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Crime and Culture in Early Modern Germany

Joy Wiltenburg

BUY Cloth · 280 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813933023 · $49.50 · Jan 2013
BUY Ebook · 280 pp. · ISBN 9780813933030 · $49.50 · Jan 2013

With the growth of printing in early modern Germany, crime quickly became a subject of wide public discourse. Sensational crime reports, often featuring multiple murders within families, proliferated as authors probed horrific events for religious meaning. Coinciding with heightened witch panics and economic crisis, the spike in crime fears revealed a continuum between fears of the occult and more mundane dangers.

In Crime and Culture in Early Modern Germany, Joy Wiltenburg explores the beginnings of crime sensationalism from the early sixteenth century into the seventeenth century and beyond. Comparing the depictions of crime in popular publications with those in archival records, legal discourse, and imaginative literature, Wiltenburg highlights key social anxieties and analyzes how crime texts worked to shape public perceptions and mentalities. Reports regularly featured familial destruction, flawed economic relations, and the apocalyptic thinking of Protestant clergy. Wiltenburg examines how such literature expressed and shaped cultural attitudes while at the same time reinforcing governmental authority. She also shows how the emotional inflections of crime stories influenced the growth of early modern public discourse, so often conceived in terms of rational exchange of ideas.


No work to date has made such a close and persuasive cultural analysis of popular German crime literature. Wiltenburg masterfully balances meticulous attention to the texts themselves with impressive insights into the thinking of authors and readers alike. Her style is consistently fluent and her translations outstanding.

Joel F. Harrington, Vanderbilt University

[W]hat Wiltenburg has achieved here is to offer a subtle reading of crime stories as they reveal the central concerns, anxieties, and fears of a society in transition but one also possessing a new way of dealing with reality: print. It is an exhilarating view and reminds us once more how indebted historians are to a criminal past.

Renaissance Quarterly

This is a highly readable book. Wiltenburg writes in an engaging style and is a deft hand at translating German rhymes... This book is sure to be of interest to students and scholars working on not only crime and culture, but also those interested in popular literature, society and morality in early modern Europe more widely, as well as those interested in the burgeoning field of the history of emotions.

Criminal Law and Criminal Justice Books

About the Author(s): 

Joy Wiltenburg, Professor of History at Rowan University, is the author of Women in Early Modern Germany: An Anthology of Popular Texts and Disorderly Women and Female Power in the Street Literature of Early Modern England and Germany (Virginia).

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