Saturday, June 24, 2017

Microhistory: What It Is, and What It's Good For (4)

If the method known as microhistory is both legitimate and productive, then what microhistories stand out as the best examples of this subfield? What features distinguish them as good models? Above all, what do microhistories uniquely accomplish?

Here, pride of place belongs to Carlo Ginzburg, The Cheese and the Worms. The key to the success of Ginzburg’s work as a microhistory is not his story of the now-celebrated Menocchio, so much as it is his demonstration that Menocchio’s case was not purely unique. There was also, as Ginzburg tells us, a “rustic in the Lucchese countryside who hid behind the pseudonym Scolio.” Much like the main character in The Cheese and the Worms, Scolio “projected onto the written page, elements taken from oral tradition.”[1] Like Menocchio, for example, Scolio was convinced that Judaism, Islam, and Christianity all preached some version of the Ten Commandments. The two men also shared what Ginzburg calls “a common store of traditions, myths, and aspirations handed down orally over generations.”[2]

Ginzburg next introduces yet another peasant radical, Pighino (“the Fat,”) who was likewise a miller. The author notes that sixteenth-century millers had, at best, mixed reputations, and they were well known for their radicalism. Dealing with a wide variety of people, they worked in out-of-the-way places, where people freely exchanged ideas much as they would at “the inn and the shop.”[3] These were the places where the cultures of “peasant religious radicalism” and of “peasant egalitarianism” were kept alive.[4] Consequently, Ginzburg argues, we should reject any assumption that “ideas originate exclusively among the dominant classes.” What is required of historians is a “more complicated hypothesis about relationships in this period between the culture of the dominant classes and the culture of the subordinate classes.”[5] This represents what should be regarded as the most significant contribution that Ginzburg’s work offers to the historiography on the period. Not only does the book relate a compelling story, more importantly, it shows us a part of the past we would not otherwise have seen and signals why it is important for us to know that part.

Since the advent of microhistory, Americanists have also employed this methodology, but often in ways that deviate from or go beyond what Ginzburg and his cohort were trying to do. In a 2003 article titled “Microhistory and the Post-Modern Challenge,” American historian Richard D. Brown identified three types of works that can be called microhistories. First, he cites investigations of certain locales over a long period. Alternately, scholars have given such works labels like “the new social history” and “community studies.” Significantly, perhaps surprisingly, Brown places in this category a book published as early as 1963: Sumner Chilton Powell’s Puritan Village: The Formation of a New England Town.[6]

Brown identifies a second type of microhistory that he calls “intensive community analyses” designed “to illuminate and explain particular events.” Examples of this category are Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum’s Salem Possessed: The Social Origins of Witchcraft (1974) and Robert A. Gross’s The Minutemen and Their World (1976).[7]

Third, Brown notes that there are many works that merely give a voice to extraordinary but little-known people from the past. It is at this point, with the third possible category, that Brown draws a line. He insists that microhistorians should “be eager to test and refine standing generalizations.” He agrees with pioneering microhistorians like Giovanni Levi who believe that, ideally, microscopic observations should “reveal factors previously unobserved”; and with Jill Lepore when she asserts that microhistory must not be confused with a celebratory biography of someone from the past who, simply because of his or her qualities or experiences, everyone should know.[8] Microhistorians are trying to discover big things.

As noted earlier, when it comes to Americans, without calling their works microhistories, a large number of scholars have produced books and articles that Brown would include in his expanded definition of the type. Perhaps the best example is Alan Taylor’s 1995 work William Cooper’s Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early American Republic, the winner of a Pulitzer Prize. As the reader soon learns, this is much more than a thick biography of land speculator William Cooper, the founder of Cooperstown and Ostego County, New York. By detailing and contextualizing Cooper’s aspirations, his rise to wealth, and the fortunes of his family, Taylor is able to shed new light on the politics and demographic character of what was in the 1790s the western frontier of New York. As Taylor shows, although Cooper’s humble background would suggest an interest in Jeffersonian republican politics, he did not favor the style of authority connected with the title “Friends of the People.” Instead, Cooper, whom Jefferson himself once called “the bashaw of Ostego,” hoped to become one of the few genteel “Fathers of the People” in his community, a style much more in keeping with the outlook of the Federalists. But it was not to be. Above all, the rise of Jeffersonian politics at the local level, part and parcel of the republican revolution of 1800, undermined Cooper’s dreams for himself and his heirs, including his son the novelist James Fenimore Cooper.[9]

Another possible nominee is Kevin Boyle’s Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights and Murder in the Jazz Age. Ask any well-informed American what the 1920s were all about, and the answer will likely include flappers, speakeasies, dancing the Charleston, Republican presidents, the Harlem Renaissance, and the growth of jazz. Arc of Justice reveals that the answer should also include the presence of deadly racism in America, even in a northern city like Detroit. Boyle sets out to tell the story of a black medical doctor, Ossian Sweet, his family and friends, and the incident and subsequent trial that made him a significant historical figure. A fine piece of journalistic and popular history, this book does not begin with a thesis statement per se. As Boyle continues, however, it appears that his purpose is to drive home the point that although the saga of Ossian Sweet is a compelling story, one that should be told, of greatest significance is the story's context, an American racism that often seems to recognize no restraint or limit.[10]

This last work brings us back to the question of boundaries, the definition of microhistory. In 1993, Carlo Ginzburg expressed his conviction that “the reconciliation between macro- and microhistory” should not at all “be taken for granted.” In fact, it “needs to be pursued.”[11] With approval, he pointed to the opinion of Siegfried Kracauer who saw in Marc Bloch’s Feudal Society the perfect approach. According to Ginzburg, that approach was “a constant back and forth between micro- and macrohistory, between close-ups and extreme long-shots, so as to continually thrust back into discussion the comprehensive vision of the historical process through apparent exceptions and cases of brief duration.”[12] This naturally raises a question. In order for a work to be a microhistory, is it necessary for the author to intend as such? From the foregoing, it seems clear enough that one distinction between the two sides of the Atlantic is that Europeans like Ginzburg are more likely to answer that question with a “Yes,” while Americans like Brown are more likely to say “No.”

In fact, Brown sees microhistory, including what might be called its indirect or implied forms, to be an effective response to what he styles “the post-modern challenge.” He begins by noting that historians are often slow to adopt new trends in scholarship. Unlike scholars in other academic fields like sociology and literary studies, historians are wary of embracing theories or methods that might soon turn into yesterday's fads. Yet Brown confesses that he is “a convert to microhistory, and an evangelical one at that.”[13] He observes that as early as the 1890s, Henry Adams, whom he describes as a proto-postmodernist, complained that the field of history had become hopelessly subjective. It was, according to Adams, “a sort of Chinese Play, without end and without lesson.” As a discipline, history was “an inextricable mess.”[14] Brown responds to this, as well as to similar criticisms coming from more recent scholars, by acknowledging that history is indeed “a subjective construction derived from ‘facts’ that were selectively recorded to serve a wide range of purposes, and which often survive by chance.” It is also true, he admits, that historians select from the universe of facts according to their own logic and intentions. “The very subjects we choose to recover . . . are based on our politics broadly conceived, our judgments of what is important, and the tastes of our audiences.”[15]

Still, Brown is not yet ready to give up on history. To begin with, there are many things that we can know and confidently claim about the past. For example, he asks, where is the American historian who will assert that in the early republic “women, blacks, Indians, or the poor controlled the levers of power and ran the state”? The same principle works for positive assertions as well. Thus, we can state without fear of serious challenge that the Constitutional Convention met in Philadelphia in 1787.[16] When it comes to such matters of fact, mountains of consistent evidence permit historians to make claims that compel the assent of every reasonable person. Of course, more serious kinds of questions appear and multiply whenever historians begin to make claims, as they invariably do, that are more intuitive. Any work of synthesis, for example, is by definition a scholar's creative projection. And, even those historians who never attempt a grand synthesis routinely engage in the same kind of activity. In fact, those historians who do not carry on such work thereby welcome the criticism that they are the sort of scholars who know “more and more about less and less.”[17]

This is precisely why Brown advocates the microhistorical method. He envisions it as the very type of scholarly work that can produce an effective response to the post-modern challenge. Again, works of history, invariably synthetic to one degree or another, are open to the criticism that historians piece together their narratives in much the same way that clever defense attorneys spin alternative stories about crimes. But how can historians avoid these kinds of suspicions? After all, historical narratives and especially works of synthesis simply cannot make the claims they make without standing “on a footing of disparate monographs.” This is critical because, for the sake of the credibility of their work, historians need to be able to convince others that “history deserves its status as an authoritative source of truth.”[18] Now that “fake news” is an everyday expression, could historians have anything more important to do?

[1] Ginzburg, The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller, trans. John and Anne Tedeschi (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980), 112.

[2] Ibid., 117.

[3] Ibid., 119

[4] Ibid., 123.

[5] Ibid., 126.

[6] Richard D. Brown, “Microhistory and the Post-Modern Challenge,” Journal of the Early Republic 23, no. 1 (Spring 2003): 10.

[7] Ibid., 11.

[8] Ibid., 14. Here, Brown cites two important works: Giovanni Levi, “On Microhistory,” in New Perspectives on Historical Writing, ed. Peter Burke (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1991): 93-113; and Jill Lepore, “Historians Who Love Too Much: Reflections on Microhistory and Biography,” Journal of American History 88, no. 1 (June 2001): 129-44.

[9] Alan Taylor, William Cooper’s Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early American Republic (New York: Knopf, 1995).

[10] Kevin Boyle, Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age (New York: Picador, 2004).

[11] Carlo Ginzburg, “Microhistory: Two or Three Things I Know about It,” trans. John Tedeschi and Anne C. Tedeschi, Critical Inquiry 20, no. 1 (Autumn 1993), 27.

[12] Ibid. Later, Ginzburg points to Siegfried Kracauer as having been ahead of his time. Kracauer, he writes, “had already foreseen” that “the results obtained in a microscopic sphere cannot be automatically transferred to a macroscopic sphere (and vice versa)” (33).

[13] Brown, “Microhistory and the Post-Modern Challenge,” 1-2.

[14] Ibid., 3.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid., 4.

[17] Ibid., 8.

[18] Ibid., 10.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Microhistory: What It Is, and What's It's Good For (3)

In this third post, I take up some of the criticisms of the subdiscipline known as microhistory. What sorts of challenges have microhistorians had to face?

First, according to some detractors, microhistorical investigations run into problems that result from their dependence on cultural anthropology. Along this line, Karl Appuhn explains that at least some of the Italian microhistorians were interested in the possibility of deciphering “the historical variations in people’s lived experience of the world” by employing the methods of cultural anthropology, particularly the work of Clifford Geertz.[1]

Obviously, unlike anthropologists, historians cannot directly observe the people they want to study. However, they might accumulate “tiny, seemingly trivial bits of evidence” that would “eventually, the microhistorians hoped, enable them to assemble the data into coherent models of specific small-scale social interactions.”[2] From these, microhistorians could then, like Geertz and other cultural anthropologists, “draw much broader conclusions.”[3] This procedural model has generated one objection in particular: anthropologists exercise a good bit of latitude in their interpretations. And, when applied to history, this threatens to degenerate into relativism, to cast doubt on the conclusions of historians, to erode the authority of the discipline.[4]

Reaction to Roger Darnton’s popular book of 1984, The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History, provides a specific example of this angle of criticism.[5] Not long after Darnton’s work was published, critical discussion, especially about his Chapter 2, “Workers Revolt: The Great Cat Massacre of the Rue Saint-Séverin,” appeared in the pages of the Journal of Modern History. Both Roger Chartier and Dominick LaCapra argued that Darnton’s borrowings from anthropology led him to use texts in ways that, to those practiced at close readings, seemed more than a bit too easy. As LaCapra expressed it,
Reading for Darnton is a rather cozy hermeneutic process in which meaning is fully recoverable even when it is asserted to be polysemous or multivalent. The focus on message and “worldview” facilitates this unproblematic hermeneutics of reading, for there is little attention to be paid to the composition, work, and play of texts. . . One difficulty in Darnton’s precipitate turn to anthropology is the implicit assumption that emulating the procedures of the latter discipline (as Darnton via Geertz understands them) may provide a “quick fix” for the difficulties encountered in historiography. The result would be that the position of the historian in his or her exchange with the past need not be interrogated.[6]
In this way, both Chartier and LaCapra insisted that primary texts are more complicated than Darnton seemed to recognize or appreciate.[7]

A second, more general criticism of microhistory is that at least some practitioners indulge in mere anecdotalism or antiquarianism. To put it bluntly, not every odd ball or outlier from the past represents a significant group of people or some aspect of history that has since become lost.

Regarding this category of objection, in 2006 Naomi R. Lamoreaux published an article in which she offers a few significant pointers that microhistorians should take to heart. An economist and historian at UCLA, Lamoreaux begins by noting that those who advocate for microhistorical approaches are right to complain about the tendencies of macrohistory to flatten out the particularities of the past. She worries, on the other hand, that some examples of microhistory veer “too far in the opposite direction toward antiquarianism.” The purpose of her comment, she writes, “is to suggest how approaching the study of ordinary men and women from the perspective of . . . ‘historical economics’ carries the potential to avoid both of these pitfalls.”[8]

Lamoreaux observes that some historians seem to value the work of merely “complicating” some aspect of history. By contrast, she notes, economists “do not see why making an analysis more complicated should necessarily be considered a good thing.” She insists that microhistorians
must also be able to demonstrate how putting the additional evidence back in leads to a very different understanding—an alternative model or narrative. In other words, “complicating” an analysis in order to underscore its limitations should be only the first step. It is important also to “resimplify”—to fit the evidence into a new interpretive framework.[9]
But how might that be done? How can historians “approach the task of resimplifying—that is, of showing that a complication leads to a new narrative or model?”[10]

At this juncture, Lamoreaux introduces a bit of jargon from the world of economics: exogenous and endogenous factors. These terms point to the fact that “[t]here is always an inside and outside to a story: there is always something external to the dynamics of the story that sets its events in motion.” Among those who speak this language, one common name for exogenous events is shocks.[11] Lamoreaux notes that along with other economists, she is mystified that any historian who shows how an individual in the past had agency—made what have to have been real choices and decisions—is thought to be making a contribution to what we know. How is that necessarily more than merely stating what should be obvious? Or, as an economist might ask the question, how are these studies anything more than investigations of mostly or entirely endogenous factors?[12] This is the very sort of observation that generates the criticism that microhistorians might be doing nothing more than relating anecdotes or indulging in antiquarianism. Lamoreaux insists that in order for microhistory to be something other than that, microhistorians must present a conversation between exogenous and endogenous factors, a dialectic that might generate an “additional twist,” one that would complicate “a conventional interpretation that can generate an important new analytic narrative.”[13]

What seems obvious enough is that neither of these criticisms noted here necessarily strikes at the heart of what microhistorians attempt to do. These are indictments not of the method itself, but of particular mistakes or misapplications. To the extent that they might clarify and correct, they should thus be treated as guidelines and helpful reminders.


[1] Karl Appuhn, “Microhistory,” in Encyclopedia of European Social History from 1350-2000, ed. Peter Stearns (Detroit: Gale Group, 2001), 1:105.

[2] Ibid., 106.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 107-08.

[5] Robert Darnton, The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History (New York: Basic Books, 1984). Significantly, in his “Acknowledgments,” Darnton states that his book “grew out of a course” on history and anthropology that he taught at Princeton with Clifford Geertz, who, writes Darnton, “taught me most of what I know about anthropology” (xiii).

[6] Dominick LaCapra, “Chartier, Darnton, and the Great Symbol Massacre,” Journal of Modern History 60, no. 1 (March 1988): 104-06.

[7] Before LaCapra waded into the conversation, it was begun by Roger Chartier, “Text, Symbol, and Frenchness,” Journal of Modern History 57, no. 4 (December 1985): 682-95. Robert Darnton responded to Chartier in “The Symbolic Element in History," Journal of Modern History 58, no. 1 (March 1986): 218-34.

[8] Naomi R. Lamoreaux, “Rethinking Microhistory: A Comment,” Journal of the Early Republic 26, no. 4 (Winter 2006): 555.

[9] Ibid., 556.

[10] Ibid., 557.

[11] Ibid., 558-59.

[12] Ibid., 559.

[13] Ibid, 560.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Microhistory: What It Is, and What It's Good For (2)

Any explanation of the character and procedure of microhistory as a discernible methodology must begin with the story of its earliest practitioners and advocates. Who initiated the microhistorical method, and why?

In 1993, seventeen years after he first published the original, Italian version of his now-classic work The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller, Carlo Ginzburg, with tongue in cheek, claimed to know “two or three things” about microhistory.[1] He recalls that he and some of his Italian colleagues associated with the journal Quaderni storici began using the expression microhistoria in either 1977 or 1978.[2] They saw themselves as pioneers.

What were they setting out to do? Ginzburg explains that in his case, he was studying Inquisitorial trials “in an attempt to reconstruct, in addition to the attitudes of judges, those of the men and women accused of witchcraft.”[3] In his archival research, he hit upon the remarkable, intriguing story “of a sixteenth-century Friulian miller who was tried and condemned to death by the Inquisition.”[4] He notes that in the Introduction to the original 1976 edition of The Cheese and the Worms, he “took issue with an essay by [Francois] Furet in the Annales in which he asserted that the history of the subaltern classes in preindustrial societies can only be studied from a statistical point of view.”[5] The book that Ginsburg had by then produced was, in effect, a practical response to Furet: “In reducing the scale of observation, that which for another scholar could have been a simple footnote in a hypothetical monograph on the Protestant Reformation in Friuli was transformed into a book.”[6]

But what exactly was the significance and utility of The Cheese and the Worms and other works like it? As Ginzburg details, what he and others were discovering was that a close-up look permits historians “to grasp what eludes a comprehensive viewing.”[7] In other words, a narrow, even microscopic probe can lead to a necessary revision of a standard macrohistorical narrative. Ideally, then, microhistory holds the potential to contribute substantially to what twentieth-century social historians called “total history.” As I see it, this was and is one of the method’s great promises.

Karl Appuhn captures the essence of the approach when he writes that microhistory “is a historical method that takes as its object of study the interactions of individuals and small groups with the goal of isolating ideas, beliefs, practices, and actions that would otherwise remain unknown by means of more conventional historical strategies.”[8]

Appuhn further explains that the earliest microhistorians were responding to a perceived weakness in the way that scholars had come to practice social history. Instead of establishing and describing “the broader economic, demographic, and social structures” that traditional social historians took as their subject matter, practitioners wanted to “rediscover the lived experience of individuals.” The goal was to reveal how those individuals interacted with those very same structures.

And this was no mere novelty. The outlook of the microhistorians included an indictment: “Their criticism of traditional social science approaches” was not that social science was not possible or desirable. It was, rather, that social scientists had made “generalizations that do not hold up when tested against the concrete reality of the small-scale life” that they claimed to describe and interpret.[9] By going in the opposite direction, from small to large, microhistorians believed that they could recover some of “the lost peoples of Europe.”[10] Along this line, an essential move was to assume that the past is absolutely foreign to us. Whatever similarities might appear to exist between the past and the present must be ignored in the interests of discovering the unique features and dimensions of past societies. As Ginzburg described it, the process begins with “making the past dead.”[11]


[1] Carlo Ginzburg, “Microhistory: Two or Three Things That I Know about It,” trans. John Tedeschi and Anne C. Tedeschi, Critical Inquiry 20, no. 1 (Autumn 1993): 10-35.

[2] Sometime after Ginzburg began to speak of microhistoria, he learned that others had already employed identical terminology, but in ways that were quite different from what he and other Italian microhistorians had in mind. He notes, for example, that George R. Stewart, an American, was apparently the first to microhistory. In fact, the word appears in the subtitle of Stewart’s 1959 book about Pickett’s Charge, the failed and fateful attack at Gettysburg led by Confederate Major General Edward Pickett. As Ginzburg discovered, Stewart’s work, which is replete with minutia about the incident, highlights the notion that if Pickett’s Charge had only succeeded, then Gettysburg would also have turned out differently, and thus the Civil War would have turned out differently. In this way, according to Stewart, a single incident had impacted all subsequent world history. See George R. Stewart, Pickett’s Charge: A Microhistory of the Final Attack at Gettysburg, July 3, 1863 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1959). Ginzburg also points out that in 1968, Luis González, a Mexican scholar, used the term in the subtitle of a 400-year history of his home village, Pueblo en vilo: Microhistoria de San José de Gracia (Guanajuato, Mexico: 1968). But Italian micro-historians of the 1970s and 1980s did not recognize their approach in books about seemingly-small events that made an incredible difference, studied in minute detail, nor in long-term studies of a single village, etc. By microhistoria, they meant something quite different. Ginzburg, “Microhistory,” 10-13.

[3] Ginzburg, “Microhistory,” 21-22.

[4] Ibid., 22.

[5] Ibid. The passage he refers to here can be found in the English edition, Carlo Ginzburg, The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller, trans. John and Anne Tedeschi (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980), xx.

[6] Ginzburg, “Microhistory,” 22. Ginzburg notes that none other than Fernand Braudel was among the first to express his disapproval of microhistory. This was because he identified it with what he had previously condemned as histoire événementaielle, the “history of events.” By that expression Braudel meant “traditional history,” or the “so-called history of the world” which was nothing more than stories “dominated by protagonists who resembled orchestra directors.” Ibid., 13.

[7] Ibid., 26.

[8] Karl Appuhn, “Microhistory,” in Encyclopedia of European Social History from 1350-2000, ed. Peter Stearns (Detroit: Gale Group, 2001), 1:105.

[9] Georg G. Iggers, Historiography in the Twentieth Century: From Scientific Objectivity to the Postmodern Challenge (Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University Press, 1997), 108.

[10] Edward Muir and Guido Ruggiero, eds., Microhistory and the Lost Peoples of Europe: Selections from Quaderni Storici (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991). As one of my teachers, Professor Stefano D'Amico, pointed out to me, due to the work of diligent microhistorians featured in this collection edited by Muir and Ruggiero, many of those peoples are no longer so lost.

[11] Appuhn, “Microhistory,” 106.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Microhistory: What It Is, and What It's Good For (1)

Kim Tolley, a professor of education at Notre Dame de Namur University in California, describes her recently-published monograph, Heading South to Teach, as a “microhistory,”[1] one that relates “the life and times of Susan Nye Hutchison (1790-1867) a northern farmer’s daughter who taught in North Carolina and Georgia during the era of religious revival known as the Second Great Awakening.”[2]

Tolley explains that at one level, her work is about a seemingly-ordinary woman who did some extraordinary things. But at another level, she writes, “this book is about the significance of religion and education in antebellum American society and culture.”[3] Tolley offers a bit more information about the microhistorical method.[4] Still, upon reading Heading South to Teach, which is a fine piece of work at any rate, would even a credentialed historian know if the book does what a microhistory is supposed to do? Is the label appropriate in this case?

These kinds of questions have cropped up partly because microhistory has not always been well defined. While it may be that some of the imprecision is unavoidable, even preferable, it is also true that implicit definitions of the term have not always been consistent or well understood.[5]

The purpose of this series is to respond to a few central questions about microhistory. First, where did this approach come from? What kinds of goals were associated with the origins of microhistory? Second, what sorts of misunderstandings and criticisms have accompanied the rise of microhistory? How might those who see the potential of this method eliminate typical misunderstandings and respond adequately to the hard questions? Third, what are some of the works that stand out as solid examples of the microhistorical method? What features distinguish them as good models? Finally, what seems to be the future of microhistory? Going forward from 2017, how might this approach serve the goals of historians?

Again, that's what this series is all about. Interested in microhistory? Stay tuned.


[1] Kim Tolley, Heading South to Teach: The World of Susan Nye Hutchison, 1815-1845 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015), 11.

[2] Ibid., 1.

[3] Ibid., 2.

[4] Ibid., 11-12.

[5] On the variety and vagueness of social history, see Harry Ritter, Dictionary of Concepts in History (New York: Greenwood Press, 1986), 408-11.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Van Halen, before Anyone Outside Southern California Knew Who They Were

Not long after I'd completed comprehensive exams earlier this spring, I wanted to read something entirely different from what I had been poring over for months. So, I read Greg Renoff's book, Van Halen Rising: How a Southern California Backyard Party Band Saved Heavy Metal (Toronto: ECW Press, 2015).

The book starts with the early lives of the original members of Van Halen, and ends with the 11-month world tour that followed the release of their first album in 1978. During that tour, Van Halen usually opened for Black Sabbath, and they blew them off the stage every night. Renoff reports that the experience sent Ozzy and the rest of Black Sabbath into something of a depression. They were getting whipped every time they performed.

If, like me, you bought the first VH album and wore it out, then you simply have to read Van Halen Rising. Some of the more interesting aspects of this one-of-a-kind book:

Renoff has a PhD in American history. So the guy knows how to do research. Speaking of which, he conducted scores of interviews with people who "were there," and he quotes them on almost every page. I don't know the historiography of Van Halen, but I'd bet there's nothing else about the band that matches this book for its depth of research and attention to detail. This seems to be one reason why Renoff decided to write it. He's a fan, and nobody had told the story like this.

One of Renoff's main points is that with soft rock, easy listening, and disco (Fleetwood Mac, Eagles, the Bee Gees, etc.) dominating radio play and record sales in the late 1970s, there was no reason to assume that hard rock or heavy metal was going to survive. The author argues that Van Halen almost single-handedly "saved heavy metal."

Anyway, Renoff was trained to make an argument, and that's his. But that's not the heart of the book. What makes the work stand out is the way that Renoff acts like an ethnologist (seriously) detailing the backyard parties and dive-bar gigs that VH played for years on end before they were discovered by people outside of Southern California. And that dominance of all sorts of styles besides hard rock? That led record executives at the time to think that no new hard-rock bands could break through. So why sign them to a contract? That's why Van Halen were local heroes to teenagers and bikers in places like Pasadena and Hollywood for years before anyone else knew who they were.

All the while, whether they were playing for hundreds of kids in someone's big backyard, or for a dozen roughnecks at a bar on a rainy night, Van Halen always acted like they were playing Madison Square Garden. So when they exploded onto the world stage, it all seemed so natural because they'd been practicing hard for such a long time.

A few other details: Renoff makes the case that if there was an insecure member of Van Halen, it was their virtuoso guitar player, Edward Van Halen. On the other hand, David Lee Roth (who back in the day was simply "Dave Roth"), musically the weak link in the band, had all the confidence, charisma, and showmanship. And this rubbed off on all the others, especially Edward. Renoff suggests that had it not been for Diamond Dave, Alex and Edward Van Halen might have become two of the greatest undiscovered musical talents ever. When the brothers first met Dave, they played all of their gigs pretty stiff and wearing sneakers, worn out jeans, and flannel shirts. Dave is the one who taught them that they couldn't be just great musicians. They had to do more. They had to dress and act like rock stars.

From the other side: Going into the studio to make the first record, Roth realized that when it came to recording an album, his stage presence wasn't going help him much. He understood that if he didn't do something to improve his mediocre singing, next to the virtuosity of Edward Van Halen's guitar playing, Roth was going to sound terrible. So he took private singing lessons (insisting that anyone who knew about them should call them "voice lessons"). The guy devoted himself to practicing every day. And by the time VH recorded the first album, Dave's singing had improved. All along, he remained the perfect persona for fronting Van Halen.

Oh, and Michael Anthony? The last of the four members to join the original group, Anthony has always been rock solid on the bass guitar, and was easily the best singer and strongest voice in the band. He's the reason that VH was able to do all of those nice three-part harmonies, a feature that made the band stand out from other big-rock acts. Anthony was always the high tenor, and in the studio and on stage, he never missed a note. When the band was recording their first album, producers and engineers focused on how whiz kid Edward's guitar sounded. Anthony has since regretted that no more attention was given to the bass tracks. At the time, he didn't know any of the tricks for perfecting his own sound in the recording studio. So there are parts of the original record where he doesn't like the way the bass sounds.

Anyway, there's so much more to this book. So if you sometimes think of yourself as "the atomic punk," then you'll probably want to read it.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Reformation History: New Interpretations, Trends, and Perspectives

From the sixteenth century until the mid-twentieth century, almost all interpreters agreed that the Protestant Reformation began in 1517 with Martin Luther’s acts of “heroic individualism.” As Bernd Moeller has described it, this now-outdated story of the origins of the Reformation pictured Luther as “a great sage, a kind of spiritual colossus, who attains his Reformation breakthrough, draws the broad consequences, and then drags people with him as he strides through history handing out his truths right and left.”[1] But sometime during the mid-1900s, scholars began to conclude that “Luther as sage and Wittenberg as Jerusalem” was an insufficient historical paradigm. Other people and places—like Huldrych Zwingli in Zurich, John Calvin in Geneva, and a number of lesser-known leaders and locations—were vital to the rise of Protestantism in the sixteenth century.[2] This change contributed to a new situation in which, over the past fifty years, Reformation historiography has not only grown more diverse, it has also grown in volume at an impressive pace. My purpose here is to describe and analyze some of the newer Reformation historiography, especially in regard to terminology, chronological scale, the rise of social history, what is called “deconfessionalization,” and revisionist interpretations that have emerged within the last forty years.


As Euan Cameron has observed, what people have for hundreds of years called the Reformation was actually “a series of parallel movements; within each of which various sorts of people with differing perspectives for a crucial period in history combined forces to pursue objectives which they only party understood.”[3] The majority of today’s Reformation scholars would agree with Cameron’s assessment, and this raises a question: If what we are describing was never a unified movement led by a single leader who proclaimed a consistent set of teachings, is the singular term, Reformation, the most appropriate descriptor? Clearly, Cameron, who titled his own work The European Reformation, believed it was perfectly acceptable to combine his conclusion about “parallel movements” with the standard singular terminology. However, beginning in the mid-1990s, at least a few historians took such thinking to heart as they gave titles to their books. For example, Carter Lindberg titled his 1996 textbook The European Reformations. Regarding his choice of the plural, Lindbergh did not elaborate. He simply explained, “I view the Reformation era as a time of plural reform movements.”[4] Significantly, his coverage begins in the late fifteenth century and runs to the early seventeenth century, and includes a chapter on “Catholic Renewal and the Counter-Reformation.” In 1999, three years after Lindberg’s book first appeared, James D. Tracy published Europe’s Reformations 1450-1650. For his part, Tracy explained the plural by asserting that “we can best understand the historical significance of the Protestant movement by viewing it . . . as the high point in a series of ‘reformations’ that convulsed the Latin or western half of Christendom from the eleventh to the eighteenth centuries.”[5]

In an interesting twist on this theme, Diarmaid MacCulloch has written about the singular Reformation in a book that includes coverage of those reforms that were introduced even by popes and the Counter Reformation.[6] In contrast to MacCulloch’s approach, scholars like Bernd Moeller, Berndt Hamm, and Dorothea Wendebourg insist on an exclusive sense in which the terms Reformation and Protestant go together. C. Scott Dixon also subscribes to this view and explains specifically:
[W]hen I mention the Reformation I mean the Protestant Reformation, and not only the Protestant Reformation of Luther, Zwingli, or Calvin but the reformations of all the groups of western Europe that consciously broke away from the Catholic church in the early modern period in the wake of the Luther Affair.[7]
Thus, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, one of the unanswered questions of Reformation historiography asks whether expressions like Catholic Reformation and Counter Reformation deserve sections in a survey text about the Reformation.


The term reformatio and its cognates were commonly used during the late medieval period to speak of reform impulses or movements in any number of different areas: the law, politics, and the academy, for example. Thus, when Luther and Zwingli preached a message of reform, they were using language that had long since become familiar. Reform was part of the atmosphere into which all sixteenth-century reformers were born.[8] Yet, by the end of the century, the Reformation had come to mean, specifically, the well-known movement most closely associated with Luther. Indeed, during the year 1617, any number of centennial sermons celebrated Luther’s triumph over the papacy and error. Also by that time, the Reformation had become an embattled, confessionalized expression among Protestants. For example, in his History of the Religion of the Reformed Churches (1721), Jacques Basnages de Beauval insisted that the first reformer was Zwingli, since he had preached against the abuses of Rome as early as 1516.[9] Thus, another reason for the diversity of the secondary literature relates to the question: When did the Reformation begin and end?

Scholars who have taken up the task of establishing chronological boundaries for the Reformation have followed one of two distinct patterns. The first maintains a focus on Martin Luther and especially seminal events from his life, most notably his posting of the Ninety-Five Theses in 1517. In this arrangement, end points might be identified with the death of Luther in 1546, or with the Peace of Augsburg in 1555, which provided a secure legal standing for Lutheranism in the Holy Roman Empire, or in 1648 with the Peace of Westphalia marking the end of the Thirty Years War and the beginning of a more secular approach to political life.[10]

Those who espouse the alternative chronological framework insist that we cannot possibly understand specific memorable events of the Reformation without an appreciation for the much broader historical contexts in which those events occurred. Within such contexts, an upheaval no longer seems to have been so sudden, and a breakthrough appears as the natural result of pressures that had been growing over a relatively long period.[11] One remarkable such treatment is Peter G. Wallace's 2004 work titled The Long European Reformation: Religion, Political Conflict, and the Search for Conformity 1350-1750.[12] Wallace begins by describing late-medieval Christendom. In the wake of the first appearance of the Black Death and the ensuing devastation, he writes, survivors were motivated to pursue the ideal model of apostolic Christianity. Such motivations set the stage for an emerging Reformation whose values were eventually integrated “into the belief systems of common Christians.”[13] Indeed, by the middle of the eighteenth century, “the original goal of religious renewal could be documented all over Europe.” However, also by that time Reformed Christianity “had become pluralistic rather than unitary, and popularly inspired as much as officially determined.”[14] Wallace justifies his decision to tell the story of a European Reformation with roots that reached down to the Middle Ages and with ramifications that reached far into the eighteenth century. Europe’s experience of the Black Death had the effect of redoubling the calls for “spiritual renewal and structural reform.”[15] Four hundred years later, a new era began when the dynamic ideologies of Europe’s future— “democracy, nationalism, socialism, capitalism, and racism”—identified a time when “secular ideologies grounded in worldly interests” took over.[16]

Social History and “Deconfessionalization”

Two additional factors have contributed to the diversification and to the growth of Reformation historiography over the last half century. Conveniently, Philip Benedict specifies both of these in his 2002 work, Christ’s Churches Purely Reformed: A Social History of Calvinism. Benedict introduces this fine piece of scholarship as a survey of “the history and significance of Reformed Protestantism in Europe from its origins until the end of the age of orthodoxy around 1700.”[17] He points out that no single author has attempted anything similar since John T. McNeill wrote The History and Character of Calvinism, first published in 1954. Since then, writes Benedict, the broad field of history and a specific part of that field, the corner known as Reformation studies, have each gone through what he describes as a dramatic sea change. What is the nature of that change?

First, in general, historians no longer report only those events surrounding “elite actors.” Instead, they now incorporate “the actions and aspirations of ordinary men and women.” Second, fifty years following McNeill’s book witnessed what scholars have called the “deconfessionalization” of Reformation history. Benedict explains that, before, “most church history was written by members of the church in question eager to explore a critical moment in the formation of their religious tradition.” But since then a new scene has emerged where it is not uncommon, for example, for Roman Catholic scholars to offer “sympathetic and penetrating studies of Protestant theology.”[18] Clearly, Benedict hopes that his book will be a good example of both trends. He not only subtitles his work A Social History of Calvinism, he also describes himself as “a total outsider, an agnostic, nonpracticing Jew raised in a secular household.”[19]

Was There a Reformation? If So, Was it Good?

A related, but quite different approach to elongating the Reformation almost completely avoids the term. In the preface to his 1985 work, Christianity in the West, 1400-1700, John Bossy announces that he intends to describe “a way or ways of life and the features of Christian belief which seemed most relevant” to people at that time.[20] One can hardly help noticing that the dates of Bossy’s title place one foot on either side of what, according to long-standing tradition, marks the beginning of the Reformation. The author does not doubt that the Reformation was “an event in human life,” and he suggests that paying attention to both its background and foreground permits “some kind of purchase on the event.”[21] Part of what Bossy rejects, however, is the idea that “medieval Christianity was a burden which most of the population of the West was delighted to shake off,” and “that Christianity was brought to the people of the West during and after the sixteenth century.”[22] To the contrary, the basic outline of the Christian gospel, interpreted and mediated by the likes of Augustine of Hippo and Anselm of Canterbury, was known, inculcated, assumed to be true, and practiced by all echelons of society for many hundreds of years before any so-called Reformation. What is more, Christianity in the West during the Middle Ages functioned very well and consistently as an organizing principle for society. As Bossy puts it,
Christians of the late medieval West did not need reformers to tell them who their saviour was; not the pope, nor the learned Fathers of the Council of Constance who finally settled the Schism in 1417; not even, in the end, the hierarchical Church itself, but Christ.[23]
He agrees that “[s]omething important happened to Western Christianity in the sixteenth century,” and that the term Reformation can be used to describe it. What Bossy objects to is “the notion that a bad form of Christianity was being replaced by a good one.” Further, the Reformation, although “a necessary concept in the history of the Church as an institution . . . does not seem much use in the history of Christianity.” Why? Because the typical understanding of the Reformation “is too high-flowing to cope with actual social behavior, and not high-flown enough to deal sensitively with thought, feeling, or culture.”[24] In short, much like the so-called revisionist historians of the English Reformation, Bossy does not wish to celebrate anything that was supposedly won in the episode known as the Reformation. Rather, he laments what, between 1400 and 1700, was lost.

Along this line, he points out that “of those words whose meaning undoubtedly changed” from the sixteenth to the seventeenth century, “several represented ideas and institutions at the heart of Christianity.”[25] The term satisfaction, for example, “had shifted “from meaning atonement to meaning (accept in duelling classes) contentment and gratification.”[26] Again, up to about the year 1400 “the word ‘religion’ . . . had for centuries usually meant a ‘religious’ rule or order and those who followed or belonged to it.” By the time of Calvin, the term meant “the primary posture of the Christian community, or of the individuals who composed it, towards God.” Still later, by 1700, “the world was full of religions, objective social and moral entities characterized by system, principles and hard edges.”[27] Bossy ends with the summary assertion that before the seventeenth century, “Christianity” meant “a body of people,” but that since then the word has meant “an ‘ism’ or body of beliefs.”[28]

Judging from the persistent historiography that Bossy’s tour de force represents, it seems clear that what can be called Whig-Protestant interpretations of the Reformation will continue to be challenged. At the same time, however, revisionist laments will have to contend with what Patrick Collinson described as “the perception that those living through these events had of an almost total transformation,” and that it was good. To drive home his point, Collinson quotes a sixteenth-century Englishman who wished that God might bless his elderly uncle, “and make him to know that which in his tender years he could not see, for the world was then dark and we were blind in it.”[29]

Over the last half century, then, names for the Reformation have grown in number, while a much broader time frame now makes it seem more like an historic era than an episode. The name of Martin Luther, though still very important to historians, is now more often accompanied by the names of other reformers and members of their personal networks. In addition, the rise of social history has led to the deprivileging of theology and religion in Reformation studies, which are now produced by historians of all religious persuasions. Not surprisingly, the growing variety of topics and scholars means that Reformation studies now exhibits a wide array of sometimes-competing interpretations.


[1] Bernd Moeller, Imperial Cities and the Reformation, trans. H. C. Erik Midelfort and Mark U. Edwards, Jr. (Durham, NC: Labyrinth Press, 1982), 13, as quoted by C. Scott Dixon, Contesting the Reformation (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), 1-2.

[2] Dixon, Contesting the Reformation, 3.

[3] Euan Cameron, The European Reformation (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), 1.

[4] Carter Lindberg, The European Reformations (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1996), xii.

[5] James D. Tracy, Europe’s Reformations, 1450-1650 (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1999), 3.

[6] Diarmaid MacCulloch, Reformation (New York: Viking Penguin, 2004).

[7] Dixon, Contesting the Reformation, 13-14.

[8] For an insightful discussion of the terms reformatio and renovatio reaching back to the period of the Gregorian Reforms, see John W. O’Malley, Trent and All That: Renaming Catholicism in the Early Modern Era (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000), 16-20.

[9] Dixon, Contesting the Reformation, 8-10.

[10] Ibid., 15.

[11] This was certainly the opinion of Elizabeth Eisenstein. She argued that even if Luther and Zwingli had never lived, something very much like the Reformation that we know would have occurred due to the invention of the printing press. See Eisenstein, The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe, 2nd ed. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), chap. 6, esp. 208.

[12] Peter G. Wallace, The Long Reformation: Religion, Political Conflict, and the Search for Conformity, 1350-1750 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004).

[13] Ibid., 7.

[14] Ibid., 166.

[15] Ibid., 218.

[16] Ibid., 222.

[17] Philip Benedict, Christ’s Churches Purely Reformed: A Social History of Calvinism (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2002), xvii.

[18] Ibid., xviii.

[19] Ibid., xxv.

[20] John Bossy, Christianity in the West, 1400-1700 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985).

[21] Ibid., 7.

[22] Ibid., viii.

[23] Ibid., 3.

[24] Ibid., 91.

[25] Ibid., 167.

[26] Ibid., 169.

[27] Ibid., 170.

[28] Ibid., 171.

[29] Patrick Collinson, The Reformation: A History (New York: Modern Library, 2006), 9.

Works Cited

Benedict, Philip. Christ’s Churches Purely Reformed: A Social History of Calvinism. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2002.

Bossy, John. Christianity in the West, 1400-1700. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985.

Cameron, Euan. The European Reformation. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991.

Collinson, Patrick. The Reformation: A History. New York: Modern Library, 2006.

Dixon, C. Scott. Contesting the Reformation. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.

George, Timothy. Theology of the Reformers. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1988.

Eisenstein, Elizabeth L. The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe. 2nd ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Lindberg, Carter. The European Reformations. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1996.

MacCulloch, Diarmaid. Reformation. New York: Viking Penguin, 2004.

O’Malley, John W. Trent And All That: Renaming Catholicism in the Early Modern Era. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000.

Tracy, James D. Europe’s Reformations, 1450-1650. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1999.

Wallace, Peter G. The Long European Reformation: Religion, Political Conflict, and the Search for Conformity, 1350-1750. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

Saturday, May 06, 2017

The Indian Frontier, 1846-1890, by Robert M. Utley

Robert M. Utley, The Indian Frontier, 1846-1890. Revised Edition. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2003. Pp. xix, 325.

First published in 1984, The Indian Frontier, 1846-1890 was revised and then reissued in 2003. The revised edition is part of the Histories of the American Frontier Series published by the University of New Mexico Press. The rich narrative is supplemented by 99 illustrations and 12 useful maps.

According to the back cover, author Robert M. Utley is "a retired Chief Historian of the National Park Service and has written over fifteen books on a variety of aspects of history of the American West." In his Foreword, the eminent historian Howard R. Lamar called Utley "one of the most popular and productive historians of the American West" (xiii).

Of course, no historian who writes about the American frontier can avoid Frederick Jackson Turner's thesis first presented in 1893. In his Preface, Utley explains that as Turner saw things, experiences on the frontier--"a trader's frontier, farmer's frontier, rancher's frontier, miner's frontier"--are what made Americans and America exceptional. Turner did not completely neglect the Indians on the American frontier. However, he did treat them merely as "an influence in shaping the special American character" (xv). In other words, as Turner described things, Indians were not characters on the stage that was the American West. They were more like props in a drama that kept the spotlight on whites who were moving west. Nevertheless, unlike some other historians who regard "frontier" as just another f-word, Utley refuses to reject the Turner thesis. He prefers instead to treat it as "a conceptual framework, however simplistic, within which to develop themes of western American history" (xv). By design, Utley's work revises, qualifies, and supplements Turner's outlook. That is the book's most prominent feature from the standpoint of theoretical perspective. How could anyone move west in nineteenth-century America without encountering and dealing with Indians? Utley brings the obvious answer to that question into this exploration of the American frontier. Hence the title of his book.

What follows here is my summary, chapter by chapter. I made fuller notes for some parts more than for others. So, some chapter summaries are quite long, while others are much more concise.

Chapter One: The Indian West at Midcentury

Utley begins with the growing presence of white people in the Indian country during the 1840s. With the annexation of Texas in 1845 and the ensuing U.S.-Mexico War, American citizens moved further west into newly acquired lands. "[T]he United States at midcentury boasted a population of more than 20 million, a counting utterly beyond the comprehension of the western natives. By 1860, 1.4 million would live in the West; by 1890, 8.5 million" (4). The author discusses various influences that forever changed the Indian frontier: European diseases, the horse, and the gun. Dependence upon the gun changed balances of power and, of course, meant that Indians were dependent on the white man for gun "powder, lead, and repairs" (14). And, all such impact meant environmental change, what William Cronon has called Changes in the Land.

First contact between Indians and white men was almost always due to the arrival of a trader. This created new tastes and wants, especially liquor. The trader was most often the first white person an Indian ever saw, as opposed to a missionary. Utley summarizes a central point of this chapter as follows: Many natives of the Trans-Mississippi West had changed in response to the arrival and presence of white people "in or near their world." However, until the 1840s, "the changes had been evolutionary and mostly within the bounds of traditional culture. Henceforth they would be revolutionary and finally destructive of traditional culture" (26).

Chapter Two: Foundations of a New Indian Policy, 1846-1860

White imagination saw Indians in basically two ways: There was the good Indian, the noble savage, to be destroyed by civilizing him. Then, there was the bad Indian, the ignoble savage, to be destroyed by killing him. Either way, as part of the landscape of the frontier, Indians would have to be conquered (29-31).

When push came to shove, possessing Indian land was more important, more pressing than the question of how to civilize Indians (31). The making of treaties with Indians often ascribed to chiefs an authority that did not match up with tribal realities. Chiefs were not elected officials with constitutional authority. Indian politics operated much more by consensus. A chief's leadership utterly depended on a group that was willing to follow.

Founded in 1824, by 1890 the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs "was the most powerful force in the lives of Indians" (37). "The Indian Bureau had two purposes: to extinguish Indian land titles and to grapple with the vexing problem of what to do with people whose title had been extinguished. . . . Only in Texas was there no immediate question of title; on entering the Union, the state had retained jurisdiction over all its vacant land and refused to concede that the Indians owned any of it" (38). "Besides the army and the Indian Bureau, a third institution of government dominated Indian relations: Congress" (41).

The environmental impact of white westward travel and immigration was considerable. The arrival of white traders, and especially U.S. agents with their desire to establish treaties that favored the whites, treaties that Indian leaders often did not understand, led to a radical decline in Indian population (48-49).

Unlike the situation in the rest of America, Texans were having none of the treaty business. Texas never acknowledged Indian right to or ownership of any land in the state (52). Part of the "solution" to Indians in Texas was to drive them north of Red River into the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations, where the Texas government leased land from those nations for the incoming Indians (esp. 52).

Chapter Three: When the White People Fought Each Other, 1861-1865

Apache leaders in places like New Mexico began to having violent interactions with whites in 1860-61. Much of this was precipitated by the discovery of gold in old Spanish copper mines and the subsequent influx of miners (66). Following deadly encounters, the Apaches noticed soldiers marching away to the east. The Indians assumed that the whites were giving up and going away. Of course, what they did not realize was that whites were now mobilizing for the Civil War. But the whites were not gone for long. They soon returned to the Indian frontier due to "Abraham Lincoln's need for western gold and silver and western political support for the prosecution of the war." This "dramatized how little the war slowed the pace of the western movement" (72).

"No Indians experienced more trauma than the Five Civilized Tribes of the Indian Territory. Many of those people owned slaves and felt a natural affinity for southerners. Also, geographical proximity gave the Confederacy an edge over the Union. The Choctaws and Chickasaws went overwhelmingly with the South" (73).

Utley describes troubles in Minnesota, New Mexico, Colorado. He details the Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado. "By 1865 military force as the solution to the Indian problem had achieved virtually unchallenged supremacy. In Indian matters President Lincoln had shown himself a humanitarian, but the struggle with the Confederacy ruled his White House years, and he left Indian affairs almost entirely to Congress and the Indian Bureau" (92).

Then, in 1864, U. S. Grant put John Pope in charge of the Great Plains. Pope basically regarded all Indians in that huge swath of territory as hostile. Many were, thanks to incidents like Sand Creek. Pope's policy was essentially war against all plains Indians, all the time. Many Indians fled north. Some of them were looking merely to escape. But others looked to join up with tribes of the northern plains in order to take the fight to the white man.

Utley tells the story of Adobe Walls in 1864. The War came to an end. Stories about Sand Creek horrified many Americans. So, there were new attitudes regarding Indian policy. Some argued for a policy of "conquest by kindness" (96-97). Thus, sometime around 1865, the U.S. political leaders spoke in terms remarkably different from previous years. Whereas the earlier times had been bloody, beginning in 1865 the language was rhetoric of peace, which was confusing to the Indians.

Chapter Four: War and Peace: Indian Relations in Transition, 1865-1869

This chapter describes a post-war period during which mistrust and atrocities on both sides led American federal policy in the direction of "the rifle" as opposed to "the peace pipe"; this, in spite of the peace rhetoric that became popular at war's end. In other words, by fits and starts U.S. policy towards the Indian became more aggressive and hostile. Thus, the years that immediately followed the war were characterized by broken treaties, ambushes, massacres, and the failure of the treaty policy. It is no coincidence that leaders of the U.S. Army at this time were battle-hardened veterans of the war.

Chapter Five: Grant's Peace Policy, 1869-1876

Grant began his presidency with the promise of a Peace Policy. At the same time, he said, "Those who do not accept this policy will find the new administration ready for a sharp and severe war policy" (128). So, although the official rhetoric emphasized peace, it seems that Grant's effective policy had two sides. Grant appointed Ely S. Parker, a full-blooded Seneca, Commissioner of Indian Affairs (130). Again, this was part and parcel of a dedication to "conquest by kindness." Still, Grant's policies were enacted by dozens of army officers, not to mention that the Indian Bureau was part of the War Department. Nonetheless, there were sometimes genuine attempts at kindness and justice (132).

Utley describes the frustrations for both Indians (in his specific example, Apaches) and U.S. representatives to Indians. The Great Father was slow in making decisions and providing the promised means of survival. Frequently, after a long wait, the Indians would be delivered a unsatisfactory message. However, some officials like Vincent Colyer and General Oliver Otis Howard did well as advocates of the Indians and made good decisions.

Utley turns to the Fort Sill Agency in the western Indian Territory. Kiowas and Comanches were the tribes of interest here. Lawrie Tatum, a determine Quaker became agent. Tatum tried to get the Kiowas to stop raiding in Texas. Colonel Benjamin H. Grierson at Fort Sill was the military complement to Tatum's agency. Grierson was devoted to the peace policy, even though that meant that some of his military peers looked down on him.

Ultimately, the Salt Creek Prairie Massacre of 1871 frustrated Tatum and set off William Tecumseh Sherman. Satanta, a Kiowa chief, was proud and unrepentant. Like most tribes, encroachment by whites and U.S. federal policy divided the Kiowas. The Kiowa war chief was Lone Wolf. Kicking Bird led the Kiowa peace faction (see photos pp. 144-45).

The final paragraph of the chapter reads, "But in essence Grant's Peace Policy was chiefly about peace, and peace it did not achieve. The public could thus hardly be faulted for failing to note the persistence of the Peace Policy when war so dominated the Indian news. Indeed, the era of the Peace Policy featured some of the bitterest warfare in the history of Indian relations" (154).

Chapter Six: Wars of the Peace Policy, 1869-1886

" 'The campaigns in Arizona did not owe their ultimate success to any particular Waterloo-like victory, as much as they did the covering of a great deal of ground by a comparatively small number of men, permitting the Indians no rest and rendering any and every hiding place insecure.' " (155, quoting a report from 1890).

Utley relates the army's Walter Schuyler and his troops tracking down Apaches in Arizona in 1873 (155-58). The freedom of the Kiowas and Comanches came to an end in 1875 (160). The general rule was: Those Indians on the reservation are friendly and the federal Indian Bureau is responsible for them; Those off the reservation are hostile and the army must be responsible for them (161). This made sense, but the realities were never quite that simple (162-63). When war was brought to Indians, it tended to be the "total war" made (in)famous by the likes of Sherman and Sheridan during the Civil War (164).

"Man for man, the [Indian] warrior far surpassed his blueclad adversary in virtually every test of military proficiency; but unit for unit--however great the numbers--the Indians could not come close to matching the discipline and organization of the army. When Indians made the mistake of standing and fighting on the army's terms, they usually lost." However, the west was not won as a result of military conquest. Instead it was "an aggressive and highly organized society" (166).

Events like the Modoc War on the west coast in 1872-73 and especially "Custer's Last Stand" in 1876 marked the demise of the Peace Policy (171). Utley also tells of the Red River War of 1874-75.

Finally vanquished, the Nez Perces wound up in I.T., just like the Modoc had before them, in spite of promises made to the Nez Perces by the army. By 1881, only the Apaches "had not yet been made to face the truth that the reservation represented their only possible destiny" (187). Their leaders were Victorio and Geronimo. The reservation designated for them was a terrible place to live: no game, lots of snakes, etc. Eventually, Geronimo and other Apaches gave up and "the Indian Wars of the United States came to a close in Skeleton Canyon, Arizona, on September 4, 1886" (196). The Apaches were loaded up on trains that took them to Florida.

Chapter Seven: The Vision of the Reformers, 1865-1890

The chapter begins by describing the Mohonk House resort in upstate New York. The Smileys, Quaker twin brothers, were the owner-operators. Beginning in 1883, this was the cite of an annual Mohonk Conference of reform leaders and organizers, self-appointed friends of the Indians. The conference did not include Catholics, nor groups who fought for the right of Indians to simply be Indians. The official name of the gatherings was the Lake Mohonk Conference of the Friends of the Indians.

The emphasis of virtually all of these reformers was education. Utley tells the story of how in the 1870s and 80s especially, it seems, various crusaders, leaders, and reformers fighting in behalf of their visions for Indians were active and influential in American politics. For example, Helen Hunt Jackson, who published A Century of Dishonor in 1881, hoped that her book would do for Indians what Uncle Tom's Cabin did for slaves. Another factor that promoted reform interest were the stories about and statements from Indians themselves. These "aroused public sympathy and reinforced what the crusaders were saying" (201).

Such interest in Indians led to cooperation. The greatest organization of the time was the Indian Rights Association, founded and led by William Welsh. Groups like this one set out to "civilize" Indians. "This vision of the ideal Indian sharply delineated the paramount self-image of American society in the late nineteenth century. It was a vision of an 'Americanized' American Indian. By the 1880s and 1890s, despite conventional platitudes about separation of church and state, 'Americanism' represented virtually a fusion of nationalism and Protestantism" (203).

According to reformers, the first step was to "detribalize" Indians, that is to "individualize" them. "Once the individual had broken free of the tribal heritage, the reformers' program would power the final stage, the leap into the mainstream of American life" (204). Eventually, "all Indians could be submerged in the body politic of America" (205).

"In the Indian reform crusade of the 1880s, four issues overshadowed all others, both in their potential consequences for the Indians and in the zeal with which the reformers attacked them: land, education, law, and purification of the Indian Bureau. Give the Indians fee ownership in their own plot of land. Educate them in preparation for citizenship and self-support. Extend law for their protection against whites and other Indians. Upgrade reservation management to speed the civilization process and the dissolution of the reservations" (205).

Henry L. Dawes, U.S. senator from Massachusetts, was the champion of severalty for Indians (206). His leadership led to the Dawes General Allotment Act of 1887 (207).

Beginning in the 1880s, the U.S. began appropriating funds for the establishment and operation of schools among the Indians. By then, of course, church groups had been conducting educational work for many years, especially Roman Catholics. Various denominations had conducted virtually all formal schooling among the Indians. Thus, they received much of the funding that the federal government had appropriated. This was true because government schools could not set up and start running as fast as the money was becoming available. The churches were more than willing to accept any surplus funds. This situation naturally generated religious contests for government money.

Captain Richard Henry Pratt was founder and president of the Carlisle School, Pennsylvania, the greatest of the off-reservation boarding schools for Indians. Pratt spoke of a sudden and total immersion "in our civilization" (211).

"Not amid the cushioned comforts of Lake Mohonk, but on the reservations, where spoilsmen ran the programs, were the theories of the reformers put to the test. Lake Mohonk provided the perfect setting for spinning the theories, for it so perfectly mirrored the life and values of the reformers themselves, and therefore the life and values considered ideal for the Indians. But the polished lobby of Mohonk House differed from the hard environment and society of the reservation as night differed from day, and what seemed so ideal and attainable at Mohonk proved considerably less so on the reservation. There, to their pain and sorrow, several generations of Indians were fated to grapple with the legacy of Mohonk" (217-18).

Chapter Eight: The Reservation, 1880-1890

Utley narrates the obliteration of the buffalo in the 1870s and 80s. This "doomed the Plains Indians' way of life and forced them to settle on the reservations." How? Because going off reservation was for the purpose of hunting buffalo. The animals also provided the means of survival when Indians killed one. So, the demise of the buffalo basically took all the fun out of going off the reservation.

Utley distinguishes between nonprogressives (traditionalists) versus progressives among the Indians (223). A third distinction can be described as those who resisted when they could, but who gave in when they had to (225).

The Sioux began to experience the confinement of the reservation, and agents discouraged the hunt because hunting, it was said, perpetuated in the Indians "all the cruel and wicked propensities" (226). The vision quest was directly related to the hunt and to warfare. So, due to reservation life, the vision quest fell into irrelevance (230). It was much the same story for the sun dance as well (230-31).

" . . . the main explanation for the spread of Christianity lay in the nature of the Indian spiritual belief, which did not bar the new from living comfortably next to the old--so long as the Christian holy men did not demand too insistently that the old be cast aside. The Indian spiritual life centered on a quest for personal power. The white man visibly possessed power. Therefore, his God might also be petitioned for power along with the traditional Sioux deities" (231).

"Like Christianity, education elicited ambivalent reactions from the Sioux. On the one hand, they sensed its importance in helping them to cope with the white people in the new world forced on them. On the other hand, they feared what it would do to the hearts and minds, indeed the Sioux identity, of their children. On both counts, of course, they were right" (231).

Federal officials pressed individual homesteads and farming on the Indians (232). Major General George Crook to the leaders of the Sioux Indians: "It strikes me that you are in the position of a person who had his effects in the bed of a dry stream when there was a flood coming down, and instead of finding fault with the Creator for sending it down, you should try and save what you can" (236).

In 1890, President Harrison announced that the land ceded by the Sioux was now open to settlement, news which came as a shock to the Sioux (239).

Chapter Nine: The Passing of the Frontier, 1890

The "spoils system" had one of its most abusive manifestations at the Pine Ridge reservation in Dakota. Two incompetent, desperately in-debt government agents were there: Royer and Gleason. Around this time, a desperate attempt by the Sioux and other tribes showed up in the form of the Ghost Dance. The dance had apocalyptic dimensions. Its participants hoped for the emergence of a world of bliss. And, it promised protection from the white man's bullets and cannon balls. In the standoff between the two sides, Sitting Bull was killed. Then, there was a melee in which 150 more Indians were killed, and 50 wounded. "Instead of armed challenge to the reservation, the Ghost Dance was a desperate bid for divine salvation where all else had failed. It ended in violence because of an incompetent Indian agent and a tragic accident born of mutual distrust, misunderstanding, and fear" (248-49).

Utley relates the histories of Indian Territory, Oklahoma Territory, and early statehood. There was no Indian warfare in Alaska. There just weren't many Indians there, and the land was so vast.

The Dawes Act succeeded in only one of its goals: it moved Indian land into white ownership. All of the other idealistic goals of the act never came true for Indians. Still, Utley insists that it is unfair to refer to 19th reformers "racists."

Monday, April 17, 2017

Did the Reformation Really Begin in 1517? Pre-Conditions of Protestantism

Later this year, the world will mark the 500th anniversary of the dawn of the Protestant Reformation. Don't worry, if you forget there will be plenty of reminders in late October. That's all well and good. But it's not my focus here. Instead, with this post I want to highlight some of the historical factors that represent pre-conditions of Luther's posting of the Ninety-Five Theses in the fall of 1517.

From the sixteenth century until the mid-twentieth century, almost all interpreters agreed that the Protestant Reformation had its start with Martin Luther’s acts of “heroic individualism." As historian Bernd Moeller has described it, this now-outdated story of the origins of the Reformation pictured Luther as “a great sage, a kind of spiritual colossus, who attains his Reformation breakthrough, draws the broad consequences, and then drags people with him as he strides through history handing out his truths right and left.”[1] But sometime during the mid-1900s, scholars began to conclude that “Luther as sage and Wittenberg as Jerusalem” was an insufficient historical paradigm. Other people and places—like Huldrych Zwingli in Zurich, John Calvin in Geneva, and a number of lesser-known leaders and locations—were vital to the rise of Protestantism in the sixteenth century.[2]

What historians sometimes call the “Luther affair”—specifically, events from the life of Martin Luther beginning in 1517 and continuing into the early 1520s—was directly related to and grew out of the long crisis of late medieval Christendom.[3] This crisis can be described as a struggle between competing ideas about the recovery of apostolic Christianity, the quest for the true church. As many interpreters have noted, the late middle ages were characterized by an absence of meaning in life, accompanied by deep anxiety over personal guilt and destiny. The consequences of sin were a deserved death and an uncertain eternal future.[4]

A common report about the young Martin Luther is that he experienced torturous dread and despair over matters of the spirit and his unanswered questions about relationship with a sovereign God. But we should add that Luther was not alone. It appears that what he called his Anfechtungen, his “afflictions” or “tribulations,” were not unique. They were typical, if not always so intense in other people.[5] However, the medieval combination of spiritual malaise and psychological disturbance were not the only preoccupations of the time. There was also in the pre-Reformation age what Lucien Febvre once called “an intense appetite for the divine.”[6]

Because the character of the true church was a focal question of the time, much of the contemporary discussion included words like renovatio and reformatio. Such terms pointed to a solution in the renewal of genuine Christianity and especially in the rehabilitation of the apostolic church.[7] So towards that end, what kinds of proposals emerged during the decades leading up to the Luther affair?


One prominent and lingering vision of the apostolic church centered on the pope and the Curia Romana, the papal court. The essence of this view, commonly known as Curialism, was unmistakably expressed in a papal bull issued by Boniface VIII in 1302 titled Unam sanctum; that is, The One Holy (Church). In it, Boniface makes a comparison: in the same way that there was only one ark of safety, constructed under the leadership of only one man, so there is only one apostolic and universal church, safeguarded by a single power and presided over by only one leader. The conclusion of the document epitomizes the claims of Curialism: “We declare, state, define and pronounce that it is altogether necessary to salvation for every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff.”[8]

But the papal crises of the fourteenth and early-fifteenth centuries did much to undermine all such pronouncements. After the death of Boniface, the so-called Babylonia Captivity (1309-1377), during which the papacy was exiled in Avignon, was followed by the Great Western Schism (1378-1417), when the loyalty of the Church was divided between two and sometimes three different popes. In short, no sooner did Boniface insist on the Curialist vision than unfortunate events practically renounced it.[9] Still, papal claims to authority did not die.


Historians have given the name Conciliarism to a competing vision for the true church. Significantly, this alternative view, which asserted that ecumenical church councils were superior to papal authority, developed directly out of the crisis of Curialism. Its claim to authority grew from the conviction that in addition to Peter and his successors, the biblical witness also provides for the authority of councils, the first of these being the so-called “Jerusalem Council” recorded Acts chapter 15.

In response to the struggles over authority that had begun over a hundred years earlier, the Council of Constance (1414-1418) deposed all three of the current popes and elected Martin V as the new pope. It also provided for future ecumenical councils and, most tellingly, decreed that the decisions of these gatherings should serve as checks to papal authority. After all, in keeping with a phrase enshrined in canon law (“unless he deviates from the faith”), the decision of a pope was not above the judgment of the church. Conciliarism did not deny the authority of the pope. It did deny that his authority was absolute and unqualified. At any rate, although the Council of Constance succeeded in its goal to rescue the papacy, it failed to establish councils as an effective alternative to the model of absolute papal supremacy.[10]

Popular Heretics and Dissenters

In addition to Curialism and Conciliarism, the late medieval period saw the rise and lingering effects of any number of dissenters and heretics. The presence of these groups—Lollards, Hussites, Waldensians, and Spiritual Franciscans, to name a few—underscored the pressing desire and need for reform. Here, space provides for the discussion of only one prominent heresy.

Lollardy (sometimes spelled Lollardie) was the name given to an English heretical movement that began near the end of the fourteenth century. Its origins can be traced back to the teaching, the personal network and, above all, the writings of John Wyclif (c. 1324-1384). [11] In his early writings, Wyclif made a compelling argument for the disendowment of clerics who were not in grace but in mortal sin. In that state, he asserted, they had no divine right to position or power. This, of course, made him popular with the devout clergy who agreed with him. Most of all, it made him popular with the English Crown, eager to profit from prospective disendowments. Early on, Wyclif had a benefactor in John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. It was primarily Gaunt’s influence that led to his entry into royal service as a sort of schooled advocate who could help to undermine church privilege and the authority of the pope. During those years, Wyclif stayed busy writing and preaching.

On May 22, 1377, Pope Gregory XI issued five papal bulls condemning the views of Wyclif. Detained for a time at Oxford, he was soon released due to popular support there. By the late 1370s, however, Wyclif was doing more than simply attacking the abuses of the church. Most significantly, he dismissed the traditional understanding of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the doctrine of transubstantiation. Thus, in May of 1381, William Barton, chancellor of Oxford, presided over a committee that condemned such heresy, though without specifically naming Wyclif. Then, on June 13, 1381, Corpus Christi day, peasant rebels, angry over an attempt to freeze wages, came to the outskirts of London and entered the city.[12] During three days of mayhem, they killed Simon Sudbury, the Archbishop of Canterbury. In his De blasphemia, Wyclif mentioned the revolt. Although he never acknowledged even an indirect contribution to the catastrophe, at least some chroniclers of the day disagreed. They saw a connection between Wyclif's influence and popular sentiment. By then, Wyclif was no longer regarded as an interesting and useful radical, but more as a dangerous and loathsome heretic. He could no longer count on the critical support of some of the clergy and aristocracy, and by October 1381 he had retreated to his out-of-the-way parish in Lutterworth where he died at Mass on the last day of 1384. The period in which Wyclif wrote his more-popular works and led a public life had lasted hardly more than a decade. But he left behind many books and treatises, in English as well as in Latin, and not a few personal associates who were still at Oxford or who had since gone out from there, providing leadership for the group now known as the Lollards. Indirectly, this heresy was the source and inspiration for the later Hussite movement in Bohemia, which is where most of the surviving Wyclifite texts have been recovered.

Renaissance Humanism

One critical pre-condition to the rise of the Reformation was Humanism. Consistent with the goals of the Renaissance, Humanism was “the movement to recover, interpret and assimilate the language, literature, learning and values of ancient Greece and Rome.”[13] According to Charles Nauert, humanist culture began and grew from the time of Petrarch forward. As Nauert explains, it developed initially from a practical concern. In Italy, those who bore the responsibilities of civic leadership were searching for greater access to useful knowledge. In the Greek and Roman classics, they found what they believed was a superior wisdom, moral philosophy, and rhetorical theory.[14]

As most surveys relate, during the fifteenth century, humanism crossed the Alps and entered northern Europe. There, it took on a decidedly Christian form. In Italy, humanist scholars had searched for ancient wisdom, insight that could inform leaders amid changing economic times and political challenges. But north of the Alps, Christian Humanists sought ancient wisdom that was distinctively theological in content.[15] However, this distinction should not be taken too far. As R. N. Swanson points out, although Christian Humanism has been associated with the Renaissance once it had traversed the Alps, in fact virtually all Humanists, including those in Italy, were Christians. It is true, to take a prime example, that Lorenzo Valla used his skill in order to discredit the Donation of Constantine. Yet we should not conclude that Valla rejected Christianity. In fact, he “overtly accepted Christianity’s spiritual demands, producing a commentary on the Lord’s Prayer and asserting that philosophy and reason were insufficient tools for dealing with theology.”[16] And, according to the vision put forward by Marsilio Ficino around 1476, humans should achieve their potential by exercising individual will, thus becoming co-creators with God “in a re-ordering of the world, and in order to attain salvation after death.”[17]

There can be no doubt that Humanism was highly significant to every branch of the Reformation. Luther, for example, developed his views of Pauline theology while using a Greek New Testament edited by Erasmus, a signal achievement of the period. Zwingli and Calvin were likewise trained in humanistic studies before they emerged as reformers. A specific example of the connection can be identified in Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses. Decades earlier, Valla had shown that the Greek word metanoia did not mean “do penance,” but rather “repent.” That is, in its imperative form the word did not call for participation in the ritual of penance; instead, metanoia expected an about face, a change in heart that would lead to a change in life. According to this distinction, Luther identified a meaning, rooted in the original Greek text of the New Testament, that effectively undermined the sale of indulgences. It is no accident that the very first of Luther’s theses reads: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ [Matt. 4:17], he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” In this and in other ways, Renaissance Humanism served as part of the intellectual scaffolding that made the Reformation project a possibility.

The Printing Press and Movable Type

Any discussion of the Reformation must consider the invention of the printing press and the advent of movable type in the fifteenth century. In her ground-breaking 1979 work, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change, Elizabeth Eisenstein linked this invention to three movements that unfolded in early modern Europe: the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Scientific Revolution.[18] Eisenstein argued that complaints and protests like those issued by Luther were hardly new. Therefore, we should regard the novelty of the printing press and not the theology of the reformers as the critical difference. Luther himself seems to have acknowledged as much when he wrote that printing was “God’s highest and extremest act of grace, whereby the business of the Gospel is driven forward.”[19] For example, the Ninety-Five Theses were composed in October 1517. By December, just a few short weeks later, three separate editions were printed almost simultaneously by printers located in three separate towns.[20] Along this line, Margaret Aston remarked:

The theses . . . were said to be known throughout Germany in a fortnight and throughout Europe in a month . . . Printing was recognized as a new power and publicity came into its own. In doing for Luther what the copyists had done for Wycliffe, the printing presses transformed the field of communications and fathered an international revolt. It was a revolution.[21]

Due to the printing press, the Reformation world featured much greater access to and knowledge of the biblical text in its original languages than ever before.[22] This, combined with consumers’ appetites for printed works fed by the lucrative publishing business, means that even if Luther and Zwingli had never been born, something on the order of the Reformation we know would have occurred.

The Political and Religious Context of Germany

Coming into the sixteenth century, the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation was, in the words of Peter G. Wallace, “a fragmented federation with over 500 semi-autonomous jurisdictions that extended over northern Italy and much of Central Europe under the theoretical suzerainty of an elected Emperor.”[23] Among the entities claiming both autonomy and authority were seven electors, dozens of lay and ecclesiastical princes, more than sixty Imperial free cities, and hundreds of Imperial knights. Within this context, in 1514 Albert of Brandenburg, already the bishop of both Magdeburg and Halberstadt, became the new cardinal-bishop of Mainz. But in exchange for his position, Albert had made big promises to the papal Curia. Along with his pledge to pay the annates, the first year’s income from his benefice, Albert promised to contribute to construction of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. To finance these obligations, he incurred huge debts. This was the very reason why Johannes Tetzel, the now infamous seller of indulgences, was hawking his wares just beyond the boundaries of Saxony. Frederick the Wise, Luther’s prince and the founder of the University of Wittenberg, had not allowed Tetzel and others like him to enter his territory. When Saxons crossed the border to purchase indulgences, Luther became incensed and vehemently preached against all such dubious exchanges. This episode, inherent to the politics of the day, is precisely what triggered the Luther affair.[24]

To summarize then, the late-middle ages were characterized by calls for religious reform and by renewal movements. During the many decades leading up to the Reformation, the Catholic Church resisted calls to restore to Western Christendom the security and satisfaction that people desire from religion. The development of Renaissance Humanism, combined with the printing press and the advent of movable type, created the matrix out of which a long-awaited Reformation quickly grew.


[1] Bernd Moeller, Imperial Cities and the Reformation, trans. H. C. Erik Midelfort and Mark U. Edwards, Jr. (Durham, NC: Labyrinth Press, 1982), 13, as quoted by C. Scott Dixon, Contesting the Reformation (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), 1-2.

[2] Dixon, Contesting the Reformation, 3.

[3] The expression “Luther Affair” is a favorite of C. Scott Dixon’s. See his Contesting the Reformation (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), 3, 9, 14, 25, etc. Before Dixon, Peter G. Wallace used the term “Luther affair” in his work The Long European Reformation: Religion, Political Conflict, and the Search for Conformity, 1350-1750 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), 75-81.

[4] For the late medieval period as “An Age of Anxiety,” see Timothy George, Theology of the Reformers (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1988), 22-30.

[5] Roland H. Bainton provides a portrait of young Luther’s turmoil and desperation in Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1950) ch. 2, esp. page 31, where Bainton states that Anfechtung is a word “for which there is no English equivalent. It may be a trial sent by God to test man, or an assault by the Devil to destroy man. It is all doubt, turmoil, pang, tremor, panic despair, desolation, and desperation which invade the spirit of man.” A fuller description can be found in David P. Scaer, “The Concept of Anfectung in Luther’s Thought,” Concordia Theological Quarterly 41, no. 1 (January 1983): 15-30.

[6] Lucien Febvre’s expression is reported in George, Theology of the Reformers, 30, n. 23.

[7] The Latin term reformatio and its cognates were commonly used during the late medieval period to speak of reform impulses or movements in any number of different areas: the law, politics, and the academy, for example Thus, when Martin Luther and Huldrych Zwingli preached a message of reform, they were using language that was familiar. Yet, by the end of the sixteenth century the Reformation had come to mean, specifically, the well-known movement most closely associated with Luther. See Dixon, Contesting the Reformation, 8-9. John W. O’Malley relates that the idea of the need and even requirement of church reformation emerged as early as the eleventh century. As the two terms were used, reformatio meant “implementation of legal norms,” whereas renovatio referred to a much wider range of meaning. See O’Malley, Trent and All That: Renaming Catholicism in the Early Modern Era (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000), 16-20.

[8] George, Theology of the Reformers, 31-32. Carter Lindberg’s discussion of this episode implies that the strong assertion of Boniface VIII was a reaction to the growing strength of secular powers and the decline of the pope’s authority. See Lindberg, The European Reformations (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1996), 42-43.

[9] George, Theology of the Reformers, 33. On the people and events surrounding this chapter of church history, see also Patrick Collinson, The Reformation: A History (New York: Modern Library, 2006), 23-27.

[10] Fuller accounts are provided by, for example, George, Theology of the Reformers, 33-35; Lindberg, The European Reformations, 46-51; and Euan Cameron, The European Reformation (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), 49-51.

[11] Here I depend heavily upon Anne Hudson and Anthony Kenny, “Wyclif [Wycliffe], John,” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 60: 616-30.

[12] Norman F. Cantor, The English: A History of Politics and Society to 1760 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1967), 253-54.

[13] Peter Burke, “The Spread of Italian Humanism,” 2, as quoted in R. N. Swanson, Religion and Devotion in Europe, c. 1215—c. 1515 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 175.

[14] Charles G. Nauert, Jr., Humanism and the Culture of Renaissance Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 8-51.

[15] See, for example, Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks, Early Modern Europe, 1450-1789, 2nd ed. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 138-43; C. Leonard Allen and Richard T. Hughes, Discovering Our Roots: The Ancestry of Churches of Christ (Abilene, TX: ACU Press, 1988), 15.

[16] Swanson, Religion and Devotion in Europe, 176.

[17] Ibid., 176-77.

[18] Here, I will refer not to the Eisenstein’s massive original work of 1979, but to the late edition of her abridgment: Elizabeth L. Eisenstein, The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe, 2nd ed. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005).

[19] Eisenstein, The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe, 165. For this quote, Eisenstein credits M. H. Black, “The Printed Bible,” in Cambridge History of the Bible, ed. S. L. Greenslade (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1963), 3:432.

[20] Eisenstein, The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe, 169.

[21] Ibid., 171. Here, Elizabeth Eisenstein cites Margaret Aston, The Fifteenth Century: The Prospect of Europe (London: Thames & Hudson, 1968), 76.

[22] Eisenstein, The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe, 179.

[23] Wallace, The Long European Reformation, 77.

[24] Wallace, The Long European Reformation, 75-77. See also Richard L. DeMolen, “The Age of Renaissance and Reformation,” in The Meaning of the Renaissance and Reformation, ed. Richard L. DeMolen (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974), 1-25.

Works Cited

Bainton, Roland H. Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther. Nashville: Abingdon, 1950.

Cameron, Euan. The European Reformation. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991.

Cantor, Norman. The English: A History of Politics and Society to 1760. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1967.

Collinson, Patrick. The Reformation: A History. New York: Modern Library, 2006.

Dixon, C. Scott. Contesting the Reformation. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.

George, Timothy. Theology of the Reformers. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1988.

Eisenstein, Elizabeth L. The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe. 2nd ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Hudson, Anne. The Premature Reformation: Wycliffite Texts and Lollard History. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

Hudson, Anne, and Anthony Kenny, “Wyclif [Wycliffe], John,” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison, 60: 616-30. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Lindberg, Carter. The European Reformations. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1996.

Nauert, Charles G., Jr. Humanism and the Culture of Renaissance Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

O’Malley, John W. Trent And All That: Renaming Catholicism in the Early Modern Era. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000.

Scaer, David P. “The Concept of Anfectung in Luther’s Thought,” Concordia Theological Quarterly 41, no. 1 (January 1983): 15-30.

Swanson, R. N. Religion and Devotion in Europe, c. 1215—c. 1515. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Wallace, Peter G. The Long European Reformation: Religion, Political Conflict, and the Search for Conformity, 1350-1750. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

Wiesner-Hanks, Merry E. Early Modern Europe, 1450-1789. 2nd ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013.