BrillOnline Primary Sources. Leiden: Brill, 2016. $39.95 One-Day Full Access. <http://primarysources.brillonline.com/browse/sixteenth-century-pamphlets-online>
The ever-expanding universe of historical records available online brings great opportunities and new challenges. As Lara Putnam’s 2016 article “The Transnational and the Text-Searchable: Digitized Sources and the Shadows They Cast” (American Historical Review 121, no. 2: 377–402) exemplifies, the growing use of digitized sources raises questions about long-established practices within disciplines regarding access to and use of sources. Besides the task of figuring out how new research practices relate to conventional norms, navigating the constantly changing digital realm itself can be daunting. Notwithstanding these challenges, digitization appears at the moment to be the way of the future. The publishing company Brill has made a noteworthy contribution to the proliferation of online sources with its robust group of collections available through BrillOnline (brillonline.com). Among these is the Sixteenth Century Pamphlets Online / Flugschriften Online, an impressive storehouse of roughly 11,100 pamphlets in German and Latin from the lands of the Holy Roman Empire in the sixteenth century.
Early modern printed pamphlets, or Flugschriften in German, have attracted the attention of scholars interested in a range of topics. The widely distributed pamphlets are an important part of the history of early print. The form of the pamphlet itself still generates debate about what these documents and other similarly accessible forms of print such as broadsheets can reveal about the societies in which they were produced and consumed. Besides the significance of the medium of the pamphlet, the topics addressed in early modern pamphlets also make them relevant for scholars of many different subjects.
This collection of pamphlets has been gathered from holdings across Europe over several decades and provides a broad example of what this source base has to offer. The 11,120 texts currently comprising the collection are strictly limited to the sixteenth century. In terms of quantity, the collection is particularly rich in the years of the early Reformation. The years from 1500 to 1517, while featuring a notable group of texts from Johannes Pfefferkorn (1469–c.1523), only contain approximately 130 texts; the following decade has roughly 2,500 texts. Another 2,500 texts lack a precise date. The other roughly six thousand pamphlets are rather evenly spaced between the decades from 1530 until the end of the century. Martin Luther (1483–1546) is cited as the author of over three hundred documents in the collection and a search for the term “Luther” brings up almost two thousand results. Most of Luther’s own works are in German and many are sermons. There are also letters as well as some of his most notable works including the texts “To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation” and “On the Freedom of a Christian.”
The collection also holds many pamphlets not exclusively related to the Reformation. For anyone interested in “transnational” history or long-distance information networks, this collection has much to offer. A perusal through news reports printed under the heading of “Neue Zeitung” alone revealed mention of Turkey, France, Spain, Denmark, Sweden, Poland, Bohemia, the Netherlands, Italy, India, England, and Africa. These sources offer contemporary accounts of the perceived threat from the Ottoman Empire, various European conflicts, and interactions beyond the confines of Europe. Natural anomalies close to home, abroad, or in the heavens—often perceived as portents or signs—also receive discussion in these documents. These pamphlets give a revealing first-hand glimpse of how the natural world was observed and interpreted in the sixteenth century.
For those interested specifically in the Society of Jesus and its history, this collection prominently features a body of polemical texts written by and against Jesuits. Theological disputes between Jesuit Georg Scherer (1540–1605) and Lucas Osiander (1534–1604) can be found in German, as well as other works by Scherer. The collection also holds many works in Latin from the Spanish Jesuit Gregorio de Valencia (1549–1603) who was a member of the Jesuit college of Ingolstadt in the last decades of the sixteenth century. Altogether, the pamphlets referencing Jesuits provide detail about the public space that the early Jesuits inhabited in German lands. These documents not only reflect Jesuit involvement in Austria or Ingolstadt where Scherer and Gregory were based, but show an even broader Jesuit presence across German lands in the world of print that linked these locations to Tübingen and the cities of other Protestant polemicists. Seeing full images of the pamphlets that physically circulated in that world brings it to life.
Overall, the collection is convenient to use and navigate. The documents are easy to download and save on one’s own device. The scans are very clear. Searching within the collection can be a bit tricky. In the Advanced Search feature one should be sure to select the Sixteenth Century Pamphlets Online / Flugschriften Online in order to limit the results to this collection. However, in-text searches are not available—the search feature will only take the user as far as the scanned document. Also, precise spellings of names and terms can be important, such as “Canisii” and not “Canisius” for Peter Canisius (1521–97). Search filters by date, place, and language are very useful features for navigating search results. For anyone who does not already have access to the collection, the search feature is available without a subscription. One can view the title, date, and author of each individual pamphlet before deciding to pay for access to the collection.
In the new, increasingly digitized world of primary sources, collections such as this one are essential stops for scholars in their research. BrillOnline is not the only place on the web to access sixteenth-century German pamphlets. Other institutions, including some of the ones which house the physical items found in this collection, offer their own scans of materials online. Still, this extensive collection is likely to unearth materials that knowledgeable scholars will recognize as new. The collection would also be a good starting point for a new project utilizing these types of sources. Finally, it might be of interest to anyone working on the sixteenth century to visit BrillOnline and, if nothing else, search for a relevant term in this collection and see what comes to your screen.