Thomas Jefferson once wrote to John Adams that, “I cannot live without books.” The origins of cultures can often be traced back to literature, and it is no different for German.
This was evident throughout Alexander Ames’ presentation on, “The Word in the Wilderness: German Spiritual Manuscripts and Pennsylvania’s Place in American Religious History.”
He displayed the role of German literature and manuscripts in the story of American education, concluding the 42nd year of the History Workshop.
As a graduating Ph.D. student, Ames showcased his dissertation called, “The Letter and the Spirit: Calligraphy, Manuscripts, and Popular Piety in German Pennsylvania, 1683 – 1855.”
Throughout the lecture he demonstrated a wide range of knowledge of early American culture, discussing how the multitude of texts like hymns and penmanship lessons were often used by students. Families would pass down traditions that would come to influence “early American intellectual history.”
Many believed that he would have to travel far and wide to discover such materials as manuscripts and German calligraphy, but he said a “vast majority of source material comes within two hours of Newark.”
Some may see such a topic as dull, when in reality it has many lessons that translate today.
“It definitely makes one think of, if and how historical texts will be accessible to Americans,” Ames said.
The graduate student audience combined with many professors allowed for the academic discussion of how material culture correlates to the intellectual debate between theories versus beliefs that eternalize actions throughout our society.
Such a discussion has deep roots for the History Workshop. The series began with the slogan of “Science, Society, and Sandwiches,” by emeritus professor George Basalla and Paul Durbin, a philosopher of science and technology.
When the sandwiches left, the talks stayed, retitled as the “Hot Lunch,” called the History of Technology/Science. In the early nineties, it was renamed as the “History Workshop” by History Professor David Shearer.
The talks are formulated by a “team of graduate students and they pick the speakers.” This has evolved to a tradition “starting the semester with a professor talking, ending the semester with a graduate student.”
This allows for a multitude of different speakers from all sorts of disciplines in order to have “people in this department are interested in.” As History Department Chair Arwen Mohun mentioned, this allows even for “people that are traveling through,” but she also said with a laugh, “we try not to buy them a plane ticket.”
“Delaware is a wonderful place to do this sort of work,” Ames said.