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Crime and Culture in Early Modern Germany

Crime and Culture in Early Modern Germany

Joy Wiltenburg
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Crime and Culture in Early Modern Germany
    Book Description:

    With the growth of printing in early modern Germany, crime quickly became a subject of wide public discourse. Sensational crime reports, often featuring multiple murders within families, proliferated as authors probed horrific events for religious meaning. Coinciding with heightened witch panics and economic crisis, the spike in crime fears revealed a continuum between fears of the occult and more mundane dangers.

    In Crime and Culture in Early Modern Germany,Joy Wiltenburg explores the beginnings of crime sensationalism from the early sixteenth century into the seventeenth century and beyond. Comparing the depictions of crime in popular publications with those in archival records, legal discourse, and imaginative literature, Wiltenburg highlights key social anxieties and analyzes how crime texts worked to shape public perceptions and mentalities. Reports regularly featured familial destruction, flawed economic relations, and the apocalyptic thinking of Protestant clergy. Wiltenburg examines how such literature expressed and shaped cultural attitudes while at the same time reinforcing governmental authority. She also shows how the emotional inflections of crime stories influenced the growth of early modern public discourse, so often conceived in terms of rational exchange of ideas.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3303-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-20)

    This book, like all works of history, is born of engagement with both the past and the present. It was initially conceived in the 1990s, when crime in the United States gained prominence as both a social problem and a political tool. From the famous “Willie Horton” ad of the 1988 presidential campaign to the burgeoning “three strikes” laws mandating longer sentences, the assertion of “toughness” against crime powerfully supported conservative political agendas. Fears of crime shaped the social landscape as well: raising a family in urban Philadelphia, I saw many choose the “safer” suburbs. Although crime is obviously real,...

  6. 1 Crime and Society: Patterns in Deed and Word
    (pp. 21-41)

    The topical crime accounts that flowed from early presses were not fiction. Although some sloppily borrowed language from accounts of similar crimes elsewhere, very few seem to have been wholly invented. Even accounts of imaginary crimes, such as witchcraft and the ritual murder of Christian children by Jews, were normally based on real cases. Nevertheless, like modern true news accounts, they both mirrored and altered the picture of actual crime and its relationship to social surroundings. Partly by selection and partly by their modes of representation, they reshaped events to reflect cultural conceptions. This process did not necessarily require conscious...

  7. 2 Law and the Rational Hero
    (pp. 42-64)

    In 1532, Emperor Charles V issued a new penal code for the Holy Roman Empire. The document, known to history as the Carolina, encapsulates the modern approach to criminal justice that increasingly gained ground in the sixteenth century. This was a matter of practice, system, and rationality, but it was also a matter of culture and communication. If popular printing often tended to emphasize the horrific aspects of crime, official discourses tended to adopt the language of reason. The elements of display and persuasion in appeals to the emotions are obvious, from the execution spectacle to the grisly broadside. But...

  8. 3 Crime into Text
    (pp. 65-87)

    The sixteenth century saw huge expansion in the narration of crime. While the law code laid out the ideal procedures for specific offenses, and some authors reflected on crime in fiction, there was an even greater surge in the recounting of real-life crime. Part of this surge stemmed from the same set of legal developments as the Carolina itself: rational modern procedure required written, verifiable records, especially for the review by legal experts so dear to the Carolina’s framers. The growing caseload of early modern criminal justice filled prodigious amounts of paper. Legal documents, of course, had a limited circulation,...

  9. 4 Crime and Christianity
    (pp. 88-110)

    The authors and audience of cheap popular literature are usually difficult to trace. In the case of crime reports, however, one group’s activity stands out in both production and reception. Protestant clergy were prominent among the few authors who signed their names to early crime accounts. On the receiving end, the most avid sixteenth-century collector of such reports was a cleric of the Reformed persuasion, Johann Jakob Wick of Zurich. Why were these religious professionals interested in crime? How did religious inflection affect the messages conveyed to large audiences in print? While some religious elements derived from structural connections between...

  10. 5 Family Murders
    (pp. 111-135)

    A young man, about to end his life on the gallows, begs first that he might kiss his father one last time. As the old man leans forward for the kiss, the son instead bites off his nose. “If you had disciplined me in my youth, I would not have come to shame,” he says. This story, from Johannes Pauli’s hugely popular collectionSchimpf und Ernst(Fun and Earnest), was labeled a joke (Schimpf), but one with a moral point. It gained wide currency and appeared in many different versions. Although far from the world of actual crime and punishment, the...

  11. 6 Training the Imagination: Crime and the Inner Life
    (pp. 136-162)

    Early modern people were very aware of the imagination and its uses. In a recent article on the imagination and witchcraft, Lyndal Roper quotes a definition from that infamous yet influential witch hunting manual, theMalleus Maleficarum: “Fancy or imagination is as it were the treasury of ideas received through the senses. And through this it happens that devils so stir up the inner perceptions, that is the power of conserving images, that they appear to be a new impression at that moment received from exterior things.”¹ Traditionally seen as a part of the soul distinct from the intellect, the...

  12. 7 Staging the Lamentable Theater: Crime, Reason, and Emotion in the Seventeenth Century
    (pp. 163-184)

    For the great sixteenth-century collector Johann Wick, hei nous crimes were imbued with larger meaning. Pamphlets and broadsides on the latest and most terrible murders were not trivial but helped to create a significant historical and moral record. When he died in 1588, no one carried on his work of collecting, although crimes continued and their narratives continued to appear in print. Some sixty years later, another stupendous crime collector emerged on the scene, when Georg Philipp Harsdörffer published hisGrand Theater of Lamentable Murders. Both men found meaning in murders and both searched for truth, but the differences between...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 185-192)

    Early modern discourses of crime do not have a simple, linear history. Instead, their development evokes a web, or even an ocean of shifting layers and currents. I have long enjoyed William Hesseltine’s comment that “writing intellectual history is like trying to nail jelly to the wall”—although I suspect that it was meant disparagingly. Certainly it applies to cultural history as well. It is difficult to tease out meanings and relationships, and almost impossible to do so without mixing metaphors. But it is well worth the effort—even if our fingers do get a little sticky.

    Early modern criminal...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 193-224)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 225-260)
  16. Index
    (pp. 261-268)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 269-270)