While the main focus of my research has always been Pennsylvania German illuminated devotional manuscripts, a new essay I co-authored with Consuela Metzger (UCLA Library) and Erin Hammeke (Duke University Libraries) studies bookbindings on Anabaptist religious texts for their material and cultural significance. Titled “The Faith that Binds: Swiss Anabaptist Devotional Bookbindings in Early America,” the essay combines the close study of book structures with reflections on the religious precepts and practices that guided these books’ use. The essay is now available in volume 6 of Suave Mechanicals: Essays on the History of Bookbinding, published by The Legacy Press of Ann Arbor, Michigan. To learn more, click here: http://www.thelegacypress.com/suave-mechanicals-vol-6.html.
Coming this June, a new podcast will welcome you into the fascinating world of manuscript production among the early German-speaking inhabitants of Pennsylvania—and pose important questions about how to interpret those manuscripts in the context of early American history. Cloister Talk: The Pennsylvania German Material Texts Podcast is designed to complement interpretations laid out in The Word in the Wilderness: Popular Piety and the Manuscript Arts in Early Pennsylvania and expand on themes addressed in the book.
Why a podcast about this topic? As is so often the case, the themes and issues addressed in The Word in the Wilderness open all sorts of new questions and conversations. Cloister Talk allows those interested to continue exploring, with a special focus placed on analytical approaches that can be taken to the Pennsylvania German manuscript arts. Topics to be covered include the history of Fraktur type and script, the religious heritage of the Pennsylvania Germans, theories and methods of book history, and the process of writing The Word in the Wilderness.
The podcast will be accessible at https://www.wordinwilderness.com/cloistertalk.html as well as most major podcast platforms. Check back regularly for new episodes and updates. Happy listening!
Though the manuscript of The Word in the Wilderness is complete, I am thrilled to be taking advantage of some opportunities to continue my research into early modern manuscript culture. In fact, with the book project more or less finished as far as research and writing is concerned, now is a fine time to explore ancillary topics and research areas that I thus far haven’t been able to give extensive attention.
During two recent trips to the United Kingdom, I delved into the worlds of calligraphy, penmanship, and manuscript culture in England with research visits to the Lambeth Palace Library in London and the Durham University Library in the famed northern university town of Durham. Both visits churned up exciting new sources that place Pennsylvania manuscript traditions of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in fascinating perspective. Visiting these iconic sites of British Christianity helped me think through how Pennsylvania’s early German-speaking residents fit into the rich spiritual world of the early modern era.
I look forward to undertaking further research adventures as opportunities allow in months and years ahead to build on the work done in The Word in the Wilderness. Here’s hoping there are more cathedrals in my future!
While perusing the bookshelves in the historic library of Dr. A.S.W. Rosenbach recently, I stumbled across a book that caught my eye: How to Become an Author, by well-known early-twentieth-century British author Arnold Bennett, who was famous for novels like Anna of the Five Towns (published 1902) and Imperial Palace (published 1930). I was most curious to learn what tips Bennett had to offer about the writer’s life in his 1903 “how-to” publication, and if those tips on writing still resonate today. Perhaps not unsurprisingly, while the publishing and commercial contexts in which Bennett wrote his book have changed dramatically since the volume was released more than a century ago, the text offers some timeless tidbits of wisdom.
A section of the book titled “An Art of Words” especially resonated with me. “Literature is the art of using words,” Bennett wrote. “This is not a platitude, but a truth of the first importance, a truth so profound that many writers never get down to it, and so subtle that many other writers who think they see it never in fact really comprehend it. The business of the author is with words.” I find this point meaningful in the realm of non-fiction writing, especially so in history, which is my own discipline of focus. It is all too easy to lose sight of the importance of narrative finesse in crafting an effective analysis of the events and ideas of past generations. Even expository writing requires attention to the experience of reading itself, and assuring that engaging with scholarly ideas is a manageable and even a pleasurable experience. “If literary aspirants genuinely felt that literature was the art of using words, bad, slipshod writing—writing that stultifies the thought and emotion which it is designed to render effective—would soon be a thing of the past. For they would begin at the beginning, as apprentices to all other arts are compelled to do.”
Bennett’s comments on literary style also resonate today. “Style…is not a certain splendid something in which the writer adds to his meaning. It is in the meaning; it is that part of the meaning which specially reflects his individuality and his mood.” Thank you, Arnold Bennett, for your expert insights on the issue of literary style, which resonate as profoundly in 2019 as they did in 1903.
 Arnold Bennett, How to Become an Author: A Practical Guide (London: C. Arthur Pearson, 1903).
 Ibid., 35.
 Ibid., 37.
 Ibid., 55.