How the program works...

The goal of Ad fontes is to prepare you to do research in archives. The program can help you learn to read, date, and interpret manuscript sources and other texts.

Ad fontes also offers a quick, general introduction to medieval and early modern history, but practical research skills are foregrounded.

Even if you won’t go to an archive, you can still use this site to learn the basics of working with and analyzing written sources—useful whenever you’re working with editions of sources, too.

After working through Ad fontes, you should be able to:

  • Find documents in an archive (and be familiar with the resources that will help you do so)
  • Read, transcribe, date, and describe manuscripts from the 10th to 19th centuries
  • Understand the principles behind and critiques of critical editions.
  • Use the basic tools and resources for working with manuscript sources
  • Recognize which types of sources can help you investigate a particular topic
  • Define the basic technical terms used in scholarly work on manuscripts, including editions of texts and their introductions
  • Find additional resources, especially for topics that this course mentions, but doesn’t address in detail, including seals, heralds, and watermarks

The course consists of several different parts: Research, Training, Tutorial, and Resources. The four sections provide a multifaceted approach to learning the material and are intertwined. Ad fontes is designed to make it easy to jump from one section to another to look something up, and then to jump back just as quickly without losing your place.


The Research section includes practical assignments that will acquaint you with the themes of the program. You can use them to track your progress, as well as to develop your knowledge of the basic skills explored in the Tutorial section.


In the different Training exercises, you can practice specific competencies like transcribing and dating documents and manuscripts.


The Tutorials clearly and concisely explain the skills necessary to complete the exercises in Archive and Training sections.


In Resources, you will find additional information at your disposal (such as tables, bibliographies, and links).


You can access your personal and account information by clicking on your username.


A glossary explains the most important concepts. Glossary entries are clearly marked (for example, charter) and will appear in a pop-up window.

The four sections (Research, Training, Tutorial, and Resources) provide different points of entry to the content of Ad fontes. Which section you should start in will depend on how and what you want to learn.

If you’re a novice

First browse around Tutorial and get a sense of the content. Then, start with the first Research task. From there you’ll have the opportunity to go to whatever Tutorial page you might need to learn more precisely what exactly you need to complete the task. If there’s a particular skill you want to learn in a targeted way (reading scripts, dating, etc.), use the corresponding Training exercise.

If you’re a pro

Begin with a Research task to test yourself. Can you do all the tasks without referring to the Tutorials? If you're uncertain about a topic, refer to the relevant Tutorial. Evaluate and improve your abilities in the Training section.

If you have some experience

Try to do a Research task. If you find you can’t complete it without referring to the Tutorial page, get more information about the topic and use the corresponding Training.

If you're about to go to an archive

Catch yourself up on the Tutorials on topics necessary for your research plans, and pick some tasks to target those specific skills. Check your competencies with the Research tasks.

An Internet-based learning environment offers many advantages, but:

You will have to study and practice on your own. As they say, “practice makes perfect.” That’s also true for reading old scripts. Don’t be daunted if it’s not as easy as reading something typed. Start with the basics!

Ad fontes is free to use with or without registering an account. If you use a login, we will only collect a small amount of data (see our data protection policy) and we will not bother you with emails.

Ad fontes isn’t intended to be completed in a single sitting. If you want to save and track your progress, you can create an account. After logging in, any progress toward a task will be ascribed to your account. You can also use this feature to see which parts of Ad fontes you’ve already completed.

With an account, it’s possible for us to see which pages were visited together or after one another. Doing so allows us to improve our learning resources in a way that targets user needs.

When you use Ad fontes while logged in, more data is collected, as outlined in the privacy policy.

Data Collected

Some additional data is gathered when you're logged in (or are using AAI):

  • Username
  • Email address
  • First and last name (optional, you may use a pseudonym)
  • Number of logins by username
  • Sites visited on the domain

Five years after the last login with a username, all data associated with it will be deleted.


Data are gathered to provide users with material in a targeted way and so that a user's learning progress will be saved in case of interruption. 

Consent to Additional Data Use/Login

The use of the login function on Ad fontes leads to the storage of the login, possibly name (optional), and email address, as well as entries in exercises and databases, particularly in the "Research" and "Training" sections). By entering and sending this data, you consent to its use.

The email address will be used to send your password (if forgotten) and for infrequent (max two times per year) updates with information about Ad fontes.

Contact and Deletion of Data

You can have your data deleted or request more information about its use at any time.

Send your request to the Ad fontes office (). Historisches Seminar der Universität Zürich, Culmannstrasse 1, 8006 Zürich.