Skip to main content
Cloister Talk: The Pennsylvania German Material Texts Podcast

Cloister Talk: The Pennsylvania German Material Texts Podcast

By Alexander Lawrence Ames
Following up on key themes in the new book "The Word in the Wilderness: Popular Piety and the Manuscript Arts in Early Pennsylvania," this podcast welcomes you into the world of manuscript production, popular piety, and spiritual culture in early German Pennsylvania and beyond.
Where to listen
Apple Podcasts Logo

Apple Podcasts

Google Podcasts Logo

Google Podcasts

Overcast Logo


Pocket Casts Logo

Pocket Casts

RadioPublic Logo


Spotify Logo


Currently playing episode

Cloister Talk Live! Volksbibliothek: A Conversation with Dr. Maria Sturm and Bettina Hess of the German Society of Pennsylvania Library

Cloister Talk: The Pennsylvania German Material Texts Podcast

A Second Cup of Afternoon Tea with Alexander Lawrence Ames: Answering Questions about The Word in the Wilderness, and Some Closing Reflections on the Book
​At the close of Season 3 of Cloister Talk, sit back and relax with a hot cup of tea to reflect on Pennsylvania German manuscript culture and popular piety in early America, and future directions for the study of early American cultural and intellectual history.  Reader and listener-submitted questions considered in this episode include the implications of The Word in the Wilderness for our understanding of the changing place of cursive handwriting instruction in American schools today, shifting approaches to the scholarly study of Pennsylvania German calligraphy and manuscript illumination advocated in The Word in the Wilderness, and possible reasons for the long decline of traditional illuminated manuscript culture in German Pennsylvania.  The episode closes with some personal reflections on next steps forward for the field of Pennsylvania German material texts within the context of closely-aligned scholarly disciplines.  Make a hot cup of tea, get cozy, and settle in for an enjoyable conversation as the paperback version of The Word in the Wilderness makes its debut!
July 03, 2021
Cloister Talk Live! Dr. Franklin’s Library: A Conversation with James N. Green, Librarian Emeritus of the Library Company of Philadelphia
​Founded by Benjamin Franklin, the Library Company of Philadelphia is the thriving epicenter of early American book history, and the inspiration of librarianship in America. James N. Green, Librarian Emeritus of the Library Company and a scholar of early American book history, introduces us to the history of the Library Company, the contours of its Pennsylvania German collections, and possible futures for the fields of material texts, Pennsylvania German studies, and cultural heritage preservation broadly conceived.  Sharing personal memories of his long and distinguished career in librarianship and the history of material texts, Green also reflects on the unique library ecosystem that defines the Philadelphia region, the foundation of the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PACSCL), and the evolving civic role of libraries.
June 26, 2021
Cloister Talk Live! A Mystical Heritage: A Conversation with Allen Viehmeyer and Candace Perry of the Schwenkfelder Library & Heritage Center
​Mysticism is a central (if complex, debated, and often misconstrued) part of the religious DNA of early German Pennsylvania.  The theology and devotional practice of the Schwenkfelders—a German-speaking sectarian group present in the colony—connected to early modern European mystical tradition in important ways, and the religious community practiced a rich manuscript tradition.  This episode of Cloister Talk Live! takes us to the Schwenkfelder Library & Heritage Center to dive into the Library’s astounding rare book, manuscript, and decorative art collections.  Curators and scholars Candace Perry and Allen Viehmeyer introduce us to the institution’s holdings, consider how they relate to the material culture of other Pennsylvania German groups, summarize the state of Schwenkfelder studies today, and suggest new directions for the field.
June 19, 2021
Cloister Talk Live! Incense Hill: A Conversation with Kerry Mohn and Michael Showalter of Historic Ephrata Cloister
Few landmarks of early Pennsylvania heritage inspire awe and capture the imagination quite like Historic Ephrata Cloister in Lancaster County—a place of architectural beauty, spiritual devotion, mystical exploration, musical accomplishment, and tremendous historical significance to early-American book production and the manuscript arts.  Ephrata Curator Kerry Mohn and Museum Educator Michael Showalter guide us through the history and significance of Ephrata and help us place the site within the wider context of early American religion and material culture.
June 13, 2021
Cloister Talk Live! Books Along the Brandywine: A Conversation with Emily Guthrie, Formerly of The Winterthur Library
​Nestled amid the rolling hills and verdant landscape of the Brandywine River Valley in Delaware, The Winterthur Library brims with rare books and manuscripts documenting material life in America, including early German Pennsylvania.  Join Emily Guthrie, who until recently served as Director and NEH Librarian at The Winterthur Library, for a conversation about this remarkable repository of American history and culture, and how The Winterthur Library fits into the work of the Winterthur Museum and its surrounding 1,000-acre country estate.  Ms. Guthrie, who recently took over as Librarian at the Library Company of Philadelphia, introduces us to the rich collections of Pennsylvania German rare books and manuscripts that reside in The Winterthur Library and tells us about her old side-gig as a shepherd and goatherd on the Winterthur estate.  Well-known as one of the most prominent cultural institutions specializing in American history, the Winterthur Museum, Garden, & Library comes to life in dynamic new ways in this special episode of Cloister Talk Live!
June 05, 2021
Cloister Talk Live! From The Rosenbach’s West Library: Religion and Early American Material Texts, from Cambridge, Massachusetts to Mexico City
​Rare books at The Rosenbach showcase the incredible religious diversity throughout the Americas in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries.  This episode of Cloister Talk brings us to the atmospheric West Library at The Rosenbach, to examine a few material texts that witness this early history, including The Rosenbach’s iconic copy of the Bay Psalm Book as well as its remarkable Doctrina breve, printed in Mexico City.
May 30, 2021
Cloister Talk Live! At The Rosenbach: The Other Pennsylvania Germans? A Discussion of Early Southeastern Pennsylvania’s Jewish Community with Judith M. Guston
​The multicultural life of early Pennsylvania included a vibrant Jewish community.  Judith M. Guston, Curator & Director of Collections at The Rosenbach, discusses early Jewish settlement of the colony and the remarkable Gratz family holdings at The Rosenbach today, which document that early heritage.  Ms. Guston also comments on the theoretical and methodological challenges of adopting a material culture approach to the study of past religious and spiritual life, and the meaning of early Pennsylvania’s religious plurality for American society today.
May 23, 2021
Cloister Talk Live! Exploring the Free Library of Philadelphia Rare Book Department, one of the Great Collections of Pennsylvania German Text Culture, with Janine Pollock and Caitlin Goodman
​The Parkway Central Library of the Free Library of Philadelphia is a majestic urban monument to literacy, learning, and robust civic discourse.  What is more, the Rare Book Department at the Free Library ranks as one of the nation’s most important repositories of rare books, manuscripts, and other treasures of the history of human civilization.  Its vast Pennsylvania German collection supported the interpretive work undertaken in The Word in the Wilderness.  In this Cloister Talk Live! episode, librarians Janine Pollock and Caitlin Goodman welcome us into the world of the Rare Book Department and reflect on the significance of stewarding special collections in a public library environment.
May 17, 2021
Cloister Talk Live! Volksbibliothek: A Conversation with Dr. Maria Sturm and Bettina Hess of the German Society of Pennsylvania Library
​​Few library spaces glimmer with the sense of historicity and culture that the Horner Memorial Library at the German Society of Pennsylvania exudes.  In this episode of Cloister Talk Live!, join historian and former German Society of Pennsylvania Library Committee Chair Dr. Maria Sturm, along with Society Librarian Bettina Hess, for an introduction to the historic library, its collections, and its work to make German-American history and culture accessible to all.  Sturm and Hess highlight some of the fascinating holdings of the Library and reflect on the significance of the Library to understanding Philadelphia’s ethnic heritage.
May 10, 2021
Cloister Talk Live! The Faith That Binds: A Conversation on Anabaptist Bookbindings with Chela Metzger and Erin Hammeke
​How can material artifacts be wielded as tools for unlocking the lived experiences of past spiritual-devotional cultures?  In this inaugural episode of Cloister Talk Live!, join book conservators Chela Metzger (University of California Los Angeles Library) and Erin Hammeke (Duke University Library) for a conversation about Swiss-Anabaptist bookbindings in early Pennsylvania—and what the books reveal about past personal and social relationships with God.  The interviewees also discuss the state of book history as an interdisciplinary enterprise and offer advice for what it might take to bring historians, material culture scholars, and conservators together, to make optimal use of interdisciplinary expertise in analyzing and interpreting material texts.
May 03, 2021
Cloister Talk Season 3 Teaser Trailer
Season 3 of Cloister Talk will begin on Monday, May 3, 2021, and will feature ten brand-new episodes that expand on themes and concepts explored in The Word in the Wilderness: Popular Piety and the Manuscript Arts in Early Pennsylvania, published by the Pennsylvania State University Press in 2020. This season of Cloister Talk is being launched in anticipation of the release of an affordable, paperback version of The Word in the Wilderness during summer, 2021.  Season 3 offers some exciting, and different, features for fans of the first two seasons of Cloister Talk.  Listen to the trailer to learn more.
April 08, 2021
Afternoon Tea with Alexander Lawrence Ames: Answering Your Questions about Writing The Word in the Wilderness, and a Life Spent in Libraries and Museums
Writing The Word in the Wilderness: Popular Piety and the Manuscript Arts in Early Pennsylvania, especially sharing the book’s ideas with audiences from across Pennsylvania and around the world, has truly been a journey undertaken in community.  At the conclusion of Season 2 of Cloister Talk: The Pennsylvania German Material Texts Podcast, it’s time to sit back, relax, and reflect on the book, the primary sources that made its analysis possible, and what The Word in the Wilderness and Pennsylvania German illuminated manuscripts have to teach us today.  Make a hot cup of tea and settle in for a fascinating discussion!  This final installment of Season 2 features personal reflections on the process of writing the book, and the fascinating world of historical museums and special collections libraries.
March 01, 2021
"Errand Into the Wilderness": What Pennsylvania German Illuminated Manuscripts Mean in American History
A key topic addressed in The Word in the Wilderness: Popular Piety and the Manuscript Arts in Early Pennsylvania is how a deeper understanding of the spiritual underpinnings of the Pennsylvania German manuscript arts can add nuance to our interpretation of early American religious and cultural life.  This episode of Cloister Talk explores that issue in greater depth, using Samuel Pennypacker’s book Pennsylvania in American History and intellectual historian Perry Miller’s famous work Errand Into the Wilderness as case studies for our analysis.
February 22, 2021
The Pennsylvania Pilgrim: Fireside Poet John Greenleaf Whittier's Interpretation of the Pennsylvania German, Quaker, and Early Abolitionist Francis Daniel Pastorius
The famous Quaker Fireside Poet John Greenleaf Whittier had a special passion for Pennsylvania history, which he expressed in his famous poem “The Pennsylvania Pilgrim.”  Learn about Whittier’s interest in Pennsylvania religious heritage, his interpretation of the famous Pennsylvania settler Francis Daniel Pastorius, and what Whittier’s nineteenth-century poem reveals about the collective memory of the United States.
February 15, 2021
A Lesson in Early Modern Linguistic Theory with Johann Merken, and Its Implications for the Study of Material Texts
The history of material texts naturally intersects with the history of language—and linguistic theory.  Drawing on fascinating artifacts held at the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota, this episode of Cloister Talk offers useful transatlantic intellectual-historical context for the place of German language (spoken, written, and printed) in the early-modern European world.
February 08, 2021
Johann Gottfried Weber and Johannes Bard: Two Characters in the 18th-century Transatlantic World of Manuscripts
Pennsylvania Germans figured prominently in a transatlantic world of copying and exchanging artistic, devotional texts.  This episode of Cloister Talk examines intricate and remarkable artifacts of this culture of copying, drawing on resources from the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota, and the Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library in Winterthur, Delaware.
February 01, 2021
Manuscripts in Focus: Birth and Baptismal Certificates
Religious rituals and the commemoration of life events found rich expression in Pennsylvania German print and manuscript culture, especially on documents known as birth and baptismal certificates. This episode of Cloister Talk offers a detailed analysis of the certificate genre and considers how it connects to other Pennsylvania German material texts.
January 25, 2021
Manuscripts in Focus: Tune Books
​Music has always figured prominently in Pennsylvania German religious culture, making it unsurprising that the musical and calligraphic arts intersected in potent ways during the Long Era of Manuscripts.  In this episode of Cloister Talk, take a journey into the rich musical heritage of German Protestantism and its expressions in southeastern Pennsylvania.
January 17, 2021
Manuscripts in Focus: Penmanship Samples
Pennsylvania German manuscript penmanship samples are some of the most engaging, text-rich, and religiously-significant devotional documents created during the Long Era of Manuscripts in early Pennsylvania.  This episode offers an in-depth introduction to the manuscript genre.
January 11, 2021
The Pirate Bible: An Epic Tale of Looted Germantown Bibles, and What It Reveals About Pennsylvania German Religion in a Vast Atlantic World
Pennsylvania German religious culture existed within a vast, complex, fluid, and interconnected world of German-Protestant spirituality and text exchange.  Perhaps no artifact better exemplifies this heritage than a Pennsylvania-printed Bible held at the Free Library of Philadelphia that was once captured by pirates on its voyage to Europe!  Listen to this remarkable story—and learn what it has to teach us about early American religion and history of the book.
January 04, 2021
Cloister Talk Season 2 Teaser Trailer
​Season Two of Cloister Talk: The Pennsylvania German Material Texts Podcast debuts on Monday, January 4, 2021.  In this trailer, learn about what questions and topics will be explored in the upcoming season, and about what primary sources you can expect to learn in the new episodes.
December 14, 2020
"Eines Christen Reise": Origins of The Word in the Wilderness
In this final episode of the first season of Cloister Talk, learn about the research and writing process that led to the publication of The Word in the Wilderness: Popular Piety and the Manuscript Arts in Early Pennsylvania.
August 03, 2020
"The Root of Wisdom is to Fear the Lord": Wisdom Literature and Pennsylvania German Manuscript Culture
Old Testament wisdom literature looms large over the Pennsylvania German manuscript arts.  Learn about the historical significance of the wisdom literature as part of Pennsylvania German popular piety, and why the wisdom books provided such rich source material for scribes.
July 27, 2020
Manuscript Culture Beyond Pennsylvania: Traditions in Asia, the Islamic World, Early Modern Europe, Great Britain, and the Americas
Think that the Pennsylvania Germans were alone in their embrace of calligraphy and manuscript illumination as part of their spiritual enterprise?  Think again.  In this episode, learn about other cultures and communities around the world that employed the manuscript arts as culturally-resonant components of their popular piety long after the so-called "Age of Print" was well underway.  
July 20, 2020
What is "Manuscript Culture"? Reframing Pennsylvania German Manuscript Studies as a Sub-field of Book History
The study of Pennsylvania German illuminated manuscripts has long lacked a coherent theoretical and methodological foundation that situates the enterprise into wider scholarly conversations about religion, language, text, and culture.  This episode proposes new approaches to unlocking the meaning of Pennsylvania German manuscripts, grounded in recent advancements in study of the history of texts as material artifacts.  
July 13, 2020
Who Were the Pennsylvania Germans, and Why do They Matter?
Pennsylvania German religious, spiritual, and cultural traditions were extremely complex.  This episode offers a quick primer on many of the various German-speaking groups that resided in early Pennsylvania and explores their connection to the devotional manuscript arts.  
July 06, 2020
What is "Fraktur"? Type, Script, and Art
This episode explores the many meanings of the word "Fraktur" in its European and American contexts and considers how best to deploy the term when discussing the manuscript art of the Pennsylvania Germans.  
June 29, 2020
The History of Studying Pennsylvania Germans and Their Illuminated Manuscripts
This episode introduces listeners to trends in the study of Pennsylvania German illuminated manuscripts, commonly called "Fraktur."  
June 22, 2020