Episode 23 of Cloister Talk Live!, “Incense Hill: A Conversation with Kerry Mohn and Michael Showalter of Historic Ephrata Cloister,” Explores Early Pennsylvania’s Radical Religious Heritage
Few landmarks of early Pennsylvania history inspire awe and capture the imagination quite like Historic Ephrata Cloister in Lancaster County—a place of architectural beauty, spiritual devotion, mystical exploration, musical accomplishment, and tremendous historical significance to early-American book production and the manuscript arts. My trips to Ephrata over the years have been pivotal in shaping my perspectives on the research questions I explore in The Word in the Wilderness: Popular Piety and the Manuscript Arts in Early Pennsylvania, so I am delighted to have been able to make this thought-provoking conversation a part of Cloister Talk Live!
In this episode, Ephrata Curator Kerry Mohn and Museum Educator Michael Showalter guide us through the history and significance of Ephrata and help us place the site within the wider context of early American religion and material culture, with a particular focus on Ephrata’s musical culture.
Listen to “Cloister Talk Live! Incense Hill: A Conversation with Kerry Mohn and Michael Showalter of Historic Ephrata Cloister” here:
Nestled amid the rolling hills and verdant landscape of the Brandywine River Valley in Delaware, The Winterthur Library brims with rare books and manuscripts documenting material life in America, including early German Pennsylvania. Join Emily Guthrie, who until recently served as Director and NEH Librarian at The Winterthur Library, for a conversation about this remarkable repository of American history and culture, and how The Winterthur Library fits into the work of the Winterthur Museum and its surrounding 1,000-acre country estate. Ms. Guthrie, who recently took over as Librarian at the Library Company of Philadelphia, introduces us to the rich collections of Pennsylvania German rare books and manuscripts that reside in The Winterthur Library and tells us about her old side-gig as a shepherd and goatherd on the Winterthur estate.
Well-known as one of the most prominent cultural institutions specializing in American history, the Winterthur Museum, Garden, & Library comes to life in dynamic new ways in this special episode of Cloister Talk Live! Listen to the episode here:
Episode 21 of Cloister Talk Explores Rare Books in the West Library of The Rosenbach that Shed Light on the Early Religious History Among European Colonists in the Americas
Rare books at The Rosenbach showcase the incredible religious diversity throughout the Americas in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. This episode of Cloister Talk brings us into the atmospheric West Library at The Rosenbach, to examine a few material texts that bear witness this early history, including The Rosenbach’s iconic copy of the Bay Psalm Book as well as its remarkable Doctrina breve, printed in Mexico City. This episode is a fitting follow-up to last week's conversation and offers an insightful peek into The Rosenbach's substantial holdings in early Americana.
Listen to the episode here: https://anchor.fm/cloistertalk/episodes/Cloister-Talk-Live--From-The-Rosenbachs-West-Library-Religion-and-Early-American-Material-Texts--from-Cambridge--Massachusetts-to-Mexico-City-e11sem3
The multicultural life of early Pennsylvania included a vibrant Jewish community. In this episode of Cloister Talk Live!, Judith M. Guston, Curator & Director of Collections at The Rosenbach, discusses early Jewish settlement of the colony and the remarkable Gratz family holdings at The Rosenbach today, which document that early heritage. Ms. Guston also comments on the theoretical and methodological challenges of adopting a material culture approach to the study of past religious and spiritual life, and the research methods she has employed over the years to explore and interpret the complex history of the Gratz family and their community. She also reflects on the meaning of early Pennsylvania’s religious plurality for American society today.
Listen to the episode here:
Episode 19 of Cloister Talk Explores the Remarkable Special Collections of the Free Library of Philadelphia, A Civic Monument to Literacy and Learning
The Parkway Central Library of the Free Library of Philadelphia is a majestic urban monument to literacy, learning, and robust civic discourse. What is more, the Rare Book Department at the Free Library ranks as one of the nation’s most important repositories of rare books, manuscripts, and other treasures of the history of human civilization. Its vast Pennsylvania German collection supported the interpretive work undertaken in The Word in the Wilderness: Popular Piety and the Manuscript Arts in Early Pennsylvania. In Episode 19 of Cloister Talk Live!, Janine Pollock (the Free Library’s Chief of Special Collections) and Caitlin Goodman (the Free Library’s Curator of Rare Books) welcome us into the world of the Rare Book Department and reflect on the significance of stewarding special collections in a public library environment.
I still remember the first time I visited the Parkway Central Library while a graduate student at the University of Delaware. I took an early-morning train up from Wilmington and, upon arriving in the city, timidly made my way from Suburban Station to the grand Benjamin Franklin Parkway, not yet familiar with (or comfortable navigating) Center City Philadelphia, but very much looking forward to diving into the expansive holdings of the Rare Book Department. Having arrived at the Library several minutes before it opened to the public, I joined a small crowd that had gathered outside the august front doors of the institution, waiting for the guards to unlock the doors and open the library to the public for the day. I was duly impressed by the importance of the institution to city life, such that a crowd of Philadelphians had assembled so early in the morning to make use of its resources. Little did I know at the time that my scholarly and professional life would become closely linked to the work of the Free Library and its special collections, but this introduction to the institution—in which I witnessed firsthand its vital role as a civic asset—has stuck with me ever since. Listeners to this episode of Cloister Talk Live! will note that I ask both Ms. Pollock and Ms. Goodman to discuss the civic nature of their work with special collections, which is a topic in which all rare book, manuscript, and archival professionals share a vested interest. Please join us for this fascinating discussion!
Listen to the episode here:
Episode 18 of Cloister Talk Welcomes Listeners into a Unique Library of Philadelphia’s Ethnic and Linguistic History
Few library spaces glimmer with the sense of historicity and culture that the Horner Memorial Library at the German Society of Pennsylvania exudes. In this episode of Cloister Talk Live!, join historian and former German Society of Pennsylvania Library Committee Chair Dr. Maria Sturm, along with Society Librarian Bettina Hess, for an introduction to the historic library, its collections, and its work to make German-American history and culture accessible to all. Sturm and Hess highlight some of the fascinating holdings of the Library and reflect on the significance of the Library to understanding Philadelphia’s ethnic heritage. The episode provides a fascinating insider’s look at what it takes to keep a small, centuries-old independent library full of wonderful treasures running in the twenty-first century, and what scholars and the general public have to gain from engaging with collections at niche institutions, like those of the German Society of Pennsylvania Library.
Guests on this episode are well-situated to offer these perspectives. Dr. Maria Sturm, who spent nine years as Chair of the Library Committee and currently serves on the German Society’s Board of Directors. She is a native of Germany, with a PhD in American History from the University of Cologne. She first encountered the German Society of Pennsylvania and its magnificent library in the 1990s, during the initial project to renovate the space and bring the collection online. From 2011 to 2020, Maria served as the chair of the Library Committee while also being on the Board. Bettina Hess, the Society’s Special Collections Librarian who oversees daily operations of the collection. Bettina holds a B.A. from Bryn Mawr College and an M.I.L.S. from the University of Michigan and has attended Rare Book School and the German Script Course at the Moravian Archives. She began her career at the German Society in 1994 on a cataloguing project and currently runs a weekly German script transcription group at the Library.
Listen to the episode here:
It’s been quite the year during which to debut my scholarly monograph The Word in the Wilderness: Popular Piety and the Manuscript Arts in Early Pennsylvania and share my research findings with the public—a year filled with bizarre highs and lows. One of the unexpected highlights of COVID times has been the opportunity to share my research and reflections via Cloister Talk: The Pennsylvania German Material Texts Podcast—knowing that, even during a time of increased physical isolation, I’ve been able to continue engaging in (virtual) conversations with you, about topics near and dear to my heart, including book history, material texts, manuscript culture, Pennsylvania Germans, and the Age of Evangelical Piety. It is in this spirit that I debut Season 3 of Cloister Talk, with a fascinating episode titled “Cloister Talk Live! The Faith That Binds: A Conversation on Anabaptist Bookbindings with Chela Metzger and Erin Hammeke.”
How can material artifacts be wielded as tools for unlocking the lived experiences of past spiritual-devotional cultures? In this inaugural episode of Cloister Talk Live!, join book conservators Chela Metzger (University of California Los Angeles Library) and Erin Hammeke (Duke University Library) for a conversation about Swiss-Anabaptist bookbindings in early Pennsylvania—and what the books reveal about past personal and social relationships with God. The interviewees also discuss the state of book history as an interdisciplinary enterprise and offer advice for what it might take to bring historians, material culture scholars, and conservators together, to make optimal use of interdisciplinary expertise in analyzing and interpreting material texts.
Listen to the episode here:
Cloister Talk, Season 3: A Love Letter to the Philadelphia Region’s Special Collections Libraries and Museums
The upcoming season of Cloister Talk: The Pennsylvania German Material Texts Podcast will bring listeners behind the scenes into some of Philadelphia’s most spectacular libraries and museums.
The third season of Cloister Talk: The Pennsylvania German Material Texts Podcast debuts at 8 a.m. EDT on Monday, May 3, 2021, with a roster of ten thought-provoking new episodes designed to give listeners unique glimpses into the inner workings of some of the Philadelphia region’s most spectacular and historically significant special collections libraries and museums. Launched in anticipation of the publication of an affordable, paperback version of The Word in the Wilderness: Popular Piety and the Manuscript Arts in Early Pennsylvania in mid-June, the third season will introduce listeners to several of the main repositories whose collections supported the new analyses put forward in the book.
In a first for Cloister Talk, most episodes during the season are interview-based. Series host Dr. Alexander Lawrence Ames will interview respected curators, librarians, and scholars at various regional collections repositories to gather their insights on the field of Pennsylvania German studies and the wider worlds of museums, libraries, and special collections work today. In fact, podcast episodes this season have been rechristened Cloister Talk Live! to reflect this dynamic new episode format. Upcoming episodes include:
Cloister Talk Live! Volksbibliothek: A Conversation with Dr. Maria Sturm and Bettina Hess of the German Society of Pennsylvania Library
Cloister Talk Live! Exploring the Free Library of Philadelphia Rare Book Department, one of the Great Collections of Pennsylvania German Text Culture, with Janine Pollock and Caitlin Goodman
Cloister Talk Live! At The Rosenbach: The Other Pennsylvania Germans? A Discussion of Early Southeastern Pennsylvania’s Jewish Community with Judith M. Guston
Cloister Talk Live! Books Along the Brandywine: A Conversation with Emily Guthrie, Formerly of The Winterthur Library
Cloister Talk Live! Dr. Franklin’s Library: A Conversation with James N. Green, Librarian Emeritus of the Library Company of Philadelphia
This season of Cloister Talk truly constitutes the podcast host’s love letter to the Philadelphia region’s remarkable ecosystem of special collections libraries, archives, museums, and historic sites—with particular attention paid to the distinguished independent research libraries that steward so much of the nation’s cultural record. The Word in the Wilderness is based in substantial part on the collections of the region’s libraries, and the author has enjoyed varying professional associations with many of the institutions highlighted this season. The new Cloister Talk episodes thus offer insightful academic perspectives alongside highly intimate, personal glimpses into institutions that hold significance to the author’s scholarly work.
As was the case with Season 2 of Cloister Talk, Season 3 will conclude with an afternoon tea-themed episode. Titled “A Second Cup of Afternoon Tea with Alexander Lawrence Ames: Answering Questions about The Word in the Wilderness, and Some Closing Reflections on the Book,” the final installment of the season will answer reader questions and place The Word in the Wilderness in the broader context of the academic fields in which the monograph makes interventions.
New episodes will debut at https://anchor.fm/cloistertalk and most major podcast streaming platforms at 8 a.m. on Monday mornings between May 3 and June 28. A season 3 teaser trailer is available for listening now by clicking here. Please tune in for this unparalleled glimpse into the distinctive library and museum culture characteristic of the Philadelphia region.
The Word in the Wilderness Official Study Guide Now Available Online: Offers In-depth Opportunities for Guided Reading and Exploration
The Word in the Wilderness Official Study Guide is now available for free PDF download at https://www.wordinwilderness.com/clubs.html.
The colorful, engaging, 20-page document is a useful resource for individuals or groups reading The Word in the Wilderness: Popular Piety and the Manuscript Arts in Early Pennsylvania to interact more deeply with the content of the book. Study guide users will follow up on key themes covered in the volume, via hyperlinks to further resources including museum and library online collection databases as well as electronic books and articles.
The study guide offers enhanced content organized around each of the book’s principle sections. Each study guide section includes questions for private study, group discussion questions, and links to further web resources to continue exploring the main topics under consideration, including episodes of Cloister Talk: The Pennsylvania German Material Texts Podcast that offer further insight into particularly relevant themes. Readers who are engaging with The Word in the Wilderness on their own will find the study guide a useful companion. The guide will prove especially useful for book clubs and discussion circles reading the book who wish to lend some structure to their group conversations.
The Word in the Wilderness was written as an engaging and approachable introduction to the devotional and textual practices of the Pennsylvania Germans, but the study addresses issues in early American religious, cultural, and intellectual history that at times may seem challenging in their complexity and multiple facets. The study guide helps direct readers toward the most salient and important points made in The Word in the Wilderness while deepening engagement with the book’s source material.
Two online, interactive PDF versions of the study guide are available: one optimized for viewing on a computer desktop, and one optimized for printing. Both versions are available at https://www.wordinwilderness.com/clubs.html. Start exploring the study guide today!
Season Two of Cloister Talk: The Pennsylvania German Material Texts Podcast will debut at 8 a.m. EST on Monday, January 4, 2021, with a roster of brand-new episodes exploring exciting topics connected to The Word in the Wilderness: Popular Piety and the Manuscript Arts in Early Pennsylvania (Penn State Press, 2020).
The second season of the podcast will build on topics covered in the first season’s episodes by offering in-depth analysis of the manuscript genres analyzed in The Word in the Wilderness, while expanding to consider new topics inspired by the book. Titles of a few of the episodes to be released during Season Two of Cloister Talk include:
“The Pirate Bible: An Epic Tale of Looted Germantown Bibles, and What It Reveals About Pennsylvania German Religion in a Vast Atlantic World”
“Johann Gottfried Weber and Johannes Bard: Two Characters in the 18th-century Transatlantic World of Manuscripts”
“A Lesson in Early Modern Linguistic Theory with Johann Merken, and Its Implications for the Study of Material Texts”
“‘Errand Into the Wilderness’: What Pennsylvania German Illuminated Manuscripts Mean in American History”
To learn more about Season Two, listen to the Cloister Talk Season Two Teaser Trailer: https://anchor.fm/cloistertalk/episodes/Cloister-Talk-Season-2-Teaser-Trailer-enpkup. To catch up on episodes from Season One, visit https://anchor.fm/cloistertalk. To purchase The Word in the Wilderness, visit https://www.psupress.org/books/titles/978-0-271-08590-6.html.