Monday, May 30, 2011

Hunting citations

Last week I discovered that Wilhelm Friess does quote passages from other works after all, as a passage from the Extract of Various Prophecies (a pamphlet drawing on Grünpeck and Lichtenberger) shows up in Friess. Specifically, it's a passage that goes back to Grünpeck's 1508 Speculum, which in turn attributes the passage in question to a prophet who has recently been preaching in France, whom no one has ever been able to track down more specifically. Comparing the passages, however, it seems clear that Friess isn't quoting Grünpeck directly or even the Extract of Various Prophecies, but rather the version of the Extract that gets incorporated into the prophetic compilations that Christian Egenolff prints in Frankfurt in 1548-1550. In other words: Unknown Prophet --> Grünpeck --> Extract --> Egenolff --> Friess.

This has set off a hunt for more citations, so I'm reviewing all my notes and facsimiles. And I've found two more: One passage from "Dietrich von Zengg/Theoderic Croata" and another from "Jakob Pflaum" (not to be confused with the 15/16th-c. astronomer of the same name). "Dietrich von Zeng" is attested in manuscript as early as 1460, with nine printed editions between 1503 and 1542. "Jakob Pflaum" has seven printed editions between 1520 and 1534.

So apparently the Wilhelm Friess redactors had a taste for the odder sort of prophetic pamphlet that disdains clear organization or consistent narrative. Robert Lerner calls the pseudo-Jakob Pflaum pamphlet a "pastiche of of plagiarisms from numerous medieval prophecies...presented in such a helter-skelter fashion that no clear chronological order can be discerned" (Powers of Prophecy 161), which pretty accurately describes "Jakob Pflaum."

Friday, May 20, 2011

Kalamazoo 2011

Last week I spent Wednesday through Sunday in Kalamazoo, attending the 46th International Congress on Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University (or "Kalamazoo" for the sake of brevity), the largest gathering of medievalists anywhere. This year there was an abundance of really excellent papers for Germanists and several that intersected with my research in one way or another. Among the many excellent papers:
  • Tomás O'Sullivan, St. Louis U: " 'Sizi uilo stillo, vuirki godes uuillon': The Lorscher Bienensegen as a Call to the Contemplative Life." Not only a convincing argument that the Lorscher Bienensegen is talking about Benedictines rather than bees, but an exemplary presentation.
  • Anna Grotans, Ohio State U: "Ye Olde Hildebrandslied." I'm still trying to wrap my mind around all the implications of this one. If even the Hildebrandslied - a founding document of German literature - is constructing Germanic antiquity, then it really is turtles all the way down.
  • Damian Fleming, Indian U-Purdue U-Fort Wayne: "Unknown Letters: Medieval an Modern Scribal Transmission of Foreign Alphabets." Is there an inner history of reading? I hope so, as I'm supposed to give a paper about it in September. Damian Fleming's paper provided some key insights that will make my own work that much easier.
  • Alana King, Princeton U: "Medievalism and Reformation: Matthias Flacius Illyricus as Medievalist." More key insights for a different project. Now I know I shouldn't have been ignoring Matthias Flacius the whole time.
  • Erik Born, U California-Berkeley: "Hildegard von Bingen, Lexicographer." Even more than a decade after finishing my M.A. thesis on the Lingua ignota, the topic remains near and dear. I was happy to see that my article that eventually resulted from my thesis was useful to someone else who is taking off in a new direction.

Friday, May 6, 2011

A short review: Andrew Pettegree, The Book in the Renaissance

Andrew Pettegree. The Book in the Renaissance. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010. xvi + 421 pp. ISBN 978-030-0110098.
When I saw The Book in the Renaissance on display at MLA, I immediately recognized it as a book I needed to take a close look at. I sent away for it by interlibrary loan as soon as I returned, but the request was canceled - this book is priced so affordably that it was cheaper for the library to buy its own copy. I’m used to academic books on early modern print history costing in the low three digits, not low two.

Now that I’ve finished reading it, I’m happy to find that The Book in the Renaissance more than justifies its place on the shelves of university libraries. It is written so clearly that undergraduate students will have no problem understanding it, while its coverage is so broad that even experienced scholars will find many new aspects of their own discipline in it. I approach the history of print from within the discipline of German Studies, and The Book in the Renaissance provided an excellent overview of what was going on elsewhere in Europe.

For the specific areas that I know in greatest detail, including the Nuremberg Chronicle of Hartmann Schedel and the printing of astrological prognostications, I was satisfied with Pettegree’s account. For the printing of the Nuremberg Chronicle I think Christoph Reske’s Die Produktion der Schedelschen Weltchronik in Nürnberg is far superior to the source Pettegree cites, Adrian Wilson’s now dated Making of the Nuremberg Chronicle, but Wilson still remains more accessible to American readers (and above all to undergraduates who don’t read German).

But the real accomplishment of The Book in the Renaissance is how it provides a grand overview of print culture in the sixteenth century. Robert Pinsky’s review in the New York Times calls it “revisionist,” but I would instead say that it accurately represents the current state of the field and the recent contributions of leading scholars. This is not revisionist posing, but rather a fundamental rethinking of the field by its leading practitioners over several years based on a thorough and widespread review of its primary sources. Although The Book in the Renaissance has little to say about prophecies and prognostic booklets, the half-decade I’ve spent scrutinizing hundreds of obscure editions only confirms Andrew Pettegree’s approach to sixteenth-century book history. What we lose in humanist triumphalism is more than made up in the sheer drama of power politics, popular unrest, and religious dissent.

For a one-volume overview of the first 150 years of print culture, The Book in the Renaissance is the new standard.