Glenn Ehrstine

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Glenn Ehrstine
Associate Professor
575 PH

My work explores the intersections of literature, religion, and politics in medieval and early modern Germany, with a particular focus on the cultural transformations that occurred between late medieval Catholicism and the early Protestant Reformation. My first book, Theater, Culture and Community in Reformation Bern, 1523-55 (2002), investigated the role of theater in the introduction and consolidation of Protestant religious reform in Bern, Switzerland, covering both the ribald carnival plays of local painter-poet Niklaus Manuel († 1530) as well as the more conservative biblical dramas of Bernese court scribe Hans von Rüte († 1558).

My more recent research concerns the Catholic theatrical traditions that the Reformation erased or altered. One such tradition was the indulgence: For attending a play, medieval spectators believed they could receive a partial or full remission of the expected punishment in purgatory for their sins, thereby hastening their entrance to heaven. Another tradition concerned relics, not just the alleged physical remains of Christ and the saints, but also objects supposedly touched by them, all of which were believed to be imbued with miraculous power. That power could be harnessed for performances as well, such as the Corpus Christi Play of Künzelsau (1479), where a particle of the True Cross stood in for an actor at the moment of crucifixion. My current book project, Devotional Spectatorship and the Indulgence in Late Medieval Germany, explores these and other issues of audience reception for German religious theater ca. 1500. Preliminary studies have appeared regarding the performance traditions of Künzelsau (English | German), Zerbst, and, most recently, Alsfeld (see "Recent Articles by Faculty" on the DWLLC home page).

Iowa students consistently make teaching a delight. My interest in Renaissance carnival has led me to approach Shrovetide traditions more broadly in "Mardi Gras and More: Cultures of Carnival," which traces the development of the pre-Lenten celebration from its origins in the Middle Ages to present-day carnivalesque practices in Central, South, and North America. "Germany in the World," taught in English, and "Contemporary German Civilization," taught in German, allow me to indulge my interest in post-war German politics. I have also enjoyed the opportunity to engage with Iowa communities as part of “German Iowa and the Global Midwest," a campus public humanities project on German immigration to the state. My contributions here have included public talks, work on an interactive map of German-Iowan newspapers (with thanks to the UI Digital Scholarship and Publishing Studio), and a translation of “Iowa’s Prohibition Plague,” chapter 11 of Joseph Eiboeck’s Die Deutschen von Iowa, which concerns the history of Iowa’s early experiment with Prohibition in the years 1884-94. The translation, completed with the help of Lucas Gibbs (UI Class of 2018), has recently appeared in the Winter 2019 issue of The Annals of Iowa.


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