Welcome to the Early Modern source book. On this site you will find high quality sources ideal for study of the early modern period.

The early modern period one a critical one for our history, and for global history. It witnessed the exploration and colonization of the Americas and the rise of sustained contacts between previously isolated parts of the globe. The historical powers became involved in global trade, as the exchange of goods, plants, animals, and food crops extended to the Old World and the New World.

New economies and institutions emerged – beginning in the medieval North Italian city-states, particularly Genoa, Venice, and Milan, sweeping changes to the way human society operated and understood itself swept the known world. The early modern period also saw the European colonization of the Americas, Asia, and Africa occurred during the 15th to 19th centuries, and spread Christianity around the world.

The early modern trends in various regions of the world represented a shift away from medieval modes of organization, politically and economically. Feudalism declined in Europe, while the period also included the Protestant Reformation, the disastrous Thirty Years’ War, the Commercial Revolution, the European colonization of the Americas, and the Golden Age of Piracy.

Other notable trends of the early modern period include the development of experimental science, accelerated travel due to improvements in mapping and ship design, increasingly rapid technological progress, secularized civic politics, and the emergence of nation states. Historians typically date the end of the early modern period when the French Revolution of the 1790s began the “modern” period.


One of the distinguishing features of the period, at least as far as historians are concerned, is the wealth of source material it provided. Unlike earlier periods, the early modern was thoroughly documented by an array of chroniclers who left behind records, wills, printed books and pamphlets, papers and an endless variety of ephemera.

For all this, a thorough understanding and appreciation of the early modern period too often escapes the student, most often due to the (quite understandable) difficulty one may experience interpreting the text themselves. Characterised by a changing lexicon and an older format of English, early modern sources can be rather hard to properly comprehend.

The aim of the project is to provide students not just with source material, but also with detailed annotations and explanations to aid understanding. The sources presented here form part of the course material for the ‘HR111’ course at the University of Essex, however the contents of this site will be of use to any student of the early modern period.


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Summary of last will of John Draper, skinner of London – April 1496

Margaret Van, late wife of Ralph Van of Halstede, to have a life interest in his mansion and garden in Halstede. Dated 18 April, A.D. 1496. Roll 224 (18).

Inventory of Elizabeth Clark of Roxwell, Essex, Widow, 12 May 1687

Inventory of Elizabeth Clark of Roxwell, Essex, Widow, 12 May 1687

An abundance of stuff, William Harrison (1535-93) in 1576

This passage is taken from one of the chapters of ‘The Description of England’, which was written by William Harrison (1535-93) in 1576. Harrison, a London-born and Oxford-educated cleric, compiled the work at the request of Raphael Holinshed and it was presented as a preface to his Chronicles, first printed in 1577.


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