This blog takes you behind the scenes of the writing of an academic history book – like a ‘making of’ featurette. Its aim is to make visible the traditionally invisible process of what it’s like for a university academic in the Humanities to write a research monograph, i.e. a single-authored 100,00 word book.

I’m a History Fellow at Somerville College, Oxford, and the book I’m writing has a working title of The Elusive Church: Luther, Poland and the Early Reformation. This project is supported by a British Academy Mid Career Fellowship (2012-13).

On these pages, you'll find a regular 'log' of how the book is progressing, plus information about the project. I welcome your comments and thoughts - whether you're studying or teaching history at school or university, or writing non-fiction yourself...

Friday, 1 June 2012

Chasing Johann Böschenstein

The mysterious Johann Böschenstein
Rijksmuseum Collections
[November 2011] 

Chapter 1 is superficially (and superficially only) the simplest chapter in the book – a full narrative/account of Reformation events in Poland from 1517 to c.1535. The last person to attempt such a thing did so in 1910-11.

This chapter is going to be one of the hardest to write, because one of the fiddliest things to do as a historian is establish what happened – or to set out the evidence which indicates what might have happened. I get a full 10 lines into drafting my Chapter One narrative when I hit the first snag. On my desk, I’ve spread my notes from a range of Polish and German Reformation books and articles – the Polish ones brightly state that in 1520 the Ingolstadt Professor of Hebrew Johann Böschenstein came to Danzig (in the Polish Crown lands) to preach Lutheranism. The Polish books give no references. The German books don’t mention this event at all. A quick internet trawl shows that Böschenstein was quite a big fish, an important humanist, but the on-line German Dictionary of National Biography entry on him doesn’t mention any trips to Prussia. An on-line copy of a 19C Prussian history by the Prussian scholar Voigt does refer to this visit, but again, exasperatingly, gives no reference. In the afternoon, increasingly vexed, I trudge to the Bodleian, to consult Simon Grunau’s very detailed chronicle of the Reformation in Prussia (c.1529) – Grunau does mention Böschenstein, but has him preaching Lutheranism in Thorn in 1524  - different date, different place. A footnote added to this text by a 19C German editor says: this is the same Böschenstein who preached Lutheranism in Danzig in 1520. I want to shout out in the Upper Reading Reading: how do you know? This is the kind of puzzling and highly time-consuming merry-go-round which, in a monograph, gets reduced to sheepish footnote reading something like this: ‘According to some reports, those preaching Lutheranism in Danzig in 1520 included the humanist Johann Böschenstein.’

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