Medieval Rus′

Maintained by: David J. Birnbaum ( [Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 3.0 Unported License] Last modified: 2020-07-07T20:56:32+0000

Research strategy

General Preparation

  1. Read up on your topic in one or more of the general histories of Rusian literature to get a sense of the basic issues involving the work you are studying and how it fits into its time and place.
  2. Read the primary text (in English or modern Russian if you are not able to read the older language).
  3. Read the relevant entry in the Slovar′ knizhnikov i knizhnosti drevnei Rusi (D.S. Likhachev, otv. red.), Leningrad: Nauka, 1987–. The first two volumes (in three parts), which run through the end of the sixteenth century, are available on line at
  4. Look through the tables of contents for issues of Trudy Otdela drevnerusskoj literatury (PG2950 .A5) from around the mid 1980s on; The tables of contents are available on-line at, although the text of the articles may not be there for all issues. The contents of selected volumes are also available at

How to conduct keyword searches

  1. Your success in searching the electronic resources described below will depend on your selection of keywords. If you search too narrowly or specifically, you won’t find anything. If you search too broadly, you’ll find so many false hits that you'll have trouble locating the items that are truly relevant.
  2. If you have read about your topic in advance (see above), you should have some ideas about words that are almost certain to appear in relevant sources, and about word combinations that are unlikely to appear in irrelevant ones. For example, "Kievan hagiography" (in quotation marks) will find only sources that contain exactly that phrase, but it will miss sources that say hagiography in Kiev or Old Russian hagiography or anything similar. A search for Kiev hagiography (no quotes) is better; this will find pages that contain both words, but it doesn’t require a particular phrase. Better still are searches for Hilarion and Ilarion (no quotes; look for both spellings) or Boris Gleb (no quotes; either name is likely to get lots of false hits alone, but together they are likely to narrow the scope usefully). Remember to check for variant transliterations, e.g., Feodosii or Feodosij or Theodosius, combined with Kiev (no quotes).
  3. Library search interfaces typically let you constrain your search to specific fields (e.g., author, title, full text). Full text is generally best for the types of searches described above, but once you’ve found an author who publishes a lot on your topic, it might be worth trying an author search.
  4. Library book catalogues include Library of Congress subject headings, which are a controlled vocabulary (at least in theory, books about the same topic should have exactly the same subject headings). Once you find a relevant book, open the record and do a follow-up search on the appropriate subject headings.

Electronic bibliographies

The University of Pittsburgh provides a portal page, prepared by Slavic bibliographer Dan Pennell, that connects to Slavic languages and literatures databases. Of particular interest are:

Don’t regard JSTOR ( as a primary bibliographic resource, since its coverage is much narrower than that of ABSEES and MLA. JSTOR is useful for finding the full text of articles once you’ve identified them elsewhere.

Finding more books

Consult the on-line catalogue of a library or two with particularly good Slavic collections. I usually use Harvard’s HOLLIS Catalogue ( and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign ( Don’t regard PITTCAT ( as a primary bibliographic reference, since the University of Pittsburgh Slavic Collection is not as large as that of Harvard or UIUC. PITTCAT is useful for finding books in our collection once you have identified them elsewhere.

Paper bibliographies and resources

  1. Consult the Slovar′ knizhnikov i knizhnosti drevnei rusi and the bibliography at the end of each article there (those bibliographies are divided into editions and secondary scholarship). The first volume of this encyclopedia (through the first half of the fourteenth century) was published in 1987, and the bibliographies generally provide very good coverage of both Russian and western scholarship through around the mid-1980s.
  2. Consult the tables of contents in each volume of the series Trudy otdela drevnerusskoi literatury from around the mid-1980s until the present (as available). Composite indices are published in the volumes at various intervals, but you may find it easiest just to look at the tables of contents in each volume, since there aren’t all that many. There’s usually no need to check the tables of contents individually for earlier volumes, since anything of interest there will have been picked up in the Slovar′ knizhnikov i knizhnosti drevnei rusi.
  3. The pre-revolutionary Brokgauz-Efron encyclopedia ( or is often useful, or, at least, interesting.

General bibliographic strategies

  1. When you find a fairly recent source that looks interesting, follow up on whatever bibliographic references it provides. Continue to trace promising bibliographic references from work to work until you stop finding new ones, by which point you’ve probably found pretty much everything there is. The bibliographies for most topics will not be overwhelming, although with some (e.g., the Igor′ Tale) you’re going to have to restrict yourself (perhaps even somewhat arbitrarily) because the amount of published scholarship is unmanageable (especially within the scope of our course).
  2. Conduct your bibliographic work in five stages:
    1. Assemble a (reasonably) comprehensive bibliography by following the strategies described above. Include both the best editions of the primary works and promising secondary sources. Guidelines:
      • Don’t choose editions at random or just by date; editions should be those prepared by scholars for scholars, and are usually not the same as editions prepared for students or casual readers (yes, there are casual readers of medieval Rus′ texts!).
      • Don’t favor works in your native language; you should select what are likely to be the best materials in both English and Russian. You may also select works in other languages if you are able to work with them.
    2. Eliminate from your list works that are unlikely to be very useful (e.g., high-school textbooks, dissertations that were subsequently published as books, etc.).
    3. You are not expected to read (or even look at) everything you find, but you should look into as many items as you can within reason and trim whatever you’ve found to about a one-to-two-page bibliography that you can distribute to the class. You are not expected to look at every item on this shortened list, but you should have reason to think that they are likely to be useful.
    4. Select a reasonable number of works from within that list that you will read to prepare to lead your session. You might want to select items that involve different approaches to the text, e.g., perhaps one philological, one historical, one literary-theoretical (or a few of the latter that involve different theoretical frameworks), etc.
    5. Select a subset of the works you read yourself and assign them to the class. 50–60 pages is reasonable; try to have at least two secondary readings and try not to go above 100 pages. If you feel that you need to assign a lot of reading, you might tell everyone to look at everything, but give primary responsibility for different works to different people. As with the preceding step, it might be most interesting if you aim for a variety of approaches.
  3. It is useful to maintain a bibliographic log during your research, in which you keep track of sources as you consult them. A bibliographic log will serve to remind you of what you’ve already checked, so that you won’t find yourself going back to sources a second time because you can’t remember whether you’ve seen them already.
  4. Consult with the instructor early in your research, and at later stages as needed, but you need to begin your research before your first consultation, so that you’ll come with your own (at least preliminary) ideas.