Cultural Shifts and Ritual Transformations in Reformation Europe

This volume honors the work of a scholar who has been active in the field of early modern history for over four decades. In that time, Susan Karant-Nunn’s work challenged established orthodoxies, pushed the envelope of historical genres, and opened up new avenues of research and understanding, which came to define the contours of the field itself. Like this rich career, the chapters in this volume cover a broad range of historical genres from social, cultural and art history, to the history of gender, masculinity, and emotion, and range geographically from the Holy Roman Empire, France, and the Netherlands, to Geneva and Austria. Based on a vast array of archival and secondary sources, the contributions open up new horizons of research and commentary on all aspects of early modern life.

Contributors: James Blakeley, Robert J. Christman, Victoria Christman, Amy Nelson Burnett, Pia Cuneo, Ute Lotz-Heumann, Amy Newhouse, Marjorie Elizabeth Plummer, Helmut Puff, Lyndal Roper, Karen E. Spierling, James D. Tracy, Mara R. Wade, David Whitford, and Charles Zika.

Festschriften (I just can’t drag myself to say ‘Festschrifts’) tend to be quite technically oriented.  They are written by colleagues of the honoree and reflect, generally, the interests of said honoree.  Given that they are by scholars for scholars, it is utterly unsurprising that they are not ‘popular’ and are not intended for a general reading public.

This volume is no different in that respect.  It aims to please its recipient, and, given her glowing appreciation expressed at a recent conference I think that it well achieved it’s aim.

Naturally this suggests that while she may have found it extremely good, other readers may not have the same reaction, since the essays are not written in appreciation of them, but of her.  Yet that suggestion would be wrong, because this is a collection that will be of great interest to all scholars of the Reformation.  These essays are astonishingly engaging, even when their titles may hint at a bit of dust.

  • Luther and Gender
  • High Noon on the Road to Damascus: A Reformation Showdown and the Role of Horses in Lucas Cranach the Younger’s Conversion of Paul (1549)
  • How to Make a Holy Well: Local Practices and Official Responses in Early Modern Germany
  • Advice from a Lutheran Politique: Ambassador David Ungnad’s Circular Letter to the Austrian Estates, 1576
  • Above the Skin: Cloth and the Body’s Boundary in Early Modern Nuremberg
  • Masculinities in Sixteenth-Century Imagery: A Contribution to Early Modern Gender History

These and the other essays in this book may have somewhat unconventional sounding titles (for Reformation studies) and they may seem to be super-specific (and they are), but potential readers ought not let that ‘scare them off’.  These contributions are festooned with incredibly interesting historical facts.  And, as the foreword reminds us

Despite the fact that the editors of this volume have divided its articles neatly into sections that reflect the progression of Karant-Nunn’s intellectual journey, the perceptive reader will quickly recognize the influence and inspiration of the entire spectrum of her oeuvre across each of the sections. That that influence reflects many of the broader trends in the study of the Reformation should come as no surprise: to a significant degree, such developments have Karant-Nunn to thank.

A book organized according to the intellectual journey of its honoree is not only a very good way to do things, but a very good way to allow others to investigate topics of interest to themselves and interact with the views of the honoree.  But the volume also includes, aside from brilliant text, a fairly extensive number of color and black and white illustrations that are sharp, crisp, and detailed.  These add immensely to the usefulness of the volume.

A sample worth sharing is from, in my opinion, the best of the essays in the volume- that of Amy Nelson Burnett, who writes in her Streitkultur Meets the Culture of Persuasion: The Flensburg Disputation of 1529

In April 1529 a public disputation was held in Flensburg, located in the duchy of Schleswig near the Danish border, that pitted the furrier and lay preacher Melchior Hoffman against the Lutheran clergy of the region. Because of Hoffman’s later career as an Anabaptist leader, it might be thought that the disputation concerned the issue of infant baptism, but in fact the disputation centered on the substantial presence of Christ’s body and blood in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. Held six months before the more famous Marburg colloquy between Martin Luther and the Swiss reformers, the Flensburg disputation was the first public disputation devoted specifically to the Lord’s Supper. Susan Karant-Nunn was one of the first historians to consider the Protestant Lord’s Supper from the perspective of social and cultural history rather than theology.

Reformation scholars, persons interested in gender studies, and those inclined to the investigation of the minutest details of early modern European history will all enjoy making their way through this collection.  I think you will enjoy it.  And so I recommend it to you.