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—Obituary— Bob Scribner (1941-1998) Bob Scribner, who died of cancer on 29 January at the age of 5 one of the most creative historians of late medieval and early modern Europe and was instrurnental in transforming the field of German Reformation history over the last twenty five years. Scribner brought the insights of social history to the Reformation in exploring how i t became a movement which appealed to different social and political groups in quite different ways; and he drew on cultural history, anthropology and other social sciences to open up the processes by which Reformation teachings were transmitted, exploited and institutionalised. As a consequence of his studies, areas such as images, ritual, carnival, gender, magic, literacy, and not least economic relationships, ideas of communalism and state-building, became objects of historical exploration and were shown to be critical to the complex historical phenomenon of the Reformation. One of the most appealing qualities of Bob Scribner was his love of the story. He so often used the story to entertain and shock. He loved to recount the cat and mouse games which were so often played out at the old border crossings between West and East Germany, or the way in which he pulled the leg of a group of somewhat s t i f f East Germans by letting them in on the secrets of how Australians made PARERGON ns 15.2 (January 1998) VI Obituary kangaroo tail soup. But Bob also used stories to illustrate and explain. A very important aspect of his scholarship was to collect stories from the archives in order to explain the mentalities and culture of the sixteenth century which historians did not quite understand. H e built up a massive historical data base of stories by combing through not only Western archives, but also those of the old East Germany. As one of the few Western scholars working on Reformation materials in East Germany from the late sixties, he demonstrated to his West German coEeagues h o w rich and significant that archive material was to an understanding of the Reformation. In the 1970s and early 80s he would travel to the archives in what was to become an almost legendary camper van, a mobile library c u m study stuffed with notes and books to review at the end of the day when the archives were closed. But Scribner was certainly not simply a collector of historical data, the purpose of which was to fill the gaps in a marked up historical canvas. While he sought the logic and meaning of his archival documents with painstaking care, he was influenced by broader visions. H e was concerned to understand the transformations of economic and political relations at the end of the middle ages, for instance, and h o w they intersected with ecclesiastical power; or the complex processes by which ideas achieve social currency and ideological significance. H e wanted to display h o w the disenfranchised or underprivileged—poorer craftsmen, peasants, illiterate laity—could appropriate and exploit the laws, teachings or ceremonies of the elite in order to maintain control over their social worlds and lives. H e was concerned to elaborate the different ways in which rituals, symbols, stories and pictures enabled h u m a n beings to communicate with each other, create their identities and express resistance; and thereby to demonstrate h o w those scholars who limited their analyses to ideas expressed in literary form had got i t hopelessly wrong. A n d he also wanted to underline h o w our tendencies to characterise aspects of past cultures as irrational superstitions was little more than ignorant arrogance. M a n y of Bob's emphases and interests as a historian can surelv be traced back to his early life and formative years in Sydnev His working class background and his difficult childhood in Redf Obituary vn where he was reared by his grandmother after being deserted by both parents—experiences he clearly found it very painful to talk about— fostered a sympathy for the marginalised within social and cultural systems which entrench privilege. His Catholic upbringing in the still fiercely sectarian atmosphere of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1832-8334
Print ISSN
0313-6221
Pages
pp. v-xi
Launched on MUSE
2013-04-03
Open Access
No
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