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IRH Lecture: Amy Nelson Burnett “What Happened to German Humanism? Erasmus and the Religious Republic of Letters”

October 12, 2020 @ 3:30 pm - 5:00 pm

Amy Nelson Burnett, Solmsen Fellow (2020–2021), Paula and D.B. Varner University Professor of History, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

[Due to COVID-19, this event has been moved to a digital conferencing platform. For more information about participation, contact IRH at info@irh.wisc.edu.]

Humanism took root in the German-speaking lands a generation earlier than elsewhere north of the Alps, and it reached a high point in the first decades of the sixteenth century with figures such as Johannes Reuchlin, Willibald Pirckheimer, and especially Erasmus of Rotterdam. Traditional accounts of German humanism contrast these humanists with the Protestant reformers, and they present humanism as both side-lined by the religious controversies of the Reformation and instrumentalized by Protestant and Catholic reformers. My examination of humanist and reformers’ correspondence from the first half of the sixteenth century challenges this narrative. The letters of Swiss and South German reformers demonstrate that Erasmus was as important as Luther in shaping their agendas for religious and educational reform. These men were Erasmus’ heirs, and their correspondence network played a key transitional role between the literary republic of letters (res publica litteraria) of the fifteenth century Italian humanists and the commonwealth of learning (Gelehrtenrepublik) that developed in Germany in the later sixteenth century.

Amy Nelson Burnett is Paula and D.B. Varner University Professor of History at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she teaches early modern European history. Her research focuses on the dissemination of the Reformation in south Germany and Switzerland through print, preaching, and educational reform. Her most recent book, Debating the Sacraments: Print and Authority in the Early Reformation (2019) completes a study begun with Karlstadt and the Origins of the Eucharistic Controversy: A Study in the Circulation of Ideas (2011). The two books offer a detailed analysis of how authors, editors, translators, and printers shaped public debate in the early Reformation. Burnett is also the author of Teaching the Reformation: Ministers and their Message in Basel (2006), which won the Gerald Strauss Prize of the Sixteenth Century Society and Conference, and co-editor of A Companion to the Swiss Reformation (2016). She has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, the American Philosophical Society, and the Fulbright Scholar Program.