Magdalena and Balthasar (Magill's Literary Annual 1987)
Traditionally, history has been the study of past politics, of wars and treaties, of the lives and times of philosophers and kings. That continues to be true, but only partly. Historians and their readers are becoming increasingly interested in social history, particularly the lives of the “common people,” however that term might be defined. This “new history,” as it is sometimes called, is really not so new at all, as Steven Ozment shows in this well-crafted little volume devoted to a middle-class couple from sixteenth century Nuremberg, whose letters were uncovered in a local archive and published in 1895. Now these letters, translated, arranged, edited, and illuminated by a creative and well-informed scholar, provide the American reader with a window into everyday life four centuries ago.
Magdalena Behaim and Balthasar Paumgartner belonged to prominent merchant families in one of the most bustling European cities north of the Alps. In the twentieth century, the name Nuremberg calls to mind visions of endless columns of marching Nazis, of laws which institutionalized racist prejudices, and of post-World War II trials that sought justice. In the sixteenth century, however, Nuremberg meant guildsmen and merchants, the encompassing walls of an Imperial Free City, and the Renaissance culture of Hans Sachs and Albrecht Dürer. The city had some thirty-five thousand inhabitants at the time, and the rosters of its councils contained the family names...
(The entire section is 1498 words.)
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