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Ad fontes
An Introduction to Working with Sources in the Archive

Ad fontes is a learning program of the University of Zurich for all those who work with historical materials. It is aimed not only at students of history and other historical disciplines, but also at interested amateurs and experts. In the introduction you will discover what you can learn in Ad fontes.

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New from Ad fontes

In cooperation with the "Stiftsarchiv St. Gallen", an exercise on so-called "Schreibkalender" (writing calendars), a mixture of printed calendar (ecclesiastical feast days, astronomical and astrological information and "farmers' rules") with space for diary notes, was created. The writing calendars preserved in the "St. Gallen Abbey Archives" are among the oldest surviving writing calendars in the German-speaking world. They were described by the monks and give us valuable cultural-historical insights into the life of the monastery, into the everyday life of the abbots and conventuals, into the divine service and cultus of the monastery as well as into the school activities. Our example deals with December 17, 1667, when the monastery archivist of the time noted the measures decided by the abbot and the convent in view of the approaching plague. 

New film source module on Ad fontes

The new film sources module on Ad fontes includes on the one hand an interactive research and training part, where the various procedures in online film databases and the different aspects of source criticism of audiovisual sources can be practiced. On the other hand, the tutorial contains a media-scientifically and historically informed introduction to the history of film. Special focus is given to the materiality and the different formats of historical films. In addition, the resource section offers further literature and links to online databases and film archives.

Target group: The course is aimed at history students from the Bachelor's level upwards and interested laypersons, but also appeals to Master's students who are interested in the special challenges of dealing with film sources.

Project Responsible: The module was developed by Michiel van Gulpen M.A. at the chair of Prof. Dr. Monika Dommann (University of Zurich). This was done in close collaboration with Dr. Felix Rauh from the (Memoriav Association) and lic. phil. Stefan Länzlinger from the (Swiss Social Archive). The project was financed by the "Fördermittel Digitale Lehre und Forschung" of the University of Zurich.

Of poisonous snakes and unicorns:

In collaboration with the Institute of Romance Languages  of the University of Zurich, we present new transcription exercises on Medieval French. The exercises, developed during an AGORA project, give insight into a mixed world of mythical creatures and real animals through their descriptions in medieval bestiaires and encyclopedias.

In these books, the physical description of an animal, usually very brief, was followed by its symbolic interpretation in the Christological worldview. Thus, for example, the hedgehog that enters orchards at night and rolls onto its back to spear fallen grapes and carry them away on its back, is a warning against the devil, who would do the same at night with the souls of "fallen" people.

Ad fontes thanks you for almost 57,000 website visits with more than 283,000 page views from 72 countries last year. 

This means that we recorded almost 80 per cent more visits in 2020 than in the previous year. 

We were given the opportunity to present Ad fontes during the 13th Annual (Virtual) Schoenberg Symposium on Manuscript Studies in the Digital Age (SIMS) with a short video. The SIMS is hosted by PennLibraries, University of Pennsylvania. You find the video on Ad fontes, under the FAQs.

On «Ad Fontes« an introduction to the scientific use of coats of arms is now available. Here you get an overview of their history and learn the most important terms to blazon coats of arms (in German).

Thanks to the Cantonal Archive of Graubünden, Ad Fontes now offers transcription exercises in Romansh and Italian. The archive has turned some of its treasures into interactive transcription exercises for us. In addition, you will find an informative tutorial about the archive landscape in Graubünden and literature references in the resources. 

How do you teach auxiliary sciences of history in the digital age? Tobias Hodel and Michael Nadig discuss this question in the current volume of the journal Das Mittelalter. The article Grundlagen der Mediävistik digital vermitteln: ‚Ad fontes‘, aber wie? can be viewed online.

Ad fontes refers to a large number of literature and reference works. All titles are included in a ZOTERO bibliography and can be used freely (CC0):

It is our aim to constantly supplement and complement the bibliography. Interested parties are welcome to participate in the further development of the bibliography. Please contact for further information.

The bibliography is sorted by category and automatically transferred to Ad fontes.

As part of his dissertation*, Rainer Hugener has tracked down almost 1300 copies of necrologies and annuals from present-day Switzerland from state, municipal and church archives or libraries. In collaboration with Ad fontes, the author has now prepared this collection of medieval and early modern commemorative records as a database, which is now publicly available on the Ad fontes learning platform of the University of Zurich.

The online database makes it possible to search the corpus in full text and to sort the manuscripts by place of origin, time of origin, genre (type), material or place of storage. The entries can also be sorted by canton.

For each manuscript, additional information such as volume, mentions in the literature, any existing editions, self-denomination in paratextes (colophon, incipit, explicit) as well as further remarks on the writer or on unusual contents (prayers, chronic reports, slaughter seasons) are listed. Links refer to other online resources where originals or editions exist in digital form (e-codices, e-manuscripta, e-periodica, dMGH).

The database thus offers comprehensive access to the testimonies of pre-modern remembrance of the dead ("memoria"), which date from the 9th to the 18th century and are geographically scattered throughout Switzerland and neighbouring countries.

* Rainer Hugener: Buchführung für die Ewigkeit. Totengedenken, Verschriftlichung und Traditionsbildung im Spätmittelalter, Zürich, Chronos Verlag, 2014 [E-Book]

Three new transcription exercises from early modern Finland have been added to Ad fontes. They deal with a bailiff’s account from Lappee, dating from 1545, court records from the Pielsjärvi and Liperi winter session on 20-23 February 1685, and a letter to Turku-based sea captain Petter Claesson, sent on 17 June 1776.

All transcriptions are in (Early Modern) Swedish, while explanations and further information are kept in English. The newly created Ad fontes-Profile «Finland» allows to only display the pages relevant to this exercise while hiding all others, for easier navigation.

The new module has been created in cooperation with Prof. Kimmo Katajala, University of Eastern Finland. Documents and images provided by the National Archives of Finland.

Ad fontes receives another special focus: numismatics, the scientific occupation with money and its history, can now be learned and experienced in the form of training courses, an archival exercise and a large number of tutorial and resource pages.

The numismatics module was planned and created in close cooperation with and thanks to immense effort of the Münzkabinett Winterthur (Brigitte Weber and Benedikt Zäch). The technical implementation was carried out with the help of the "Ad fontes" association.

The archival exercise shows how a coin find is handled. In the trainings the description of wear and corrosion can be practiced. Extensive resources and tutorials complement the focus on numismatics.

Also new is the "Numismatics" profile, which allows only the sides with respect to coins to be displayed.

To address more Latinists and medievalists on Ad fontes, we have added four new middle and neo-Latin transcription exercises. Anyone who has always wanted to know how important historical personalities such as Bullinger, Zwingli or Felix Hemmerli wrote can now practice deciphering their manuscripts. Another new feature is a separate profile for Latin.