Paper Memory tells the story of one man’s mission to preserve for posterity the memory of everyday life in sixteenth-century Germany. Matthew Lundin takes us inside the mind of an undistinguished German burgher named Hermann Weinsberg, whose personal writings allow us to witness firsthand the great transformations of early modernity: the crisis of the Reformation, the rise of an urban middle class, and the information explosion of the print revolution. This sensitive, faithful portrait reveals a man who sought to make sense of the changes that were unsettling the foundations of his world.
Weinsberg’s decision to undertake the monumental task of documenting his life was astonishing, since he was neither prince nor bishop, but a Catholic lawyer from Cologne with no special claim to fame or fortune. Although he knew that his contemporaries would consider his work vain and foolish, he dutifully recorded the details of his existence, from descriptions of favorite meals to catalogs of his sleeping habits, from the gossip of quarreling neighbors to confessions of his private hopes, fears, and beliefs. More than fifty years—and thousands of pages—later, Weinsberg conferred his Gedenkbuch, or Memory Book, to his descendants, charging them to ensure its safekeeping, for without his careful chronicle, “it would be as if we had never been.”
Desperate to save his past from oblivion, Weinsberg hoped to write himself into the historical record. Paper Memory rescues this not-so-ordinary man from obscurity, as Lundin’s perceptive and graceful prose recovers his extraordinary story.
A vivid and engaging account of the daily life of a burgher from sixteenth-century Cologne. Lundin deftly analyzes Weinsberg's unique writings in order to capture his personal response to the broad cultural developments of his time and place, from the rise of humanism to the religious violence that accompanied the splintering of Christianity. Paper Memory demonstrates the impact of major historical movements on individual experience. This is scholarship of the highest caliber.
Lundin's account of Weinsberg's life is rich, nuanced, and original. He pulls apart the inconsistencies and contradictions in Weinsberg's voluminous private writings in order to reveal one man's attempt to engage with and overcome the insecurities of urban life in a time of social, economic, cultural, and religious turmoil. It is rare that a book allows us to come so close to the emotions and motivations of a sixteenth-century burgher. Paper Memory will appeal to historians, literary scholars, and anyone interested in the social, cultural, and religious history of early modern Europe.
Twentieth-century denizens caught up in their e-culture world can sympathize with Weinsberg's virtues--his love of family, toleration, humility, self-confession, even his desire to live on after death--as he sought to make sense of a new identity in a changing world.
- 352 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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