Reforming the Word: Martin Luther in Context

Curated by Professor Helmut Puff


The late medieval German lands teemed with innovation. Novel forms of piety emerged, the demand for practical learning grew, more universities competed for students, and wealth from both trade and mining transformed social relations. The dissemination of texts and ideas on an industrial scale via the printing press reshaped communication, knowledge, and belief. In this context, reform—the renewal of a lost standard of the past in the present—became a battle-cry for religious, economic, and political change.

In 1517, Martin Luther, a professor of theology and a monk, published his scathing critique of indulgences, a church practice that allowed Christians to buy off time from suffering for one’s sins in the afterlife. Issued in the provincial town of Wittenberg, this call for academic debate and reform unleashed a series of events that led to the break-up of Latin Christianity. The Reformations that followed forever altered the lives of those in early modern Europe and beyond.

Highlighting manuscripts and early printed books from the Special Collections Research Center, our exhibit Reforming the Word: Martin Luther in Context commemorates the 500th anniversary of this pivotal transformation in world history. This online exhibit accompanies the physical exhibit displayed in the Audubon Room 5 September - 15 November 2017.