Last updated: January 2023
A mainstream assumption in Mennonite studies since the early 20th century (maybe the 1880s, more accurately) is that early modern Mennonite history (i.e., Mennonite history before 1800 or even 1900) was shaped primarily by German culture and German-language sources. This assumption is problematic because it is built on an empirically questionable foundation. In other words, the sources and evidence for this assumption are weak.
The essay for which I prepared this research — “The Year 1625, the Dutch Republic, and Book Production: Perspectives for Reframing Studies of Mennonites and Early Modernity” — has now been printed in three languages. You can find the details by clicking the links for the German, Dutch, and English versions.
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Here is how the graph looks in the English version published in the Mennonite Quarterly Review (Jan. 2023):
The chart gives a view of trends in European “Anabaptist” (adult baptizing or baptism-minded) book production from 1521-1700, with results organized by the language of publication (simplified to include only German and Dutch results). The pre-publication version of that chart is below. NOTE: The exact numbers are not the most important details here. The trend-lines are what matter. Everything discussed in the essay refers to early modern evidence and trends.
We know that most printed and published early modern books by adult baptizers were written in Dutch, thanks to two bibliographies. In 1962 Hans Hillerbrand, with the help of Nelson P. Springer and many others, published A Bibliography of Anabaptism, 1520-1630; and in 1977 N.P. Springer and A.J. Klassen, again with the help of a bigger research team, published the Mennonite Bibliography, 1631-1961. Each of these bibliographies provides scholars with data from continental Europe and beyond. A Bibliography of Anabaptism was focused only on Europe, with a focus on north-western Europe; the Mennonite Bibliography was an ambitious attempt to gather primary and secondary literature from around the world. The collections are not without their gaps and blind spots, but from them we can get a reasonable sense of adult baptizing book production in Europe from the early Reformation until at least the early Enlightenment.
FYI: “Täufer” is the German word that often gets translated into English as “Anabaptist” (in English I prefer to write about adult baptizers, for reasons that I explain in the Mennonite Quarterly Review article). Here is an earlier version of the chart, with numbers:
I have focused on Dutch and German books. Books in other languages are not as common or as significant (the distinction between “common” and “significant” requires some discussion, particularly with regard to books in English, since we can now say, thanks to the research of Gary Waite and Ace Gammon-Burnett, that these books were common in English in the early modern era; proper comparative evaluations are difficult at this time). I should also emphasize that the numbers are meant to show an overall trend over many decades; they are NOT meant to be final or definitive numbers. More on these issues of language choices and numbers below.
Readers should also note: The chart above is a composite of three* separate charts. The methodology for counting and combining the three charts requires lots of explanation.
One further note for early in this post: These data could be updated by more recent bibliographies. For example, there are
- Piet Visser, ed., Bibliographia Sociniana: A Bibliographical Reference Tool for the Study of Dutch Socinianism and Antitrinitarianism, compiled by Philip Knijff and Sibbe Jan Visser (Hilversum: Uitgeverij Verloren, 2004);
- the many volumes of the series Bibliotheca Dissidentium (https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bibliotheca_dissidentium); and
- Heinold Fast, “Bibliography of Anabaptist Materials (16th Century),” Mennonite Quarterly Review, https://www.goshen.edu/mqr/bibliography-anabaptist-materials/.
There are a few reasons for avoiding counting the titles in the volumes above:
- The two bibliographies on which I focus (Bibliography of Anabaptism and Mennonite Bibliography) provide a sustained and focused collection of titles, and they were published by teams of scholars who worked with a late-twentienth-century scholarly consensus about the definition of “Anabaptist studies”.
- Adding further titles from additional bibliographies would require much explanation, analysis, and qualification.
- Additions might also result in the counting of one title more than once (already a possible problem with my count, but a problem that becomes much greater).
- Additions from other collections with different criteria of subject definition and title selection threaten to open up the project to nearly unending expansion, since “Anabaptist studies” has no absolutely fixed definition.
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This section is focused on my initial analysis of A Bibliography of Anabaptism, 1520-1630 (the first edition of 1962).
To evaluate the contents of the two bibliographies I have counted books from relevant parts of each collection, taking care to note in which language each book was written. When selecting which portions of each bibliography to count, I had to make several choices. For my analysis of A Bibliography of Anabaptism, 1520-1630 I chose initially to only count the number of books written by adult baptizers, not their opponents which are recorded in a separate subsection. The books are not organized by region, only by subject. I also only counted sources published between 1521 and 1630 (not later editions) that are recorded in three subsections of the Bibliography (“Writings by Anabaptists”, “Hymnology”, and “Martyrology”), and I tried to avoid counting duplicate editions from the same year (I have also applied this principle to the counting of data from the 1977 bibliography).
The resulting graph is here: Note that this graph above does not include data from the sections on individual adult baptizers from the earlier pages of the Bibliography. A reason for this exclusion is that much of these entries consist of literature after 1630 about these individuals.
There is also a separate section entitled “Contemporary Writings Against Anabaptists”. While I initially excluded these data, I decide in the end to count them, because it becomes increasing difficult with the decades to separate polemical books from books by adult baptizers. Another way of saying this is that Mennonites were among those who wrote against Mennonites. Here’s the resulting graph:
A BIG caveat to the data above: I have used the 1962 version of Hillerbrand. There is a new edition of this bibliography from 1991. There are two reasons for preferring the first edition to the second edition for my project:
- The Hillerbrand team reorganized the sections of the bibliography for the second edition. I find the earlier categories to be more useful for my counting purposes.
- The great majority of additional entries in the second edition were new secondary literature that is not relevant for my purposes.
Does the newer edition of Hillerbrand change any of my main conclusions? I suspect not. I suspect that any new data will confirm the trends that I highlight in this post. If anyone can prove me mistaken, I would be grateful for advice and evidence. For more on the second edition, see Heinold Fast, review of Review of Anabaptist Bibliography 1520-1630., by Hans J. Hillerbrand, The Sixteenth Century Journal 23, no. 4 (1992): 815–17, https://doi.org/10.2307/2541745.
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This section is focused on my analysis of Mennonite Bibliography, 1631-1961, vol. 1 (1977).
The steady rise in Dutch-language book production, as well as the flat-lining of German-language printing, continued beyond 1630. This is evident from the data in the Mennonite Bibliography, 1631-1961, vol. 1. This 1977 bibliography is organized differently than the earlier one from 1962. The first of the 1977 collection’s two volumes is devoted to published literature from and about all parts of the world, apart from North America (the subject of vol. 2). Of the first volume’s approximately 530 pages, the great majority (pp. 80-487) lists European literature under eight mostly national headings. The Netherlands is the focus of the longest section (pp. 91-363), followed by Germany and Switzerland, each with much shorter sections. These basic notes emphasize a point that Keith Sprunger makes in a quotation from 2006 that I include in my essay on “The Year 1625, the Dutch Republic, and Book Production”: in the early modern era (and beyond) “the Netherlands exceeded all other countries in the quantity and quality of Mennonite-related printing”.
The Mennonite Bibliigraphy, vol. 1, includes the following sections:
- pp. 91-363 The Netherlands (273 pp. – over half of the entire volume!!!)
- Many of these pages are devoted to 19th-and 20th-century works.
- Here’s a breakdown of the early modern works (1631-1699, and 1700-1799), as organized by the Springer / Klassen categories, with page numbers (89 pp. in total):
- pp. 94-95 History and description (17th century) (2 pp.)
- 95-101 History and description (18th century) (7 pp.)
- 154-186 Doctrine (17th century) (33 pp.)
- 186-208 Doctrine (18th century) (22 pp.)
- 237-240 Hymnals (17th century) (4 pp.)
- 240-241 Hymnals (18th century) (2 pp.)
- 295-298 Miscellanea (17th century) (4 pp.)
- 299-313 Miscellanea (18th century) (15 pp.)
- 363-429 Germany (67 pp.)
- 429-438 Switzerland (10 pp.)
- 438-445 France (8 pp.)
- 445-482 Russia (38 pp.)
- 482-485 Hutterian Brethren in Europe (4 pp.)
- 485-487 Other European countries (3 pp.)
- 487-505 Latin America (19 pp.)
- 505-524 Asia (20 pp.)
- 524-531 Africa (8 pp.)
Most of the works from about p. 400 ff. are from 1800 and later.
For my analysis below I am only focusing on the biggest collections: those titles from Europe generally (pp. 80-81, which includes listings of martyrologies), from the Netherlands, from Germany, and from Switzerland.
I have counted and organized by language (but not by region) those works from these sections from 1631-1700.
I have included another graph and table of the results, also organized by decade and language (Fig. 2.a. and 2.b.).
Again, several observations are in order. First, while the starting date of 1631 is determined by the selection criteria of the bibliography compilers, the end date of 1700 is completely arbitrary. I have chosen it only out of convenience. Second, it has to be noted that a major difference between the 1962 and 1977 bibliographies is that in the latter collection there is no distinction made between polemical works for or against Anabaptists. There is a good reason for this: namely, that by the 17th century, polemics against adult baptizers originated about equally from Mennonite opponents of other Mennonites as from Catholics, Lutherans or the Reformed. Therefore, the second set of data include printed texts by, about and against Täufer (adult baptizers). Third, on a related note, the spike in publications in the 1660s is due largely to the War of the Lambs and other disputes connected with the Lamist-Zonist schism (see the third vignette from the opening of my published essay). Finally, I have included a column for Latin works, since adult baptizers wrote a noteworthy number of scholarly works in that language. I have not included those data on Latin texts in the published graph.
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Readers should know that I do not in any way claim that these data are definitive. First, they do not include the many manuscripts written by adult baptizing scribes and preserved in archives across Europe and elsewhere. While manuscripts are very valuable sources about the past, they take incredible amounts of energy to gather in bibliographical form. Counting them for this essay would be too painstaking and time-consuming. I also think there are good reasons for focusing on printed books, namely, these were more reproducible than manuscripts, and therefore they could reach larger audiences and have greater impact. Second, it is worth noting that some of the works published in German (e.g., entry 2988, a selection from Geistliches Blumengärtlein ) and were published in the Dutch Republic, while some Dutch-language books were published outside the Dutch Republic. However, most of the works in Dutch published after the creation of the Dutch Republic were published within its borders. Third, I have left out the few works published in other languages that are included in the Hillerbrand bibliography. These other languages of publication include English, and French, but these publications are so few in number that they seem to be insignificant. It is worth considering the selection criteria of the compilers here, since another work published in 1962, George H. Williams’s The Radical Reformation, included Italians among the adult baptizers of the 16th century, and from the early 17th century onward there was a growing collection of English-language books defending adult baptism. On a further topic related to the biases of the compilers, it should be noted that careful reviewers who know early modern adult baptizing history well will undoubtedly notice publications by adult baptizing authors that the compilers did not include. An example that stands out for me is that Hillerbrand includes only one publication by Joost van den Vondel (1587-1679). Even though Vondel was certainly one of the most prolific and important Mennonite writers of the 1620s, most of the works he produced are in the genres of poetry and dramatic literature. In other words, few of his publications fall into a conventional category of “Anabaptist” literature, even though they were indeed written by a man who was a member of Mennonite congregation at the time. Finally, regardless of the compilers’ historiographical choices and prejudices, anyone who reviews my work will probably come up with slightly different numbers than I have, either because I am sure to have made some mistakes or because other reviewers may well make evaluative choices that are not the same as mine.
Even with these cautions in mind, the data are clear and striking: Most books by and about adult baptizers published between the middle of the 16th century and the end of the 17th century were written in Dutch, and most of these were published in the Dutch Republic (1581-1795). The clear conclusion is: The Dutch Republic was the cultural centre of gravity for early modern adult baptizing culture — at least from about 1600 to 1700 (and probably for longer on both sides of this chronological frame).