Friday, February 28, 2014

Abstract: "Dietrich von Zengg in Print"

For the upcoming Revisiting Early Modern Prophecies conference in London in June, this is the abstract I submitted. In the same session, Courtney Kneupper will present a paper on the fifteenth-century context of "Dietrich von Zengg," while I'll cover the print transmission.
Abstract: “Dietrich von Zengg in Print”
The print transmission of the German prophecy known as “Dietrich von Zengg” in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries is characteristic for the genre of prophecy, including in ways that call into question the boundaries usually assumed to exist between periods, authorial identities, texts, genres, and media. While most editions were published in the first three decades of the Reformation, others precede the Reformation, and the prophecy enjoyed an active reception as late as the 1620s, another period of crisis in Germany. The prophecy made the leap from manuscript to print at least twice, while some later manuscripts are derived from print sources. The medium of print gave the prophecy its lasting identity as the work of one “Dietrich von Zengg,” supposedly a Franciscan monk from Senj in present-day Croatia, a shared authorial attribution that is not found in the fifteenth-century manuscripts. But the medium of print did not stabilize the text or its alleged author. The prophecy was attributed in some editions to an anonymous Carmelite monk of Prague, and “Dietrich von Zengg” evolved from a monk into a bishop in several editions, and was replaced altogether by “Jeremias von Paris” in another. The transmission of “Zengg” includes both compilation of the prophecy together with other prophetic works; extracting of passages from “Zengg” into other prophecies; extension of “Zengg” with material borrowed from other prophecies; translation of “Zengg” into Latin for use in Lutheran polemic; discussion of “Zengg” in learned debates about prophecy and political fortunes; and use of “Zengg” for oral preaching by a popular prophetic figure of southwest Germany.

Friday, February 21, 2014

How much has VD16 grown?

How complete is VD16? There are many sixteenth-century German printed editions that have entirely disappeared, of course. But how close is the database getting to covering everything that still exists in some form?

Completion is still a ways off yet. One type of evidence for that is how easy or difficult it is to discover undescribed editions. New incunables are still discovered fairly often, but it's not easy to find them - I've never managed it, despite several years of looking. On the other hand, intensive work with the card catalog in just about any large collection of sixteenth-century books, or a long look at the collection in a library off the beaten path, would often turn up editions that hadn't been cataloged in VD16.

Another kind of evidence is the number of editions being added. Since around this time last year, VD16 has added around 757 new records, putting it around 104,000 total records and over 122,500 titles. I believe the only sigla to which new titles are being added are ZV and XL (for German titles printed outside of Germany). If I'm reading things correctly, VD16 has added XL 134-159 over the last year, and ZV 29126-29866. By June of this year, the additions to VD16 will probably bump into ZV 30000, a somewhat amusing test entry meant to illustrate the underlying record format.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Printing the Classics, 1501-1600: How Luther killed Cicero

To give one example of the potential value of the links between VD16 and the PND GND (about which, see here for more), let's take a quick look at printing of works by authors of classical antiquity in Germany in the sixteenth century. The classics were an important part of the market in printed books, and there has been a good amount of research on it.

To get an overall view of the market working just with VD16 would be arduous, however. You would have to identify all the relevant authors and then search for titles by each one. If you're determined to try it, you should expect to spend many days at it.

An easier solution would be to search instead for titles whose authors have a death date before, say, 200 A.D. With the VD16 data linked to the GND, we can do that. Authors who died before 200 are almost entirely limited to Greek and Roman authors of classic literature rather than patristic authors, and excluding "Personen zu Kirchengeschichte" will eliminate the exceptions.

Here's a graph of the results.

Printed titles by authors of classical antiquity per year, 1501-1600

There are clearly some visible patterns, but the data is noisy, and we're suspicious of all those spikes on even decades, so let's smooth out the picture a bit by looking at production by half-decades instead.

Printed titles by authors of classical antiquity per half-decade, 1501-1600

Things look pretty stable after 1525, but the big run up to 1520 and then the steep drop over the next five years looks interesting. When we see something like that happening in German printing, a good guess is that the Reformation is behind it. Did Martin Luther kill off the market for Cicero, the most popular of the classical authors between 1501 and 1520? Perhaps for a while. Cicero editions peak at 94 per half-decade in 1516-20 and then decline to half that number before recovering by 1545. (The first two graphs count editions in slightly different ways than this one does, so there may be discrepancies between them.)

Printed titles by Cicero per half-decade, 1501-1600

This all comes with a few caveats, of course. If the GND is lacking a death date for a relevant author, our search will miss him or her. And the precise mechanism through which an increase in Reformation-related printing would cause a decline in editions of classical authors remains murky at best. On the other hand, it only took a few minutes to see some initial results rather than a few months, and it points towards some interesting areas to look into.

Friday, February 7, 2014

It came from the Personennormdatei

One of the things that makes VD16/17 the most important bibliographic database of early printing at the moment is how authors and contributors are hooked into the Personennormdatei (PND) of the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek. Thus authorial names appear in standardized spelling and are clearly disambiguated. Among all the databases I regularly work with, VD16/17 is the one whose technological framework I'd like to see more widely adopted. There are of course some duplications and other problems, but these can be resolved with time.

Until they are resolved, however, VD16 and the PND will contain a few surprises. For example:

Oldest VD16 author tells all
Bernhard Schmid, author of VD16 S 3129, lives to 157 years of age!
(Year of death should be 1592.)

Time traveler from the sixteenth century
Leonhard Lechner: born in 1553, dies in 1906!
(Year of death, 1606, correct in PND HTML format, but listed as 1906 in RDF format.)

Time traveling astrologer from the twentieth century
Leonhardt Thurneysser zum Thurn born in 1931, dies in 1596!
(As above, correct in HTML but wrong birth year in RDF format.)

Time traveling pope
VD16 H 2143, including (as VD16 J 675) the elegies of Pope John XXIII (1881-1963)!
(I suspect they really meant to link to the antipope of that name.)

The negative man
Kaspar Jungermann, author of VD16 ZV 8792, has come unstuck in time: born in 1567, died in 1537!
(Correct in HTML, but with birth and death years reversed in RDF format.)