Saturday, April 30, 2011

The last last last emperor

Some intensive searching in VD16/VD17 turned up something interesting this week: the prophecy of Wilhelm Friess published five times between 1686 and 1690 as a "wonderful prophecy concerning the years 1686 to 1691 in which great changes are discovered by a highly learned man well known to the world" (VD17 1:063073H, 1:088281P, 3:600599Z, 12:121140B, and 32:648152). Except the unnamed learned man wasn't well known; the source was a version of a prophecy last published 120 years earlier. The surprising thing is that the few changes in the text don't have anything to do with the Last Emperor or Angelic Pope, figures from the medieval Christian apocalyptic narrative who show up to set Christendom aright at the end of time. Andreas Schoppe had rejected as a clear sign of devilish influence the idea of a Last Emperor already in 1597, so it's surprising to see the idea return unchanged in 1686. Fortunately I'm not giving a paper in two weeks about the last appearance of the Last Emperor in 1558.

Oh, wait...

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Chapter Four. Visions of Visions: Functions of the Image in Printed Prophecy

Chapter four of Printing and Prophecy is where I finally address the question of what all the woodcuts were doing in the books and pamphlets that I was looking at. In many cases, the woodcuts were not merely summarizing the textual meaning or making it more comprehensible for unskilled readers. For example, the woodcut images in the Prognosticatio of Johannes Lichtenberger tend to dampen the text’s emotional impact rather than heighten it. The combination of prophecy, reading in the vernacular, and images was potent enough to cause government officials - and therefore printers - some concern, and the Prognosticatio woodcuts take pains to keep the audience from getting overheated. But the woodcuts also permit individual participation in prophecy through viewing of the prophetic image. If readers are no longer meant to speak like prophets by copying and preaching the prophetic message (as Johannes Tortsch had foreseen readers of the Onus mundi, his Birgittine collection, doing), the images allow them to see like prophets. Between Lichtenberger and the prognostic works of Paracelsus (1493-1541) lies a continuous tradition in which prophecy becomes identified with images and visual interpretation.

A century after Gutenberg, the prophetic compilations printed by Wolfgang Egenolff in Frankfurt helped establish a prophetic canon (including Paracelsus, Lichtenberger, Carion, sibylline texts, and others) based on a visual approach to prophecy. Egenolff’s compilation represents a development in the history of the printed book where the medium becomes capable of the same kind of antiquity that had previously been the sole domain of manuscripts. Egenolff’s collection was also the means by which the seventeenth century rediscovered the prophetic authorities of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

Monday, April 18, 2011

My wish is their demand

As of fifteen minutes ago, the online catalog of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek included searches limited to VD16/VD17, and it supports Zotero. I wish it would add the VD16 number and grab the URL of digitized editions automatically, but it's still huge progress.

I don't know how recent a development this is, as I was misdirected there by a wonky SSL certificate, and as of five minutes ago I'm getting the familiar VD16 search interface again. If this had been in place a few years ago, it might have saved me many hours of copying and pasting individual fields from VD16 searches.

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PS. And Google Books now finds digital copies of both volumes of Johann Wolf's 1600 Lectionum memorabilium, a vast collection of prophecies, chronicle entries, and similarly dubious texts from (what Wolf thought was) sixteen centuries. It's an incredibly important source for many medieval and early modern topics, but it's not widely available, and until now hasn't been digitized. One of the digitized volumes is from the BSB, but the digital edition doesn't turn up in their catalog yet.

Thursday, April 7, 2011


I've been experimenting with the Zotero citation and note manager plugin for Firefox. Many people recommend it and it's free, but I've never quite figured out what to do with it yet. So lately I've converted my Printing and Prophecy bibliography to a Zotero database. The idea of a one-click bibliography that switches citation format on demand is appealing, although checking footnotes and bibliographic entries is something I don't really mind doing. There are also extensive note-taking and management features for keeping track of all your good ideas. For Printing and Prophecy, I mostly relied on MS Word documents for this. I made notes with the transcriptions of the primary sources, and then compiled the notes into their own document. It seems like having everything in one database might make things simpler.

So, which of the standard bibliographic databases I use everyday are compatible with Zotero?

Answer: None of them. MLA, WorldCat, JSTOR, and the rest work fine for secondary literature, but ISTC, GW, VDiB, ZVDD do not know about Zotero. Or rather, Zotero doesn't know about them. Someone needs to write a web-scraping plugin for each site, and apparently no techie early modernist has done it yet. I've worked on similar projects before, but I'm not sure when I'll get around to looking at the inner workings of Zotero plugins. For now, Zotero will have to prove itself as a citation manager.