Although it may sound trite to say that there has never been a better time to study history, the ever-increasing flood of digital sources on the Internet has truly been a game-changer for historians in the last decade. Sources that once required trips to distant archives or tedious collation of data now are available and often manipulable from one’s laptop computer. However, identifying and gathering URL-links for web sites is a Sisyphean task because the Internet is a constantly evolving and often unstable or unmapped mass of data — as is well known to anyone who has ever run across browser error code 404, “Page not found.” Fortunately, most of the sites and links below are venerable resources, many supported on institutional web sites, so that they are likely to be found by search engines even if a URL should change. We present here in roughly chronological order about twenty of what we regard as among the best church history resources on the web.
One of the perennial attractions of the Internet for historians is quick access to basic texts. For study of the early church, New Advent is one of several sites hosting the older translations found in the 38 volumes of The Ante-Nicene Fathers and The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers<http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/>.
R. Pearse edited a compilation of out-of-copyright English translations not found in the ANF or NPNF that is hosted at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library <http://www.ccel.org/ccel/pearse/morefathers/files/morefathers.html>.
A more topical approach may be found at EarlyChurch.org <http://www.earlychurch.org.uk/>, where R. Bradshaw has compiled a wide-ranging resource for study of the early church, with bibliographical information as well as some full-text articles and other online sources. For research on the Bible in the early church, Biblindex <http://www.biblindex.mom.fr/> is invaluable — a database of about 400,000 biblical references that incorporates all the published volumes of Biblia Patristica. These seven out-of-print volumes catalogue all the biblical references and allusions found in patristic literature, including the Apostolic Fathers and their successors to Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian; Origin and the third century; Eusebius of Caesarea, Cyril of Jerusalem, Epiphanius of Salamis; Basil of Caesarea, Gregory Nazianzen, Gregory of Nyssa, Amphiloque of Conium; Hilary of Poitiers, Ambrose of Milan, Ambrosiaster; Didymus of Alexandria; and a supplement on Philo of Alexandria. The site also indexes various unpublished data from the archives of Biblia Patristica on Athanasius, Chrysostom, Theodoret of Cyrus, Procopius of Gaza, and Jerome.
A keyword index to one of the outstanding lexical encyclopedias of the early church, Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum: Sachworterbuch zur Auseinandersetzung des Christentums mit der antiken Welt (11 vols.), is hosted at <http://www.antike-und-christentum.de/> by the Franz Joseph Dölger-Institut. The Institute supports the interdisciplinary study of Christian, Jewish, and pagan culture to the 7th century, and while only the index is online (not the lexicon itself), this site is perhaps even more valuable for its annotated collection of Internet resources on late antiquity, with guides to ancient texts, translations, bibliographies, and secondary literature.
For medieval church history, several sites are notable. The Orb <http://the-orb.net/> has a rich collection of resources both for orientation to the field and for research; see especially the section entitled “What Every Medievalist Should Know” that includes valuable information for beginning graduate students. Georgetown University hosts another resource center for medieval studies, The Labyrinth <http://labyrinth.georgetown.edu/>, though one of the “oldest” Internet sites is the extensive collection of resources for both medieval and Byzantine studies edited by P. Halsall at Fordham University, the Internet Medieval Sourcebook <http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/sbook.html>.
Another section of Halsall’s site, Internet Modern History Sourcebook: Reformation Europe, does something similar for Reformation studies (and other periods of history, too) <http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/modsbook02.html>.
A more recent site that continues to grow at an impressive pace is the Post-Reformation Digital Library <http://www.prdl.org> — an “aggregating” site that does not host digital editions but catalogues all known public domain works with links that redirect both to pertinent library searches and to downloadable editions. The PRDL excels at locating and linking e-texts that can be found not only at the usual sites (Google Books and Archive.org) but also at European libraries that have proved quicker to allow open access than many American libraries.
For Christianity in the modern era, particularly Anglo-American studies, consult British History Online <http://www.british-history.ac.uk/>, created by the Institute of Historical Research and the History of Parliament Trust. The “Ecclesiastical and religious history” section offers access to full-text published resources, such as biographical information on the higher clergy of the Church of England or monastic and cathedral records.
Of related interest, the Clergy of the Church of England Database <http://www.theclergydatabase.org.uk/index.html> draws from over 50 archives in England and Wales to furnish records of clergy careers for the period 1540-1835. The database is fully searchable and the site supplies supporting aids such as maps and a glossary of terms. Of more general interest is the project sponsored by the Text Creation Partnership <http://www.textcreationpartnership.org/>. Having recognized the limitations of OCR (optical character recognition) technology for creating electronic texts, the TCP is currently keyboarding all first editions of all texts in the English language from the beginning of printing in England through 1800, and moving these texts by degrees into the public domain. Currently, only a limited number of texts are open access, and Early English Books Online through 1700 and the Evans Early American Imprints can at present be viewed only through institutional memberships, but the goal is to place all TCP’s work into the public domain. Moreover, their use of Standard Markup Language enables all individual texts to be linked and will thereby allow keyword searches on the entire body of literature at one time.
For American church history, American Memory <http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/index.html> is a diverse collection of materials from the Library of Congress related to American history, including many visual images and maps, as well as documentary sources. Divining America: Religion in American History <http://nationalhumanitiescenter.org/tserve/divam.htm>, hosted by the National Humanities Center, is a site designed primarily for history teachers but is also of value for their students, with numerous essays written by recognized scholars. The Material History of American Religion Project<http://www.materialreligion.org/> is both a database of “objects” and documents and an electronic journal that focuses upon a subfield of increasing importance in the study of American religious history — material artifacts and other aspects of the material culture of American religion. Yale University Library provides an outstanding research guide to U.S. History and American Studies <http://guides.library.yale.edu/ushistory> that leads students to reputable sources related to topics that they might not otherwise consider. Yale has one of the premier American history and American studies programs in the U.S., with particular strengths in New England colonial history (including the Puritans) and the history of the American West.
Another form of Christian “material” culture that spans several historical eras is the study of hymnals and hymnody. Here, the Christian Classics Ethereal Library undertook the creation of a Hymn Tune Archive <http://www.ccel.org/cceh/>, an indexed archive of public-domain hymn tunes and chants in electronic formats (including some sound files), that has grown into a separate website, Hymnary.org <http://www.hymnary.org/>, a comprehensive index of hymns and hymnals, as well as some biographical information on hymn writers and graphs of their fluctuating popularity over time.
For the study of world Christianity, Yale also hosts the ATLA World Christianity Website <http://www.yale.edu/adhoc/research_resources/wcig.htm>, with links to existing collections pertinent to world Christianity and extensive links to other websites. UCLA professor Sung Deuk Oak has produced a stunningly beautiful web page for the study of Korean Christianity <http://koreanchristianity.humnet.ucla.edu/> in all of its facets, including art and portraiture, and with guides to extensive original resources including newspapers and diaries.
What is missing from this list of twenty sites? Obviously, we have omitted general repositories, such as Google Books or the Internet Archive. But in the field of church history we have also omitted sites dedicated to individual figures, scholars, and movements of the Christian past. Such sites are not only numerous, they are often spectacular. Fortunately, they are also fairly easy to locate by search engines, and readers are encouraged to search for sites specially dedicated to the works of Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Edwards, Barth, and many others.
Finally, for a printed book that lists many other valuable sites and resources and — importantly! — also offers wise counsel about the use of Internet resources, look for Church History: An Introduction to Research, Reference Works, and Methods, by J.E. Bradley and R.A. Muller, expected this year in its second and revised edition (Eerdmans).