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'The Nuns’ Network': Funding Success for Medieval German Project

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Luene-Briefbuch15 350px.jpg

Klosterarchiv Lüne, Hs 15
Klosterarchiv Lüne, Hs 15, the first of three volumes, containing letters from ca. 1483 to 1535, was bound into a parchment cover made from a discarded folio manuscript

Henrike Lähnemann (Chair in Medieval German, Oxford, and Fellow of St Edmund Hall) and Eva Schlotheuber (Chair in Medieval History, Düsseldorf) have been granted a three-year fully funded project by the Gerda-Henkel-Stiftung to edit one of the most extensive and significant collections of medieval letters. The ‘Nuns’ Network’ will give open access to the correspondence of the Benedictine nuns of Lüne between ca. 1460 and 1555.

The colourful corpus, comprising nearly 1800 letters written in Latin, Low German and a characteristic mix of both languages, is a unique testimony of female writing in the Middle Ages. The edition brings to light a forgotten culture of late medieval letter-writing. The nuns formed a network of religious, social and economic alliance through the whole Hanseatic region in their correspondence with important political and religious powers of their time and in the 'intranet' of the daily exchange with the neighbouring convents on the Lüneburg Heath. The correspondence also provides insight into the women’s specific communicative needs which incorporated both daily business and spiritual aspiration – and how they reacted to and engaged with the Lutheran Reformation which was energetically proposed by the Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg and equally vehemently opposed by the nuns.

The project brings together a British-German working group in an interdisciplinary approach to allow a comprehensive insight into the communicative and rhetorical strategies and the knowledge exchange which created the nuns’ networks. One of the two Research Assistants will be Edmund Wareham (Jesus College), currently finishing his DPhil on another late-medieval German convent, the nuns of Günterstal. The digital framework for the edition will be hosted by the Herzog August Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel, built on the open access edition of the letters by Andreas Karlstadt which was developed by Jennifer Bunselmeier (St Edmund Hall). One of the most exciting features of the project will be to work closely together with the successors of the letter writings, the female Protestant community living in Kloster Lüne. (Watch a video-clip of an interview with the abbess of Lüne, Baroness Reinhild von der Goltz, here.) It complements the Knowledge Exchange funded project ‘Recording the Reformation’ which will see a group from Oxford travel to Kloster Lüne next July. Thus the nuns’ network, spanning across a seminal century of late medieval reform and reformation, will widen its cast to also link 21st century German and British scholarship and public.

The project will start in February 2016 with a two-day workshop at St Edmund Hall, with the whole binational team and also invitations to representatives of the Klosterkammer (the monastic chamber of the Lüneburg convents) and the Herzog August Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel.