the whole chronological period and many classes of topics, with little or no guidance for the students. It is very doubtful whether "the critical judgment" can be developed by the study of a series of disconnected extracts, no matter "how carefully and thoughtfully made." Furthermore, the training to be derived from the use of sources cannot be obtained without intensive work on the part of both teachers and students. A short passage from some source may enliven the narrative and arouse interest, but certainly will not exercise the judgment unless some data are furnished concerning the passage upon which a judgment may be based. In fact, the use of the sources for teaching history has been going through much the same course as the use of the sources for writing history before the critical advance of the nineteenth century. It has been said by Ranke’s admirers that before his constructive work the sources were read but not studied. While this statement is not entirely true, it does describe the general usage, and it might be applied, with important reservations, to the so-called source method of teaching in the last generation.

This volume has grown out of the experience of two of my former students. As teachers, both in secondary schools and colleges, they have come to realize the need of a book which would furnish suitable material (and the necessary guidance) for critical and intensive work. They have wisely chosen topics which will interest the students and can be handled either in a high school or college. For each problem they have given important "parallel" accounts, not disconnected fragments. The apparatus which accompanies the sources is amply sufficient for the guidance of either teachers or students, and makes it possible to use this work in private study or in correspondence courses. The topics are well distributed both chronologically and as to subject matter. It will be far better for the teachers to set aside occasionally a definite period of time for intensive work on one of these problems than to attempt each day to do a little with the sources. The pupils will form a much more correct idea of the material from which history is written and the way in which it must be studied. They will also be led to estimate more correctly the value of the different classes of sources. Both teachers and students are to be congratulated on the appearance of this new source book.


University of Wisconsin, October, 1912.


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Chicago: "Introduction," Parallel Source Problems in Medieval History in Parallel Source Problems in Medieval History, ed. Frederic Duncalf and August C. Krey (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1912), xi–xiii. Original Sources, accessed August 14, 2022,

MLA: . "Introduction." Parallel Source Problems in Medieval History, in Parallel Source Problems in Medieval History, edited by Frederic Duncalf and August C. Krey, New York, Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1912, pp. xi–xiii. Original Sources. 14 Aug. 2022.

Harvard: , 'Introduction' in Parallel Source Problems in Medieval History. cited in 1912, Parallel Source Problems in Medieval History, ed. , Harper & Brothers Publishers, New York, pp.xi–xiii. Original Sources, retrieved 14 August 2022, from