Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Good and Bad

Printing and Prophecy will be my first book. I've undertaken other lengthy projects (an overgrown master's thesis and my dissertation), but this is my first published book. All my contact with the press has been by post and e-mail with people I've never met in real life, so at times it's hard to entirely shake the feeling that I've been hooked by an elaborate hoax. But behold: I just discovered that Printing and Prophecy now appears on the University of Michigan Press web site, as a book in the Cultures of Knowledge in the Early Modern World series. My book is real!

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I can't log on to ILLiad, and no one here knows why, so I'm cut off from interlibrary loan. I'm like a junkie who can't get his fix. Listen, people, either you let me order articles from obscure journals soon, or I'm going to start making a scene right in the middle of the quad.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Research links you need to know about II: VD16

The "VD16" I mentioned in my previous post is the Verzeichnis der im deutschen Sprachbereich erschienenen Drucke des 16. Jahrhunderts. It's a constantly updated index of all known editions printed in German or in the German-language area in the 16th century. The interface is awkward and the project is woefully underfunded, but VD16 is incredibly valuable for studying 16th-century printing and early modern literature. Recently, the VD17 index became accessible through the same interface, so you can search two centuries at the same time. To learn more about it, read here, but to search the database, click here.

One thing I wish more scholars would do when citing German 16th-century editions is to include the VD16 number. As printers could and did print several editions of the same work in the same year, identifying an edition as "Augsburg: Heinrich Steiner, 1530" is not specific enough (let alone "Augsburg, 1530" or simply "1530"). With a VD16 number, readers can look up precisely what edition is meant, and find the cataloging source, and possible links to digital editions, and (via the "SFX" module) the shelf marks of known copies.

When I was researching Printing and Prophecy, I identified likely title words and checked every year from 1501-1550, and later checked all the authors for works I may have missed, and then double-checked every entry in the appendix against VD16 before submitting the final manuscript. For any research project that even tangentially deals with 16th-century German printing, VD16 is absolutely essential.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Research links you need to know about I: BSB digitalization

There are just a few sites I check every day, or even multiple times each day. The one I check most often (via RSS feed) and where I most often find something new, useful, surprising, or just plain cool has got to be the digitalization project of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek. Their area of focus is 16th century printed books (in order to digitize their holdings of VD16 titles), but you'll also find a rich collection of medieval manuscripts, musical works, non-Western works, and many others. Check it every day. It's better than Christmas.

Friday, August 20, 2010

What I'm working on: "Wilhelm de Friess"

Prophetic pamphlets show us people's deepest hopes and fears. From the 15th century onwards, they provide insights on what was going on in the minds of Europeans from all parts of society, and on how that society was structured, during a time of tremendous change.

For Printing and Prophecy, I drew the chronological boundaries of 1450-1550, so I had relatively little to say about earlier or later works. It turns out, though, that one of the most popular authors of prophetic tracts was Wilhelm de Friess of Maastricht, whose pamphlets appeared in more than 30 German-language editions between 1557 and 1587. That puts him ahead of any of the 16th-century astrologers, and in the same league as Johannes Lichtenberger.

How much has been written about de Friess? Nothing. He gets mentioned in passing in a handful of books and articles, but despite his popularity, no one has written specifically about de Friess.

Maastricht is in the Netherlands, right? So the pamphlets were translated into German from Dutch, right? The answer is a definite "sort of."

  • There's evidence for some early reception in the Netherlands, but none of those editions are extant.The Germans, though, kept buying "de Friess" for 30 years.
  • "Wilhelm de Friess" is nearly non-existent as a historical person. The title pages all insist that the prophecies were found under his pillow after his death, but the death of de Friess is just about the only fact of his biography that's mentioned.
  • And the 30+ editions are actually two totally different texts. Friess I (1557-1568) is a pastiche of End Times tropes (Angelic Pope, Last World Emperor, Antichrist, etc.), while Friess II (1577-1587 and later) is a much different (and much more pessimistic) kind of prophecy. The name of de Friess is even attached to a third prognostic text as well.

Dead authors are useful, apparently.

Status: I've done most of the heavy lifting on this one. I'm working on writing up the manuscript and submitting it right now.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Moving in

This is where I'll be posting research updates. Right now my office is still full of unopened boxes and I'm busy with new faculty orientation, so posting will be light. This week's goal: start a research blog. Status: accomplished.