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Title: Village and State in the Central European Churchbook, 1548-1945
Authors: Theiss, William August
Advisors: Grafton, Anthony
Contributors: History Department
Keywords: Collective memory
Manuscript culture
State formation
Subjects: European history
German literature
Religious history
Issue Date: 2023
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: This dissertation tells the story of the transformation of churchbooks (Kirchenbücher) from sacred objects to state archives across the transition from early modern to modern central Europe. Under the slogan of Luke 10:20, “Rejoice that your names are written in heaven,” Reformation and Counter-Reformation pastors began to store the names of baptized, married, and dead souls in manuscript books kept in wooden chests in sacristies across the Holy Roman Empire. They also filled the manuscripts with multi-generational literary experiments to represent local community and local crisis in verse and prose. The dissertation is a history of a scribal and literary tradition, commensurate with the early modern period, that has been hidden from view by the inaccessibility of its archives. In the eighteenth century, meanwhile, the states of Prussia, Saxony, and Austria—each a part of the Holy Roman Empire, and each a rival of the others—discovered the churchbook as a tool of governance. In its second part, the dissertation argues that such basic practices of early modern statecraft as counting subjects (Prussia) and raising an army (Bohemia) were nothing other than forms of manuscript collection and collation. Drawing on secondary archives in Prague, Dresden, Bamberg, and Berlin, it shows how nascent bureaucracies intervened in the sacred books, turning the blank page into a standardized grid, names into numbers, and the pastor into the state’s local lieutenant. Part three studies both the literary and bureaucratic fates of the churchbook after these were cleaved from each other around 1800. On the one hand, writers in nineteenth-century Germany lamented the demise of the baroque, narrative churchbook, and they experimented with the historical novel, the village-novel, and the chronicle-novel as ways of revivifying a lost form. On the other hand, National Socialism’s requirement that subjects produce written evidence of their racial purity triggered a mobilization of churchbooks of staggering scale and consequence across Nazi Europe. The final chapter, a history of archival photography in the Third Reich, demonstrates accordingly that the centralization of sacred manuscripts persisted as a form of state formation through the twentieth century.
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:History

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