I’m thrilled to share that my latest publication has made its appearance.
My essay “‘Inscribe, Lord, Your Will in My Stone Heart’: Finding Religious History in German American Illuminated Manuscripts” is essentially a theoretical and methodological treatise that considers what it means to study Pennsylvania German religious manuscripts as multifaceted, spiritual objects that both delivered text and performed a certain ritual function in lived religious experience among Pennsylvania Germans.
The essay appears in the volume Elusive Archives: Material Culture Studies in Formation, edited by Professors Martin Brückner and Sandy Isenstadt of the University of Delaware, and published by the University of Delaware Press. All contributions in the book are organized around a central task: “to consider a thing, especially an elusive thing, as being itself a type of archive.” I argue that bringing the findings of material culture methods to texts--perhaps the most traditional kind of archive one can imagine--can prove very beneficial and open new avenues for analysis and interpretation.
I am always proud to be a University of Delaware alum, but especially in moments like this, when I realize just how fortunate I was to find myself immersed in an interdisciplinary scholarly community that values all sorts of "archives"!
To learn more about the book, visit the website of the University of Delaware Press: https://udpress.udel.edu/book-title/elusive-archives/.
Episode 26 of Cloister Talk, “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,” Brings Season 3 of the Podcast to a Close
John Derstine Souder (1865-1942), fraktur illuminated manuscript, “Die Blumen stehen hier,” Telford, Franconia Township, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, 1939. Modeled on a nineteenth-century Pennsylvania German manuscript. Shelf Mark FLP 105. Courtesy of the Free Library of Philadelphia Rare Book Department.
At the close of Season 3 of Cloister Talk, sit back and relax with a hot cup of tea to reflect on Pennsylvania German manuscript culture and popular piety in early America, and future directions for the study of early American cultural and intellectual history. Reader and listener-submitted questions considered in this episode include the implications of The Word in the Wilderness for our understanding of the changing place of cursive handwriting instruction in American schools today, shifting approaches to the scholarly study of Pennsylvania German calligraphy and manuscript illumination advocated in The Word in the Wilderness, and possible reasons for the long decline of traditional illuminated manuscript culture in German Pennsylvania. The episode closes with some personal reflections on next steps forward for the field of Pennsylvania German material texts within the context of closely-aligned scholarly disciplines. Make a hot cup of tea, get cozy, and settle in for an enjoyable conversation as the paperback version of The Word in the Wilderness makes its debut!
Listen to “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” here:
Episode 25 of Cloister Talk Live!, “Dr. Franklin’s Library: A Conversation with James N. Green, Librarian Emeritus of the Library Company of Philadelphia,” Explores One of the United States’ Most Distinguished and Historic Libraries
Founded by Benjamin Franklin, the Library Company of Philadelphia is the thriving epicenter of early American book history, and the inspiration of librarianship in America. James N. Green, Librarian Emeritus of the Library Company and a scholar of early American book history, introduces us to the history of the Library Company, the contours of its Pennsylvania German collections, and possible futures for the fields of material texts, Pennsylvania German studies, and cultural heritage preservation broadly conceived.
Sharing personal memories of his long and distinguished career in librarianship and the scholarly study of the history of material texts, in this Cloister Talk interview Green also reflects on the unique library ecosystem that defines the Philadelphia region, the foundation of the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PACSCL), and the evolving civic role of libraries.
Listen to “Cloister Talk Live! Dr. Franklin’s Library: A Conversation with James N. Green, Librarian Emeritus of the Library Company of Philadelphia” here:
Episode 24 of Cloister Talk Live!, “A Mystical Heritage: A Conversation with Allen Viehmeyer and Candace Perry of the Schwenkfelder Library & Heritage Center,” Examines One of Pennsylvania’s Most Fascinating Spiritualist Communities
Das erste Teil der geistlichen Gesenge /von den wercken Jhesu Christi: und erstlich Von seiner gnad-reichen zukunfft und heiligen Menschwerdung. 1566. This volume has a Schwenkfelder provenance, having been inscribed by Maria Hübner in 1794. VR12-8 / L2004.0999.311. Courtesy of the Schwenkfelder Library & Heritage Center, Pennsburg, Pennsylvania.
Mysticism is a central (if complex, debated, and often misconstrued) part of the religious DNA of early German Pennsylvania. The theology and devotional practice of the Schwenkfelders—a German-speaking sectarian group present in the colony—connected to early modern European mystical tradition in important ways, and the religious community practiced a rich manuscript tradition. This episode of Cloister Talk Live! takes us to the Schwenkfelder Library & Heritage Center to dive into the Library’s astounding rare book, manuscript, and decorative-art collections. Curators and scholars Candace Perry and Allen Viehmeyer introduce us to the institution’s holdings, consider how they relate to the material culture of other Pennsylvania German groups, summarize the state of Schwenkfelder studies today, and suggest new directions for the field.
Listen to “Cloister Talk Live! A Mystical Heritage: A Conversation with Allen Viehmeyer and Candace Perry of the Schwenkfelder Library & Heritage Center” here:
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: