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Going viral, 16th century style: Luther, the Protestant Reformation, and the printed word

Posted in Announcements, Exhibitions, Special Collections
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A Booke of Christian Prayers, 1590. First published in 1578, this English prayer book was intended for personal devotional use. The book is lavishly illustrated, taking cues from French books of hours, Catholic prayer books popular in the 15th century. In contrast to a book of hours, which featured images of the Virgin Mary, this Protestant prayer book gives a place of honor to Queen Elizabeth I, here depicted on the verso of the title page. Included in the book are prayers to be said for the Queen.

Whether or not Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle church in October 1517 is up for debate. However, the publications Luther produced for lay audiences in later years contributed to a “pamphlet explosion” that spread his message far and wide. The process of printing, a relatively new technological advancement, helped his message go “viral” – 16th century style.

The spread of Reformation ideas, and their far-reaching effects in the spheres of religion, politics, scholarship, education, and culture, would not have been possible without the existence of the technological innovation of printing with moveable type, introduced in Europe in the middle of the 15th century. The history of the Protestant Reformation and its legacy is thus inextricably linked to the history of printing and publishing in the Western world.

LSU Libraries Special Collections marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation with an exhibition featuring an array of books from the Rare Book Collection. Selected works reveal the printed word used both as tool and weapon—to instruct, to inform, to persuade, as well as to refute and attack – concepts we are quite familiar with in the age of social media.

“The Reformation at 500: A Reflection in Rare Books” runs from October 2 – December 21, 2017 in the lecture hall in Hill Memorial Library. The exhibition is free and open to the public.

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