Perplexion and pleasure: the Geistlicher Irrgarten broadsides in the German-American printshop, home, and mind

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University of Delaware
This thesis focuses on a long-lived genre of German-language, Christian devotional broadsides—the Geistlicher Irrgarten (Spiritual Labyrinths). First printed by German-speakers in Europe and later by German Protestants in North America, the Geistlicher Irrgarten use wandering text——printed sideways and upside-down into the form of a garden maze—to force readers to physically manipulate the broadside for pleasure and spiritual edification. In this way, the Irrgarten are “imagetexts”, or a synthesis of both image and text. While arresting the eyes by combining image and text, the Irrgarten are also objects that engage the other senses by encouraging verbalization of the rhyming story and cleverly replicating an underlying element of structural labyrinths: bodily movement. ☐ I use material-based evidence to understand North American Geistlicher Irrgarten through the lens of various forms of movement. I begin by examining the genre’s adoption by German-American printers and the motivations for producing these technically-challenging objects across several nineteenth-century, Mid-Atlantic printshops. Next, I study evidence of use and storage in the household such as folding and pinning. By delineating patterns in the physical treatment of these paper objects, I frame the movement of these objects both within one’s hands and in the domestic space, allowing me to connect the Irrgarten with wider traditions of Protestant devotional culture. Finally, while one must “perform” the Irrgarten to engage with it, they are also objects carried across geographic and confessional boundaries and embody the mobility of Christian worldviews across space. This final chapter examines the movement of individual broadsides across these boundaries and ends by interpreting the Geistlicher Irrgarten as objects still in motion today. Through discussion of the production, usage, and longevity of this genre of devotional materials, I demonstrate the importance of approaching paper-based objects—traditionally understood as intended only for visual engagement—instead as three-dimensional constructs requiring complex physical understanding.
Philosophy, religion and theology, Social sciences, Broadsides, German-American, Material culture, Print culture, Printing